Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Keeping panels on time: Limit use of slides

Of all the expectations that lie in wait for the panel moderator--and there are many--keeping the panel on time is the greatest. And the toughest. You can make it easier to reach that seemingly impossible goal with one neat trick: Limit the use of slides by panelists, or ban them outright.

I've got nothing against slides, when they're well-used and designed. But let's face it: Most panelists use slides for reasons that have nothing to do with creating a sparkling discussion. Instead, panelists use slides to:

  • Serve as cue cards for talks they haven't taken the time to prepare thoroughly
  • Serve as handouts
  • Jam as much content as possible into a short presentation
  • Avoid answering questions
  • Advertise their contact information, website or other products
My own pet peeve about slides and panelists is the amount of time they gobble up. Setting up slides, getting to your presentation, working the technology--even if it's all set up to be seamless--takes precious minutes away from the discussion. 

To limit slide use, moderators must get the organizer to agree to this scheme. Then you can get creative: Say no slides at all, or limit the number of slides to three or five per person, in the style of Ignite! talks. If you're going to limit the number of slides, ask that each speaker submit their slides to be loaded centrally. That way, you can check to be sure there are no surprises lying in wait for you, as I found when reviewing slides for a panel limited to five minutes and five slides per speaker. One speaker embedded a 10-minute video in one of his slides, and it was sent back for revision.

If you're going to limit or ban slides, be ready with smart questions to get that sparkling discussion going instead. You'll find plenty of suggestions for creative lines of questioning in The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Steve Boneham)

Need more coaching on how to be a better panel moderator? Order the new ebook The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 and available in many formats, it's a great back-pocket coach to take on stage with you in your smartphone or tablet. Find more tips on public speaking on The Eloquent Woman blog.