I Hate Conference Panels

Last week, Corina Mackay reminded us how Courtney Stanton started No Show Conference last summer:

She took matters into her own hands and created a new conference for game developers in her area with the secret agenda to “get as many women on stage as I possibly could.” Her not-so-secret agenda included other aims like making the conference affordable, not including any panels and ensuring the conference took place on a weekend (so attendees didn’t have to take time off work).

I love this initiative, but what really stands out to me is hearing that finally, someone other than me is willing to admit that they can’t stand panels at conferences!

I hate panels. Kill them with fire.

Before I anger many conference organizers, let me clarify. I have no problem with a well-planned talk presented by multiple people. I do hate the style of panel in which four or five very accomplished individuals sit on a stage and make up answers to predictable questions.

I hate sitting through 15 minutes of introductions that are unnecessary if you read the panel description. I hate how vague the topics always are. I hate watching one panelist hog every question. I hate that half the time is typically spent on audience questions, which are usually self-aggrandizing at worst and boring at best. Like Courtney Stanton, I hate having my time wasted watching strangers agree with each other.

Most of all, I hate the lost potential of panels. You could increase the impact of the presentation by an order of magnitude if you tell those interesting panelists, “Talk to us at length about something you’re passionate about.” Given the choice, would you attend the talk where the presenter did or didn’t plan what she wanted to say? I’ll gladly attend a deep dive talk or a workshop on any topic before I attend a panel.

Tempted to host a panel? Here’s what you can do instead:

• Divide your panel into 10 minute lightning presentations.

• If you want to address a problem as a group and crowdsource solutions, don’t bother with the panel. Set ground rules, open the mic from the beginning, and only take questions and answers from the audience.

• Save money and invite one presenter for a deep dive talk.

• Still really want to interview people on stage? Interview one person at a time.

Conference organizers, please step up your game. Don’t pat yourself on the back because you gathered five of the best minds in your industry and asked them each their background story and what they do in their spare time.

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