How to run a panel

At conferences I have attended, I've seen this done two ways:

1) Each presenter gives their paper. Then each discussant comments on the paper. Then there is a Q&A period.

2) Presenter A gives her paper. Discussant A remarks. Brief Q&A on that paper. Presenter B gives his paper. Discussant B remarks. Brief Q&A on that paper. Presenter C gives... etc.

In my experience, method two is preferable in almost every way: It keeps the balance between presentation, discussion, and Q&A intact, whereas method one tends to let steps one and two run on and leave no time for Q&A. it puts the discussion of a paper immediately after the paper which makes it easier for listeners to connect the two. And then the Q&A immediately follows on a paper just presented and discussed, rather than on one presented an hour before.

So why do we see method one followed so often? Is the one disadvantage of method two of which I am aware: method two is more burdensome on the chair of the panel.


  1. The first method prioritized the papers and ensures that each presenter gets his or her time, and also gets a reasonable share of an audiences not-yet-weary attention. Even if the moderator enforces time strictly, an exciting paper followed by lively response and heated q&a could really detract from the succeeding presentations. If all the papers are presented first, then responses, then questions, there's some mixture and delay even if one paper and it's feedback are more attention-getting than the others.

    With the second approach, there's not much point to the formality of a panel: it's just three successive events.

    That's one theory, anyway. In practice it may just be habit.

  2. Well, Dan, I will concede this much: IF The papers in a panel really are tightly centered on some theme, then The first approach does make more sense. But in my experience, nine times out of 10 the papers are only loosely connected, because you have to stick them somewhere after all.


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