I don’t like panels. I don’t like them as an audience member, because I find they are usually unfocused and boring – there always seems to be one guy who talks too much and says too little. I don’t like them as a moderator, because it’s a lot of work. And I don’t like them as a panelist because I don’t love extemporaneous speaking, and I worry I will be next to the guy who talks too much and says too little, and need to interrupt him. Or worse, that I will be him (is it possible to be that guy with you’ve been socialized to be paranoid about taking up too much space?)
At events with lots of panels, I’ll talk with people and we’ll say, meh, most panels are bad. So why do we have them? Because in theory panels can be really good. Having different perspectives, taking on a topic from multiple angles… this is a counterpoint to one-dimensional Think Pieces and their on-stage equivalents.
The other reason for panels is that it fills a slot with less work… which is a reason for a lot of them being bad. A good panel might (I’m not convinced) be less work than preparing a talk, but it’s not no work.
A final reason not to enjoy being a panelist: it’s scary to get on stage with people you don’t know. You don’t know what they will say, how your ideas connect – and where they don’t. You don’t know if they are anxious too – and if they are anxious, how that anxiety will manifest.
I was on a panel the other day, and it wasn’t my favourite, but the worst part of it was how much time I spent angsting about it. This was a thing that I worried about, daily, in the time leading up to it, but in a way where I was just frustrated and didn’t feel like I had the time to do anything about it.
If I wanted to be happier as a panelist, I would need to figure out two things:
- How do you get comfortable giving up control on stage?
- How do you get better at extemporaneous speaking?
Both of these things are related – I believe in preparation as the best antidote to on-stage anxiety.
Sometimes you prepare actively – as with a talk. But sometimes you prepare generally, for surprises. When I’ve done my best extemporaneous remarks, these have been topics that I have thought deeply and written (or ranted on Twitter) about.
I’m interested in other people’s thoughts on panels: what do you like about them? What don’t you like about them? How do you prepare as a panelist? A moderator?