What is a Panel Discussion? And How to Run One Like a Pro

Published on May 3, 2022 • Updated on November 21, 2023 • About 13 min. read

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You’re getting ready to host an unforgettable panel discussion. But what if your audience loses interest or the conversation stalls? Don't panic; we've got you covered!

All you need is the right mix of knowledgeable panelists, a skilled moderator to keep the conversation flowing, and an interactive video platform.

In this article, we'll cover all of these elements and a few tricks to help you prepare and deliver a panel discussion that will leave your audience entertained.


Livestorm helps teams collaborate and deliver memorable live or on-demand video experiences.

What is a panel discussion?

A panel discussion is an event where a group of expert guest speakers (the panel) comes together to discuss a specific topic. It typically lasts up to an hour.

The aim of a panel discussion is to present different perspectives, bounce ideas off each other, and come up with some ah-ha moments. A moderator helps guide the discussion, and the audience is often invited to ask questions at the end.

Synonyms for panel discussion

You might have heard a few different terms used to describe a panel discussion. Let’s look at some of them here:

  1. Roundtable
  2. Symposium
  3. Open forum
  4. Seminar

1. What’s the difference between a panel discussion and a roundtable?

A roundtable is an informal, free-flowing discussion where everyone at the table is encouraged to chime in and share their thoughts. It has a more relaxed, conversational vibe than a panel discussion, where each panelist is usually assigned a set list of questions.

2. What’s the difference between a panel discussion and a symposium?

A symposium is an in-depth academic conference that brings subject matter experts to share research, findings, and insights, and engage in interdisciplinary discussions. Symposiums usually last for several days and feature multiple panel discussions, keynote speeches, and other presentation formats.

3. What’s the difference between a panel discussion and an open forum?

An open forum is an informal gathering designed to incorporate as much audience participation as possible. There may not be a set agenda or structure, and the discussion is usually more free-flowing and less formal, encouraging lots of audience interaction.

4. What’s the difference between a panel discussion and a seminar?

A seminar is a way of presenting a topic for educational purposes. Traditionally held in an auditorium, it’s designed to impart knowledge and may be structured as a lecture, with the speaker presenting information and the audience taking notes. There may be fewer opportunities for audience engagement and discussion.

What are the different types of panel discussions?

Panel discussions can be structured in a few different ways depending on the topic and goal of the event. We’ll talk more about those formats later on. For now, here are three main types of panel discussions:

  1. In-person panel discussions
  2. Hybrid panel discussions
  3. Virtual panel discussions
Businesswoman engaging in a panel discussion over video conference

1. In-person panel discussion

In-person panel discussions are typically held in a large venue, such as an auditorium or conference room. The panelists are seated at a table or on a stage and engage in a structured conversation led by a facilitator. The facilitator helps guide the discussion and allows audience members to ask questions, making it a dynamic and interactive form of learning.

2. Hybrid panel discussions

A hybrid panel discussion combines both an in-person and virtual audience. This is an increasingly popular format, as audiences prefer more flexible attendance options and the demand for video conferencing for entertainment increases. Audience questions, comments, and ideas can be shared in real-time through these platforms, making the event more interactive.

3. Virtual panel discussions

Virtual panel discussions are held online, typically through video conferencing platforms like Livestorm, Zoom, and Google Meet. Most video conferencing platforms have features like whiteboards, polling, and a Q&A tab to make your event highly interactive. And if you're using a browser-based platform like Livestorm, your audience can join from any device without downloading any software.


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What are good examples of topics for a panel discussion?

If you’re stuck for ideas for suitable panel discussion topics, take a look at these suggestions for some inspiration:

Topical panel discussion topics

  • Solutions for the environmental crisis
  • The future of crypto
  • Socio-economic challenges facing the West

Evergreen panel discussion topics

  • On health and wellbeing
  • Communication in the workplace
  • What to know about cash flow forecasting

B2B panel discussion topics

  • How to automate your business workflows
  • B2B marketing strategies
  • Using data analytics to empower your teams

5 Panel discussion formats

Here’s a round-up of some of the most popular formats for your panel discussion, all of which work well for real-life, virtual, and hybrid events:

  1. Mainstage panel
  2. Q&A forum
  3. Debate
  4. Talk show
  5. Fireside chat

1. Mainstage panel

The Mainstage panel is a traditional structure where the guest panel is mic’d up and on stage, normally for a paying audience. The discussion can be thought-provoking, educational, humorous, hard-hitting, or any combination of those—but ultimately it has to be informative and entertaining.

For successful virtual mainstage panel discussions, you need a video conferencing platform like Livestorm that can take care of everything from event creation and promotion to engaging in-event communication and post-event analytics and marketing.

2. Q&A forum

With a Q&A format, there’s usually an introductory discussion between panelists, followed by a series of questions posed by the moderator, and then further questions from the audience, which may or may not be vetted pre-event. A Q&A session translates well to the virtual event format, particularly if you use Livestorm’s Q&A engagement features like the Q&A tab, which uses upvoting to help you prioritize audience questions.


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3. Debate

Debates allow for more opinionated discussions between the panelists. Traditionally, debates start with each guest sharing their point of view before asking questions designed to expose holes in the other’s argument, followed by further questions from the moderator and audience. Finally, each guest makes a round-up speech before the audience votes for the winner.

Pro tip: For virtual debates, use Livestorm’s live polls to engage your audience, understand their points of view, and get feedback on your event.

4. Talk show

A talk show panel is based on the typical TV talk show setup, with two or three guests chatting informally about the questions and topics the host gives them. The key to a successful talk show panel discussion is a charismatic host who has experience building rapport with guests and facilitating an entertaining experience for the audience.

Hybrid panel discussion

5. Fireside chat

Somewhere between a talk show and Q&A sessions, the fireside chat brings together a small group of people for an informal interview. Guests are usually seated together on a couch. Or, in virtual fireside chats, participants are encouraged to be in their living room or a cafe.

The focus is on creating a sense of intimacy to help bring about a candid conversation. For that reason, it’s a great panel discussion format for less polemic topics - like personal stories of success in the face of adversity.

How to conduct a panel discussion?

There’s no single way to conduct a successful panel discussion but this checklist is a good place to start:

  1. Choose a topic that resonates
  2. Find an experienced moderator
  3. Assemble your team of panelists
  4. Create an event registration page
  5. Automate email workflows
  6. Introduce panel members
  7. Explain the format and introduce the first topic of discussion
  8. Keep the conversation moving
  9. Present visuals and slideshows
  10. Ask the right questions
  11. Keep the vibes in check
  12. Summarize the discussion
  13. Give panelists an opportunity to add closing statements
  14. Send thank-you notes and event recordings
  15. Review event analytics and feedback

How to prepare for a panel discussion?

Here's how to prepare for a panel discussion:

1. Choose a topic that resonates

The best way to choose your topic is to first think about your audience. Who would you like to watch your panel discussion? And why? If your target audience is within a specific industry — let’s say tech hardware — brainstorm topics that could interest that group. But don’t do it alone. Invite a small group of people within that target audience to give you unique insights into what catches their attention most.

2. Find an experienced moderator

A fantastic host can make or break your event, so choose someone with experience in moderating panel discussions (or similar types of events) who has some connections with your chosen topics and target audience. A skillful, knowledgeable moderator will bring out the best in your panelists, understand how to engage and include the audience in the discussion, and make original contributions.

3. Assemble your team of panelists

The best panelists are made up of diverse groups with expertise, authority, and charisma. Three to five guests is normally the perfect number, so everyone can make a meaningful contribution without the conversation ever drying up. Avoid dominant characters who might drown out other guests, and invite people with some experience speaking in front of audiences.

4. Create an event landing page

Your event landing page should communicate the topic, the panelists, and the time and date of the event. This is also where you can share a registration link and start capturing leads. With Livestorm, you can create customized event registration pages and add form fields to collect more information about each guest. You can also add social media buttons so visitors can start building hype directly from the event page.

Livestorm custom registration pages

5. Automate email workflows

Set up email nurturing campaigns that include invitations, reminders, and confirmation. Livestorm integrates with email automation tools like Mailchimp and Mailjet, so you create customized workflows easily. Plus, Livestorm's Google Calendar and Outlook integrations automatically add events to your guests’ calendars.

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How to start a panel discussion?

You can start a panel dicsussion by introducing the panel members and explaining the main topics.

6. Introduce the panel members

Your moderator should give a brief introduction of each of the panelists that draws attention to their qualifications and accomplishments. Now’s also a great time to include funny anecdotes or stories about each person to help establish a connection with the audience.

A video engagement platform like Livestorm, which is designed for virtual interaction, can help you bring together a group of individuals in a cohesive way. You’ll be able to use features like emoji reactions, live chat, and polls. Get this right, and you’ll create a great atmosphere for an engaging panel discussion. Check out our Webinar Guide.

Livestorm’s audience engagement tools

7. Explain the format and introduce the first topic of discussion

Choosing the right format for your panel discussion is essential. Will it be more of a talk show style, with the moderator asking one question after another to each guest? Or do you want to give participants time to discuss and debate points among themselves?

Here are some key factors that should come into play when deciding which format to choose:

  • Will you be able to bring your guests and audience together for a real-life event or will a virtual panel discussion be more practical to organize?
  • How much audience participation is appropriate?
  • Do your main topics lend themselves to formal discussion (like a mainstage or debate panel) or intimate, candid reflection (like a fireside chat or talk show)?

Once you have established the format, explain clearly how it will work and what topics will be discussed. Then, pick the first topic and let the discussion unfold naturally.

How to moderate a panel discussion?

Moderating a panel discussion involves keeping the conversation flowing and presenting slides or other visuals.

8. Keep the conversation moving

Your moderator should be a master at keeping the discussion moving and allowing enough room for panelists to express their ideas and opinions.

The moderator’s job is to act as a facilitator and intervene if necessary. That could mean summarizing ideas that have already been discussed, flagging any topics that need further attention, or guiding the conversation if it’s going off-topic.

9. Present visuals and slideshows

Your audience will engage with the discussions if they have something to look at. That could be visuals or slideshows that can help support panelists’ points and bring different topics to life creatively.

Design tools like Visme can help you create interactive infographics, videos, documents, and presentations with their ready-to-use templates. And if you're using Livestorm, you can directly share your presentations during the event with the Visme plugin.

Visme presentation editor for a virtual panel discussion

10. Ask the right questions

The moderator should have prepared a list of thought-provoking and engaging questions tailored to the topic and audience. These can be open-ended questions or specific ones targeted at individual panelists, depending on your format.

Questions should be concise, clear, and relevant to both the panelists and the audience. Avoid any loaded questions that may be offensive or even make them feel uncomfortable.

11. Keep the vibes in check

How should your audience participate without interrupting the flow of conversation? Virtual event features like live polling, the chat tab, and emoji reactions can help you do just that. For example, with Livestorm, your audience members can react with emojis to show their agreement or disagreement with a particular point of view. This helps prevent disruptions and gives the speakers an idea of how the audience is feeling. Plus, it adds a bit of fun to the event.

Audience using emoji reactions in a Livestorm event

How to end a panel discussion?

Ending a panel discussion revolves around wrapping up the dicsussion and having a solid follow-up in place.

11. Summarize the discussion

The moderator should wrap up the discussion by summarizing key points and ideas raised during the session. This will help to ensure that everyone has a good understanding of what was discussed, and it also allows for a sense of closure. You can also use Livestorm’s Handouts plugin to share any supporting materials the audience might want to download for later.

12. Give panelists an opportunity to add closing statements

If time permits, it’s also a good idea to give each panelist an opportunity to offer their own unique takeaways from the discussion. This will give your speakers more satisfaction, as they’ll have the opportunity to say everything they wanted to say, and end the event on a highlight.

13. Send thank-you notes and event recordings

Remember to thank your panelists for their time and participation. You can send them replay links or recordings of the event so they can use clips as post-event promotion on their social profiles or websites.

Pro tip: You can set Livestorm to automatically record your events. Then, repurpose them as on-demand videos or social media content or use them to build up a library of educational resources.

Livestorm’s automatic recording and instant replay feature

14. Review event analytics and feedback

After your panel discussion, review the event metrics and audience feedback. This will help you to identify what worked well and what didn’t. If you're using Livestorm to host your event, you can directly track figures like:

  • Registrants
  • Attendees
  • No-shows
  • Replays
  • Average retention time
  • Messages
  • Questions
  • Polls
Livestorm dashboard for post-panel discussion analytics and reports

Deliver the panel discussion your audience deserves

Hosting a successful panel discussion requires careful preparation and an experienced moderator. To get the most out of your marketing event, start by:

  • Selecting the right format and topics
  • Engaging with your audience
  • Asking thought-provoking questions
  • Giving panelists an opportunity to add closing remarks
  • Reviewing post-event analytics

When hosting virtual events, anticipate technical issues and make a contingency plan for how to handle them. That means having a video conferencing platform that’s reliable and easy to use. For example, Livestorm is an easy-to-access, all-in-one tool that’s packed with engagement features to help you host an impressive virtual panel discussion. And if you're not ready to commit just yet, you can try the free plan first!


Drive engagement

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Frequently asked questions about panel discussions

Does a panel discussion need a moderator?

A panel discussion typically requires a moderator to keep the discussion on track, manage the flow of conversation, and ensure that all panelists have an opportunity to speak. In virtual events, the moderator should also encourage speakers and audience members to make the most of the platform’s engagement features, such as live polling or question upvoting.

Can you script a panel discussion?

You can script a panel discussion by creating an outline that covers the introduction, moderator, and panelist introductions, discussion topics, and any specific questions that need to be addressed. This outline is a guide to keeping the discussion focused and on track while allowing for a flexible and dynamic exchange of ideas among the panelists.

What is the main purpose of a panel discussion?

The main purpose of a panel discussion is to provide a platform for experts in a particular field or on a specific topic to express their opinions, challenge each other, and explore topics of discussion that provide value, insight, and entertainment for the watching audience.

How do you prepare for a panel discussion?

You should prepare for a panel discussion by following these steps:

  • Identify your target audience and choose topics that will interest them
  • Find an experienced moderator who can add value to your event
  • Select a diverse panel of experts who will interact well with each other
  • Allow everyone to meet and build a rapport before the discussion
  • Choose a format that’s suitable for your kind of discussion and realistic to organize

Is a panel discussion a debate?

A panel discussion is not a debate. While a panel discussion can include some level of disagreement or differing viewpoints, its primary focus is not on winning or losing an argument but rather on exploring the topic in-depth and hearing different perspectives.

What are the rules of a panel discussion?

The rules of a panel discussion can vary depending on the event, but some common ones include:

  • Each panelist is given a set amount of time to speak
  • The discussion is moderated by a facilitator responsible for keeping the conversation on track
  • Panelists are encouraged to engage in respectful and constructive dialogue, avoiding personal attacks or inflammatory language.
  • Audience participation is encouraged through Q&A sessions, live polls or chat.
  • The moderator is responsible for managing audience engagement and ensuring that questions are relevant and respectful.