My theory of Panel Discussions

Gene Frantz
TI Principal Fellow, Futurist and Business Development Manager, DSP

In a previous Blog (here) I discussed the panel discussion that I moderated at the DSP Workshop in Sedona, Arizona.  So this is a follow on to that Blog with an explanation of my theory on panel discussions.

The fundamental principal that I have for a panel discussion is that it is purely done for entertainment.  There should never be an expectation that anything valuable will come out of it.  Given this principal, here are my rules of engagement:

  • Select a topic that is relevant but unexpected.  The one I spoke about earlier had a topic of “Should DSP be taught in Engineering?”  Such a topic could go many ways such as did I mean Digital Signal Processing theory?  Or did I mean Digital Signal Processing hardware?  Or should we be teaching Signal Processing rather than Digital Signal Processing?  Or should it be taught in Physics or Math rather than Engineering?  In engineering, should it stay in EE or spread out to other disciplines?  Finally, should it be taught in high school?  As an aside, we did conclude that the first DSP theory was taught in either the second or third grade – FIR filtering.  I remember it being called averaging.  We now call in low pass filtering in the university.  My favorite topic for a panel was “Why left handed people are more creative than right handed people”.  Once again many directions to take that discussion.
  • Select panel members who already know the topic and are willing to actively engage in a conversation.  There is nothing more boring that experts who have little to say.
  • Do not send out questions to the panelists to prepare them.  They were picked because they were already prepared.  Why not surprise them with the direction you take the conversation.
  • No slides, no introductory remarks.  The purpose of the panel is a discussion and not another paper session.
  • Have each panelist introduce themselves with a starter question for them to answer.  It is OK for one of the other panelist to interrupt during the introductions with a counter argument.  No body wants to hear some else’s long list of credentials.  Isn’t it enough that they are on the panel?
  • As quickly as possible engage the audience.  Yes, a panel discussion is not a spectators sport.  One of my best experiences on a panel was at a previous DSP workshop (Hunt, Texas) where the Margarita machine was open an hour before the panel discussion began.  There was little issue in getting the audience involved at that one.  No, I don’t remember the topic, but I remember it was fun.
  • Warn the panel and be prepared to “fire” panelists and replace them with new ones from the audience.  Of course this gives inconsistent results as it limits responses from the audience and gives panelists an opportunity to get off the stage.

Well, that is the way I moderate panels.  By now you have either made up your mind to invite me to be the moderator at your next conference, or have made a mental note to never ask me to be a moderator.

There is one flaw in my rules.  Every once in a while something good actually comes out of the session.  That is what happened this year at the DSP workshop.