5 Things That Ruin Discussion Forums

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I have been fortunate to participate in several amazing discussion forums over the years such as the one above (@ The Silverbird Abuja Monthly Book Jam). The format is always the same…a group of people typically about 4 to 5 in number are seated at a table in front of a room. The event is guided by a moderator who fields questions from an eager audience to the panel while simultaneously creating conversation amongst the panelists. The result is often a stimulating and interactive conversation. Unfortunately this is not always the case! I have sat on panels where I almost strangled a fellow panelist! But I managed to control myself and instead decided to take out my anger and frustration on my blog as I tackle the 5 Things That Ruin Discussion Forums!

#1 Panelists That Talk Too Much

If I ever get arrested in this life…it would be because I accidentally punched a panelist for talking too much! I once sat on a book reading panel where a panelist talked about everything but his book…he basically gave a 20 minute keynote speech about his topic of specialty. And then he took an entire 5 minutes to answer each question he was asked! It was as if the other panelists did not exist. If you get invited to a forum be cognizant of others and respect their time by sticking to your time.
Remember the purpose of a panel is audience interaction, it is not a keynote speech or sales presentation. Keep your answers brief and quick to the point and respect the other panelists!

#2 Audience Members With Long Winding Questions

According to dictionary.com, a question is “a sentence in an interrogative form, addressed to someone in order to get information in reply.” A question is not a 5 minutes speech about yourself and your profession and it is definitely not an opportunity to show case your brilliance. It is simply a question! There is nothing more annoying (aside from panelists that talk too much) than an audience member that asks a long question. I once got asked a question at a forum…the audience member gave a 2 minute spill on why he was asking the question and then proceeded to ask the question and then proceeded to answer the question he had just asked. By the time the question had been finished I was completely lost…keep your questions short and sweet!

#3 Having Too Many Panelists

I once got invited to be part of a panel of speakers for a University Summer Camp Session titled “Life after College.” And the The total number of panelists that showed up for that session was 13! The organizers to their credit wanted to ensure that their students had a diverse range of speakers to listen to, but what that ended up doing was killing the conversation. The panel introductions alone took over an hour and the students left with little as there was really no time to ask questions, by the time you get to the 13th panelist you’ll probably have forgotten what the 1st panelist said. A good rule of thumb is to always keep the panel number at about 4-5 people to ensure maximum interaction.

#4 The Super Star Effect

I have witnessed the super star effect numerous times, both as an audience member and as a fellow panelist. The super star effect is when a panelist feels that he/she is too important for the panel or forum…the symptoms are unpreparedness, tardiness and chronic dis-interest. I once witnessed a panelist fiddle with his blackberry phone the entire time the forum discussion was going on…he was not interested at all. Another panelist showed up to the event late, was unprepared as she had no idea what was expected of the panelists and then left early disrupting the entire forum. The problem with these super stars is that they kill the energy of the discussions…especially when moderators are too intimidated to put them in check! Which brings me to my last point…

#5 A Weak Moderator

The sole purpose of a moderator is to ensure that the forum flows and that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in the discussion. But too many times I have gotten stuck with moderators that are afraid to interrupt people when they are speaking too long or have no idea how to optimize the conversation. They seem to leave the moderating to the loudest panelist and boldest audience member, ignoring the thoughts and ideas of the much calmer participants.
As an event organizer, if you are to pick any of the above THINGS to fix, I would say begin with #5. A great moderator can check a panelist that talks too much, interrupt an audience member that asks winding questions and humble panelists infected with the super star effect!

Hopefully you will be able to use some of the ideas above when organizing a forum or when you are invited to participate in one. As always I look forward to your comments and feel free to share your own experiences on panels. The most interesting experiences could get a copy of my book HOW STUPIDITY SAVED MY LIFE hint hint =)

  Ofili is an award winning motivational speaker, author, life coach and entrepreneur who blogs about life, success and entrepreneurial excellence. Follow him on twitter , facebook or subscribe to his blog for more success TIPS!”



Words by Okechukwu Ofili of ofilispeaks.com
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5 comments on “5 Things That Ruin Discussion Forums

  1. Adeshina Okunubi on said:

    I thank you for bringing this up. you know most panelist think they are the authority on the issue and keep monopolising the talk even when they are jiving rubbish. The moderator may not want to kill the discussion by interrupting a windy talk but this only goes to show the level of mediocrity of the topic and the moderator. A good moderator would have prepared a range of starters and prompters to keep a panel going for the duration without allowing for these things outlined.  keep up the good work. May your pen never run dry. 

  2. Pingback: 5 Things That Ruin Discussion | camforum

  3. Incisive as ever, ofili.
    A vivid experience that comes to mind was a discussion forum a couple of years back in my university days. The forum was meant to discuss how graduates and students could succeed as entrepreneurs.The shocker: The discussants or panelists were bunch of year three students who knew nothing about trade or business. They weren’t exactly business savvy or adequately exposed to the matter at hand.As you would expect, the forum lacked practical energy and motivation. Most of their facts were from books and the internet.Every forum requires people that can grab the attention and concentration of the audience no matter how short the time allocated to them maybe.

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