Stop the Madness! Quit Packing Your Event’s Agenda with Panels!

Stop the Madness! Quit Packing Your Event’s Agenda with Panels!

Focus on the best experience for your attendees and not what's easiest to organize

Why, oh why?

Sometimes I actually get out of the office and attend other events to see what’s out there, what’s new, what I might try to implement. And then all too often, I see that about 70% of breakout sessions are really panel discussions. It’s so disappointing!

Now I’ll tell you why and what you can change to make a better experience for your event attendees.

You need keynotes to attract attendees

First of all, the top dog speakers in the event world are your keynotes, industry icons who give a 40,000-ft. view of things.  If successful, they are usually entertaining, informative and inspirational. It’s an added bonus when the keynote gives attendees some keen insight and vision as to the future of the industry.

The nuts and bolts of breakouts

The breakout sessions, however, are the core segments of an event’s content. Attendees want something super practical and useful in every session. They want “how-to” sessions where attendees can take away nuggets of valuable information to help build their business. They want strategies they can implement the minute they get back to the office.

Panels rarely provide this kind of experience. So if attendees want meaty sessions, why the heck are there a bunch of panel discussions featured (as breakout sessions) at many events?

Here are some likely reasons for so many panels

  1. It’s easier to put together some speakers and have them talk to each other about some topic and allow just a few minutes of Q&A at the end.
  2.  It’s easier to get the speakers to agree to participate in a panel because the speaker hardly has to prepare and can just wing it so they really don’t have to invest much time for the exposure they get.
  3. It looks good on the agenda to pack in as many speakers as possible to help attract and impress attendees.

Here’s why you should NOT use so many panels at your events

  1. Usually the panelists don’t even know each other and have not prepared themselves, so it’s not a coordinated and planned group session.
  2. None of the speakers have ownership of the session and the discussion doesn’t usually flow quite right.
  3. Often if there are 3 people on a panel, typically only one of them will stand out–which means less takeaways for your attendees.

There’s a much better way to conduct breakout sessions

Breakout sessions should be a time for attendees to have a true learning experience packed full of new information for them to take back home. Speakers should encourage meaningful, vibrant dialogue throughout on topics that attendees care about. 

  • Offer breakout sessions that feature one expert speaker who really knows their stuff.
  • The speaker should be a high quality, dynamic speaker who can connect with attendees.
  • Coach speakers on their presentations. Make sure that what they plan to talk about connects to the content presented on the agenda. (Another pet peeve!)
  • Make sure your speakers don’t present a dry, boring case study. Instead, lead your speakers to the promised land.
  • Stay in touch with you speakers regularly, leading up to the event.

Stop the madness!

Finally, including a bunch of speakers in the lineup for a bunch of panel discussions doesn’t necessarily translate to better breakout sessions. Focus not on what’s easiest to organize, but what should be the best experience for your attendees.

Carl Landau is the Grand Poobah at Niche Media. Opinions are his own. He can be reached at

Share this:


Designing Multigenerational Events: Navigating Challenges and Embracing Opportunities

No Guts, No Glory: John Galante’s Journey to High Quality Content, In-Person and Online

CEIR Q1 2023 Index Results Show Strong Rebound of US Exhibitions Industry Continues