How to organize a panel discussion (offline)

A panel discussion is a situation in which invitees talk in a structured way about a specific topic. There are three participants in a panel discussion:
the moderator (who takes care of the conversation, determines its course);
persons discussing (having knowledge and/or having specific experience in the main topic of conversation);
people listening, or simply the audience;
A panel discussion is simply a conversation, however, with its own scenario and predetermined goals. Typically, a panel discussion consists of two parts:
conversation proper - this is the part fully moderated by the facilitator, it is in this segment that the moderator asks questions, the invitees enter into discussion with each other;
questions from the audience - in the course of it, people listening have the opportunity to ask questions of those who have been invited;

I. What you need to know at the start

Ideological assumptions

A panel conversation is about having an interesting conversation during which those listening to it:
acquire and/or increase their level of knowledge of the main topic of conversation;
get to know the opinion of the panelists on the main topic of conversation;
just have a good time;
Its main goal is to create such a space where invitees can freely share their knowledge, experience or information, as well as talk with each other.

Required competencies

The competencies needed will depend on your role. If you are the person responsible only for the organization you need competencies related to management, planning and contact with invited people and attendees, promotion of the event.

The matter gets more complicated when you are yet to conduct a panel discussion. In such a situation, you should not be afraid to talk to others in a public situation. Moderating a conversation is not the easiest thing in the world, but it's not the hardest either. If you have little or no experience, remember that what makes life easier is a well-developed plan for the conversation (if you want to feel super safe you can create yourself a list of sample questions to ask during the conversation). 

Additionally, it's a good idea to share your idea for the conversation with other people and even rehearse with them. Remember, no one was born a moderator yet, and you learn confidence in conducting a conversation, as well as how to react quickly to what the people on the panel are saying.

Best practices

Organization of a panel discussion (offline)

Good preparation before, i.e. research (sometimes it may seem unnecessary or boring, but it is actually the most important). At the very beginning, it's a good idea to look for information on the main topic of the talk (review publications, interviews, websites, articles, etc.). Then research the guests/guests in depth, check their biographies, look for information on their activities, see if they have given an interview before;
Create a conversation plan, think about what you really want to talk about, what is the purpose of your conversation, what issues you want to raise during the conversation. Each panelist has his or her own way of organizing the issues he or she wants to ask about - it could be a list of points, key words, it could be a mind map, or even a timeline. However, what is most important is to have a structured plan tailored to your needs;
Listen to guests, a good conversation is one in which you not only follow your own agenda, but also respond to what your interlocutors say to you and each other;
control the time, a few minutes' extension of the conversation is fine, but you should not overdo it;
be confident, you are the one who sets the framework of the conversation, react when your interlocutors violate the rules or when something unexpected happens;
Don't be drowned out by the panelist(s), do your best to answer your questions; however, remember don't steal the space. Your opinion on the main topic of conversation is important, but must not be the most important;
A panel discussion is a situation where a lot of people are looking at you (sometimes photos are taken on panels or their proceedings are recorded) so make sure you feel comfortable. Do your best not to worry about this during the interview. Of course, how you look is not important, it is only important that you feel confident;

II. How to get started

Placing activities in time and dividing tasks

Planning a meeting may at first glance appear to be a simple and not very time-consuming task. However, in reality it requires a significant period of preparation, mainly because of the need to communicate with invited guests. Therefore, it is important to start organizing well in advance.

List the tasks for each activity

List of tasks

Organization of a panel discussion (offline)

X tasks, X categories

Preparation of the event concept:

Consultation with people potentially interested in attending the event (what are their needs? who do they want to meet? what do they want to get out of the meeting?)
Prepare a list of potential people to whom to extend an invitation
Prepare a concept for the topic of the interview (what will be its main topic, what issues will be covered during the interview).
Creating a brief description of the panel along with the title (a necessary thing when running a promotion).

Logistics of the event:

Establish a disposable budget (if necessary)
Contact with potential spaces where the event can take place
Booking a place
Determine technical needs (lighting, sound system, streaming)
Preparing the room before the event itself
Clean up and return the space upon its completion

Invitations to panelist(s):

Preparation of the content of the email, informing about the details of the organized meeting
Prepare any attachments to the email
Establish a list of potential people we want to invite and number them according to priority
Determine how to contact the person at the top of the list
Sending the invitation along with a set response time
Regular reminders
If the invited person did not respond in time despite reminders or refused to participate, we ask him or her about the possibility of a replacement (if we care more about having someone representing a particular institution, such as a city hall, show up than a specific person) or send an invitation to the next person on the list

Communication of the event:

Selection of channels / ways to promote the event
Preparation of graphic materials to promote the event
Prepare an enrollment system (if it is important to monitor the number of interested people); remember RODO!
Publication of materials (creativity is important - these can be posters, posts on Instagram, but also information on Facebook groups, private messages, requests for sharing by recognizable people, appeals in schools, etc.) and a link to the enrollment system
Provide the enrolled persons with the details of the meeting
Reminding enrolled people about the event
Provide photographic coverage of the event
Publication of materials summarizing the meeting (after the event)

Substantive preparation for the event:

Creating a detailed script for the meeting;
Selection of a person responsible for conducting the meeting or preparing for it yourself;
Contact of the person responsible for conducting the meeting with the invitees to determine its details (e.g., proposals for questions to be asked);
Preparation for the interview by the facilitator;

Summary of the meeting:

Determine how to summarize the meeting (how will we find out if we have achieved our goal?)
Prepare materials necessary for feedback on the success of the meeting (e.g., evaluation questionnaire for those attending, list of questions for the invitee to receive after the event)
Conducting a summary
Learning lessons for the future

Grouping of tasks into areas of responsibility (quite broad)

As I'm sure you've noticed for yourself, the tasks in the various activities sometimes repeat or are similar to each other. Now group them into categories. Remember that the areas should not be too narrow or too broad.


How tasks are divided into areas of responsibility

4 areas

area 1: Relationships

Includes tasks from the section: Invitations to expert / decision makers

area 2: Marketing and promotion

Includes tasks from the groups: communication and promotion

area 3: Logistics

Includes tasks from the department: logistical preparation of the meeting

area 4: Meritory

Includes tasks related to setting up the event concept, preparing for the event and summarizing the meeting

Timing of tasks (Gantt)

Now try to put all the generated tasks on a timeline. The Gantt Diagram tool will be useful.


Gantt diagram

A Gantt diagram is a tool used to plan and track the progress of projects. Imagine you have a big board with days or weeks marked on it. On this board, you place different bars that represent the various tasks needed to complete the project. Each bar shows when the task starts, how long it takes and when it ends. This makes it easy to see what needs to be done, when it's happening and how the different tasks are related to each other. The Gantt Diagram helps teams organize their work, makes it easy to track progress and helps keep the project on track for completion. You can find a Gantt Diagram template in Google Sheets, for example.

Division of responsibility for task areas

At the very end, you will see your plan, analyze whether there is definitely nothing missing there, and finally share in the team the responsibility for the given areas of activity (we suggest sharing not tasks, but whole areas). Take into account the competence and time capabilities of the people in the team in question.


The final piece of logistical planning is to create a budget. As you can see, depending on the format of the event you have adopted, you can manage without cost, but it is also possible to invest quite a lot in this endeavor (space rental, equipment, streaming, coffee breaks, speaker's remuneration). On the basis of the planned activities, prepare a statement of all the costs you will incur in the activity.

III. Important matters in progress

Resource inventory:

You already have a preliminary plan for the event, you know your budget, you have divided the tasks, everything looks really good. Now take a cold, critical look at what you have at your disposal. Will you have enough time, enough money, will there be enough people at the meeting, does your team have enough experience and preparation to carry it out? Of course, it's not a matter of understating your potential, but of rationally assessing it. This is the last moment to see where you need to put more work and effort. Look at each area one by one. If you notice that something is not right, think about possible scenarios for improvement. What can be done to address the problem?


"I'm afraid we are not so familiar with computer graphics to prepare professional posts to inform about the event."

Find the time to look for a helping hand to the "Marketing and Promotion" team, such as announcing a call for volunteers in art schools, among friends, in cultural centers, etc.

List of tasks

determine what competencies you need,
writing the announcement,
research among friends, forwarding information to places where people interested in graphic design are educated,
recruitment of a volunteer/volunteer,
agreeing on the principles of cooperation

things to remember

At this stage you should already know perfectly well what to do. To put you even more firmly on the right track, we have prepared some instructions on how to work in each area:

Concept of the event

This is the most important moment within the preparation. It should not be underestimated. Take enough time to ask yourself the important questions: Is this meeting really necessary? Why? Who will be interested in it? What value will it bring to the lives of those attending? How to make the best use of the presence of the invited person? How to encourage her to attend the meeting, why will it be attractive to her? How to make the course of the event interesting?
Imagine that you are on the side of the people who are to come to the event. Try to think what such a person can expect, what will encourage him/her to attend the meeting, will he/she enjoy it. This will help you create an attractive list of potential guests and choose the most interesting format for the event.


Book the hall well in advance. Ideally, if you manage to "make a deal" with the local community center, school or city hall to provide you with such a place for free. Remember to agree in advance on the terms of cooperation - preferably by contract. Also make sure that the room is well lit and large enough, there are enough chairs, tables in the room, and that it has a screen, projector and other equipment you may need.
Make yourself a list of the equipment you need well in advance. Take care of every detail and determine what you have provided as part of the room rental and what you need to get on your own. Make sure the invitee has any equipment and space needs.
If the room is large, you plan to have a coffee break or use a lot of equipment, you may need a larger team to clean up after the event - for this it would be a good idea to get some male and female volunteers to help you on site. Remember that these individuals must know their tasks well.
If the meeting is held virtually, choose an appropriate program for this (e.g., Zoom); one that will meet your needs: allow the anticipated number of people to participate, allow you to control the event, ask questions in chat if you anticipate them, etc. Be sure to do a trial run to make sure everything will work as expected!

Invitations to expert / decision makers

Use all sources of contact you can come up with - an email to the secretary's office, a phone call to the office, a Facebook profile, Instagram, an assistant's LinkedIn - the most important thing is that the invitation gets through. It is better to receive a refusal than to be aware that the message never reached the addressee.
The email must have a catchy title. We're not talking clickbait, but it's important that it implies that it's an invitation to an event on a topic that's important to the person you're writing to.
Think about what might convince an invited person - what does he or she care about? If it's a local politician, and an election is coming up, it will probably be a little easier, because such a person is looking for contact with potential voters and female voters. In the case of an expert person, you have to be a little more adventurous. Maybe it's important for such a person to get in touch with young people? Or maybe she wants to expand her business online, and you can provide her with content by recording the entire event? You are limited by your imagination!

Communication and promotion

Choose the right channel for your preferred target audience. If you want to reach young people, Instagram will probably be best. Facebook if your target group is middle-aged people from your local area, and TikTok if you care about reaching a group from all over the country. Speaking of seniors - think about outdoor advertising, such as posters, as well as information in senior citizens' homes or even an announcement from the church pulpit, if you know a friendly priest ;)
Remember to monitor the number of people interested in attending the event, that way nothing will surprise you. Prepare, for example, the simplest Google form. You do not need to collect exact personal information, just the name and a declaration that the person wants to appear. This way it will be easier to assess whether you will fill the whole room, what coffee break to serve the group, etc. Remember, however, that these are only declarations. On the day of the event, slightly fewer people may show up (because someone was sick, because it rained, because he stayed at work a little longer, however...).
Never underestimate the power of Facebook events!
You can ask friendly (or less friendly, and sometimes even a little stranger) organizations in your area, or ones that deal with a similar topic, for help with promotion. Sharing on an account with a large reach can make all the difference. If the invited person has such an account or is affiliated with an organization, ask them to add the material you have prepared.


The main task in this area is to prepare a scenario for the workshop. Here is what should be included in it:
purpose of the event - why we are holding it and what impact it is expected to have
duration - how long the individual parts will last, and how much the whole thing will take. Without this knowledge, we cannot predict how much time we need to carry it out
program - that is, a step-by-step description of what is to happen
biogram of an expert / decision-maker - when launching the event, the guest or guest speaker should be properly introduced (it is a good idea to obtain such a bio directly from the source)
short description of the organizers - be sure to introduce yourself too!
principles of cooperation - it is worthwhile to present to the whole group how the meeting will be conducted, the arrangements we want to stick to and the situations in which we commit to respond
script of the meeting proceedings - depending on the format, it will look different; if it's a small meeting, just the points you want to touch on will suffice so you don't forget anything. If it's a Q&A session, let's prepare opening statements to explain the rules, and closing statements. If it's going to be a moderated discussion, then it's a good idea to write out the questions you intend to ask the invitee
acknowledgements - in the fervor and excitement it is easy to forget the simplest things, so a small astringent at the end will save the announcers


Depending on the format of the meeting, we may choose to evaluate the event in different ways:
If you are meeting online, it will be easiest to send the participating group a link to a Google form (or similar), where you will ask about their impressions (e.g. How do you rate the preparation of the facilitator / moderator? How do you rate the atmosphere during the meeting? Did you learn anything new?). It's difficult, because sometimes someone won't like something, and we may expose ourselves to criticism, but the answers in the survey are only available to us, and by analyzing them we can draw conclusions for the future. The online survey can also be sent to the group attending the offline meeting, if we have their email addresses.
If we do not have the ability to send an online form to participants, we can prepare question cards to distribute at the beginning or end of the meeting. Then remember to prepare a cardboard box/box where the completed questionnaires will go.
The invitee should also be asked for his or her opinion - we can do this by phone, email or in person. It's a good idea to prepare questions for this beforehand, thinking about what information will help us better plan similar activities in the future.

Self-control mechanism

Bravo! You already have everything you need to start implementing your action. Now the most important thing is to monitor progress and respond to problems. To this end, we offer you the solution of periodic evaluation meetings. Choose one person among you who will be the coordinator/coordinator of the activity. Her task will be to conduct, for example, weekly meetings, during which those responsible for particular task areas will be able to tell you how the preparations are going and say whether they need any help. Such an arrangement will allow you to lean together on emerging problems and ensure a good flow of information within the team.

We are keeping our fingers crossed for you! Good luck!

IV. Example


Panel discussion "How to prevent mental health crises", Ważne sprawy Foundation


As part of the "Youth Space" project organized by the Important Matters Foundation, a panel discussion was planned, inviting experts to an in-depth discussion on the current situation of psychological and psychiatric care in Poland. In addition, during the conversation we were interested in learning about the diagnosis of the current psycho-physical condition of young people, as well as how to feel good in the current world.


The main target group was people participating in the "Youth Space" project. In addition, we decided to open up to people interested in the topic so we launched a registration for the meeting. We directed the promotion to people studying at Warsaw universities.


Dr. Joanna Krzyżanowska - Zbucka, Head of the Relapse Prevention Unit at the Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology. Currently, in addition to her work at the hospital and counseling center, she is active in the board of directors of the eF Kropka Foundation dedicated to preventing social exclusion of people with experience of mental illness.
Janusz Schwertner, Polish journalist and columnist, associated with since 2013 and since 2021. Lecturer in journalism at Warsaw's SWPS.
Michalina Muszyńska, IBLM-degreed Lifestyle Medicine Physician, neuropsychology student, who runs an educational profile on Instagram (@michalalina).

Panel Description:

We used this description in communicating the event and inviting panelists.
Living in a world of constant crises, conflicts and countless opportunities that turn out to be pure fiction is becoming increasingly challenging for the mental well-being of (especially) young people. Unfortunately, at the same time, the mental health system, especially for children and adolescents, still leaves much to be desired. In this regard, we wonder:
How do we deal with the reality we have come to live in?
How do we take care of ourselves and others to prevent mental health crises, rather than reacting when it's too late?
Or are we actually a jittery generation, devoid of hope for a better tomorrow?

Preparation process:

Establish the purpose of the meeting.
Target group description.
Prepare a schedule for the meeting - to make it as engaging and interesting as possible for the target group.
Develop a potential list of panelist(s) we want to invite to the event.
Selection of a person from our team to prepare and conduct a moderated interview.
Preparation of invitation content.
Getting a contact for the panelists we have selected by sending an invitation and regular reminders about the issue.
Getting answers.
Contact the panelist to make arrangements for the interview.
Preparation of the scenario of the event.
Space Reservation.
Creation of promotional materials for the event.
Develop a recruitment form and promote the event on social media.
Acquisition of necessary equipment.
Hiring a person responsible for photo-reporting.
Contact people signed up for the event to provide them with logistical and content details.
Conducting the panel.
Summary of the event (e-mail thanks, evaluation survey and contact with expert person).
Sharing coverage on social media.




I. What you need to know at the start
Ideological assumptions
Required competencies
Best practices
II. How to get started
Placing activities in time
Task listing
Task grouping
Schedule tasks over time
Division of responsibility
III. Important matters in progress
Inventory of resources
Things to remember
Self-control mechanism
IV. Example

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