I am a big fan of the panel concept, but up until now I have never attended a panel that lived up to my expectations at any conference (EclipseCon or otherwise). I am hoping this year would be the exception.
So I compiled a list of factors that have contributed to my negative experience with panels and turned it into a list of Panel Best Practices. After all, if life gives you gator, make gatorade.
It is clearly not intended to be a Letterman-esque top ten list, particularly since it's not funny. I just happened to have 10 thoughts on the topic:
- Limit the number of panelists to a maximum of 5. That should be sufficient to start and sustain a 45-minute discussion where everybody gets decent air time. No need to assemble a soccer team on stage.
- When assembling a panel, make sure to invite people who are qualified to talk about the subject matter. At times last year, I kept thinking to myself: "Who are these people on stage and what makes them so qualified to talk about this topic?"
- Panelists should keep their introductions brief. Stating the name and affiliation is sufficient. Panelist, it would be best if you saved interesting facts about yourself, such as your aversion to foods that start with the letter Q, for the tell-all autobiography.
- Panelists, who are competitors in real life, tend to take jabs at each other, then pretend it was joke and say 'Oh, I'm just kidding...'. Don't do that. It's not funny.
- Panelists, who are friends in real life, occasionally (and awkwardly) start picking on one of their own in the name of comedy. Don't do that. It's not funny.
- It is certifiably lame to still be making Brangelina and/or Netbeans girls jokes and references.
- The moderator is the only guy on stage who is allowed to be funny -- but not too funny. People are not there to see a stand-up act.
- The audience Q & A portion should be controlled tightly by the moderator. It only takes one persistent audience member to ask an off-topic question and before you know it, an RCP Best Practices panel turns into a 30-minute discussion of the SWT_AWT bridge on Mac.
- The audience should lower their expectations. A 45-minute discussion will not result in closure on the open issues being discussed.
- A 45-minute discussion may not result in closure, but it would be nice if it resulted in an action plan or a concensus on a direction going forward. Otherwise, we would be having the same conversation next year.