Beyond the panel discussion

Beyond the panel discussion
: I sat on a panel yesterday with the best possible panelists — people of stature with experience and plenty to contribute; the best possible moderator — who knew how to keep the discussion going; and the best possible audience — with interested people who asked good questions.

But it struck me that we need to move beyond the form of the panel discussion — because we can.

When I ran a panel at BloggerCon, Dave Winer got me break the form by insisting it wasn’t a panel; everyone in the room had plenty to contribute and was part of the discussion; there was no panel or everyone was on the panel.

At ETech and Bloggercon, I’ve watched the back-channel discussion on IRC (particularly Joi Ito‘s channel) with fascination.

With just a little added software, I think someone could blow up and reinvent the panel discussion:

1. Give the entire audience a back channel (and, of course, wi-fi). Give them a chat channel and wiki so they can share comments and resources.

2. Display that back-channel to all, including the panel (and don’t be bothered by a little good-natured heckling).

3. Allow the audience to post questions from the first moment and allow the audience to prioritize those questions. (A wiki could do that.)

4. Put on the panel an advocate of the back-channel who acts as another moderator and brings up the good questions and arguments and refererences from the audience, including those not in the room.

5. Whenever possible, webcast the panel and the back-channel to get more expert input from the world.

6. Create a simple ap that allows the audience to vote on topics of interest for the panel: discuss this first, then that, then that.

7. That ap should also allow the audience to vote on whether they want more or less on a topic: keep talking about this or move on, please (or, yes, every panelist should answer the same question or, no, don’t bother).

8. If the panel has guts, it could allow the audience to vote on favorite panelists (from whom do we want to hear more?).

9. With or without technology, as soon as possible, open the discussion to all.

Somebody clever could take open-source functionality and package it for conference givers. I’ll take a cut.

  • Great idea, Jeff, but you know what? Your mind makes me tired. Sheesh. Where you do get all that energy? ZZZzzzzz

  • With a good moderator like yourself we don’t need fancy software to pull ideas out of the minds of the participants. I like a discussion where anyone could get called on at any time. Makes it hard to fall asleep. And one where the former “audience” is packed with powerful minds with deep experience. ;->
    I hope you come to the next BloggerCon, April 10. If you have ideas for sessions, please let me know, now is the time to gather ideas at the highest levels. It’ll be heavily skewed towards: politics, journalism and tech, with a minor in law, medicine and education. We’re also going to have weblog trainings sessions as we did last time, and a longer party on Saturday night.
    Hope you can be there Jeff.

  • Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I find the backchannel stuff and even the constant blogging kind of annoying. It detracts from the “now”.

  • Now imagine if election candidate debates were held the same way.

  • Ebb Tide

    The National Press Club does this sort of thing, but they go low-tech and use little blue index cards. People in the audience ask questions (written down) and the host(ess) reads them off to the guest as the last 20 mins of the presentation.
    C-Span does it on Book Tv where the audience comes up to a microphone and asks questions of the speaker… it is a more organized back channel and it lets people really think about their questions a little more, rather than typing them, which I admit would be more free form.

  • Ebb Tide

    And, ummm, what is a wiki again?
    (I have been paying attention, really, but I forget what that means. When are you putting up a glossary here?) ;^)

  • It probably depends on the panel, but there were a few session at ETech where the speaker or panelist would have saved themselves and the audience a ton of time if there was a way to tap into the backchannel.
    Another observation that I’ve had is that I spend much less time in the halls. It’s true that I’m spending less attention than if I didn’t have my computer, but many of the sessions, I’d have left by then if there wasn’t a back channel. In these sessions, the back channel becomes the front channel and the speaker, fodder for a more interesting discussion, which at least isn’t happening in the hallway.
    I understand some people disagree, but I love having the backchannel during my sessions.

  • Dave: Thanks and yes.
    Joi: The question is how to give some speakers the polite hook. If we’re not careful, this could turn into the Roman Coliseum.
    Beth: Yes, I was thinking that this would make a great Presidential debate format: Buzz them off when you’ve heard enough…

  • Uh, Jeff. We already have that package for conferences and events, Socialtext Eventspace: