Panels are some of the most popular sessions at many technical conferences. Getting a half-dozen opinionated, outspoken engineers to argue over a topic of interest to the conference attendees is clearly a good idea, and quite often it works as intended. I used to attend the International Test Conference (ITC), where the evening panels (with bottles of wine visibly being consumed by the panelists) drew audiences in the hundreds.
But sometimes panels don't work as well as planned. I've organized, moderated, or spoken at a few dozen conference panels and attended many others. In my experience, panels that disappoint fall victim to one (or more) of the following pitfalls:
- The panelists take so long to present their position statements/slides that there's not much time left for questions
- There are few (or no) questions from the audience, so the moderator and the panel just end up talking to themselves
- One or two panelists dominate the reponses, while other panelists barely say a word, and the moderator doesn't moderate
- Every panelist responds to every question, which is tedious and reduces the number of questions that can be answered
- Every panelist has the same point of view, so there's no real controversary or even interesting interchange among them
Last week at DVCon I helped organize a panel called "Mixing Formal Analysis with Simulation: Why, When, Where, and How?" I can't claim much credit for this event; the topic and the panelists were chosen by moderator Mike Stellfox and my colleague Steve Brown. I did introduce the panelists to each other and made sure that the microphones were in the right places.
I thought that Mike and the panelists did a great job at completely avoiding the first four pitfalls. With seven panelists, I was expecially concerned about the first pitfall, but Mike wisely decided not to have them present slides and so everyone just gave a 2-3 minute introduction and position statement. There was a steady line of attendees waiting for their turn at the microphone to ask questions, only a few of the panelists replied to each question, and every panelist responded to at least a few questions.
The panel was not as controversial as some that I have organized or attended, but I think that there was enough difference of opinion on several points that the panelists didn't have a major problem with the last pitfall either. Being as objective as I can, I believe that this was a very successful panel with some good insights from some of the industry's leading figures in functional verification.
If you find yourself involved in a panel, I recommend keeping the five common pitfalls in mind. If you've observed other problems with panels, or have any thoughts on this topic, please comment. Thanks!
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