Tips for Planning a Conference Session

The CADRE Team

It can be a challenge to plan a conference session that effectively engages panelists from different institutions and research backgrounds. The panelists may or may not know one another, or one another’s work. How do you plan for a dialogue that showcases each panelist and their work while also highlighting areas of overlapping interest? Here are a session designer’s strategies as remarked upon by the panelists involved in the session.

  1. Start with a vision for the session, but leave room for panelist input.
  2. Be intentional about the selection of individuals for the panel by identifying clear connections between panelists’ work while selecting projects that are different enough to contribute a unique perspective to the conversation. This approach helps ensure that audience members can find someone on the panel to connect with while also learning how that work informs/supports work in other areas. 
  3. Contact each panelist and provide a robust explanation of the purpose of the panel, with an invitation to meet and discuss. 
  4. Schedule individual meetings with each panelist to delve more deeply into the purpose of the session, why the panelist was chosen, and how their work might fit with the work of the other panelists.
  5. Request 1-2 seminal publications/resources from each panelist representing their work or work that aligns well with their personal interests/focus, and then share those publications with the other panelists so that they can become more familiar with the work.
  6. Schedule a pre-panel meeting with all of the panelists to build a foundation for the conversation at the conference. Consider facilitating part of this meeting like a modified run through of the panel session. Provide opportunities for the panelists to weigh in on the structure, content, organization of the proposed session.
  7. Invite panelists to describe their connection to the topic and how their comments during the session may complement those of other panelists. This may result in a conversation between colleagues as opposed to one between people who were largely unfamiliar with each other. 
  8. Share an outline of the final panel questions and topics to help panelists prep for the session.
  9. Follow up after each meeting with a check-in and a brief synopsis of what was discussed.