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Panel Discussion Guide

Before the Meeting

The Moderator of the Panel, who may or may not participate on the panel, should work with the members of the panel to...

  • clearly identify the topics to be discussed, coordinate what each person will say and avoid overlap,  decide how long each panel member will speak
  • decide which components to include: intro, comments by each panel member, questions, breakout group, sharing, final questions, group process
  • identify questions or a process for small groups as needed
  • inform Suellen or Cheryl of a title for your topic five weeks before you will present (so that we can include it on the preceding month's agenda).
  • inform Suellen or Cheryl of the check-in question (related to the topic and designed to elicit a brief response) one week before your presentation.  

General Introduction

 7:00 to 7:05

The Moderator should clearly state the topic, describe what will be discussed and the format that will be followed.

The moderator may want to begin by explaining how the evening's topic is relevant to the Voluntary Simplicity way of thinking (the link is not always clear).  Give background information that sets the stage for the individual stories that the panel members will tell.  In general, the panel members will share their own experience, vision, and ideas. It is therefore useful for the Moderator to set the stage by explaining the broader topic. 

For instance, if the topic is Food, the Moderator might want to give an overview of the relationship of food to environmental issues, the common lack of consciousness about food choice, and perhaps how food choices make our lives more complex than they need to be.  (These are only suggestions/examples.)  The Moderator might then give an overview of the specific focus the panel will address in the broader area of Food. 

Individual Comments

7:05 - 7:20

After the general introduction, the Moderator will introduce very briefly the first panel member and remind him/her of the amount of time to speak. The Moderator should tell the group that questions will be answered after all of the panel members speak, so they may want to take a quick note of a question, so that they don't forget. Each panel member should tell very briefly about himself or herself when starting.  The goal here is to provide enough information about each person that the group can understand the panel members' perspective and experience about the topic.  

Each panel member should speak in turn, preferably without questions in between, so that each member has an opportunity to speak. However, at the Moderator's discretion, a quick question may be entertained.  It is the role of the Moderator to keep the panel discussion moving and on time.

Individual comments can cover whatever is relevant to the individual in the area the panel has agreed to speak on.  For instance, using the Food example, one person could speak on practical tips for making food preparation easy, another could speak about his commitment to a vegan diet, and another could speak about her experience in achieving greater community through changing eating patterns.  It is best if the comments do not overlap topics, and if they cover areas of interest to the group, to spur greater discussion.


7:20 - 7:35

This can be one of the most interesting parts of the panel discussion!   Sometimes there will be many questions, other times the group will be quiet.  The panel should be prepared for either situation. 

It is often helpful to have questions prepared in advance in the event there are not many questions.  This is also useful if there are topics the panel wants to discuss but that weren't in the introductory comments.  The panel should work together before the presentation to identify relevant questions.  The Moderator will call on people who may ask the same question of all panelists, or a question may be directed specifically to one person.  The other panel members may want to add relevant comments to the discussion, if appropriate, even if a question was not directed to them.

Small Group Breakout

7:35 - 7:50

The Moderator should explain to the group that we will be breaking into smaller groups (3, 4 or 5 people) to further explore one area of the discussion.  This area should be identified by the panel members in advance, and should be clearly presented by the Moderator.  An example could be, under the Food example, to discuss how your relationship with food has changed as a result of becoming aware of Voluntary Simplicity principles, or what areas that were raised in the panel discussion someone would like to investigate further, and how they might do that. 

Alternately, if the Q&A session is going very well and seems to have a very positive momentum, the Moderator may decide to continue the Q&A rather than break up the flow of conversation.  In that event, Q&A would continue through 7:50.

Sharing in the Large Group

(7:50 - 8:00)

The Moderator will bring the group back together.  Each group may be asked to share a bit about their discussion or anyone who cares to share their insights or commitment to change may want to share that.  The panel should decide what sharing should occur, in advance.  (If no Small Group Breakout occurred, a wrap-up question could be used at this point.)

When finished, the Moderator will thank the panel members for their presentation.  Panel members may want to make themselves available after the meeting for more questions.


The key to a successful panel discussion is coordination and planning.  The panelists should coordinate and know what each will say, and have a general outline of comments prepared in advance.  The Moderator should have a list of questions prepared for the Q&A, and should keep everyone on schedule.

A panel discussion is often easier to pull off, because it relies on the personal stories and experience of more than one presenter, which can stimulate conversation among the larger group.  It is also less controllable, due to the interactive nature of the format, but this is what makes it so much fun!


"The skills of group facilitation are no different from those of a good educator or artful discussion leader: an ability to listen and to create an ambiance of group listening; to include all voices; to balance conflicting points of view; and to deal with the occasional loud and disruptive voice." 

--- Author Unknown