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Time to Rev Up with a Rapid-Fire Panel?

Today's guest post is by Kristin Arnold, the “Panel Improvement Evangelist.”

“Rapid-fire panel discussion” sounds sexier than a boring panel discussion, doesn’t it? After all, we live in the land of TED and short talks, so rapid-fire panels must be the next new format. But what exactly is a “rapid-fire panel”?

At the time of this writing, there were 13,500 Google search results for “rapid-fire panels.” As I waded into the Google wormhole, I discovered five (count ‘em!) different varieties of rapid-fire panels:

1. Rapid-Fire Panel Presentations. Panelists give a short presentation (anywhere from 40 seconds, to five minutes—even up to 10 minutes!) followed with audience Q&A. Personally, I think this is a pretty typical panel format and feels like the event organizer is just putting lipstick on the proverbial panel pig.

2. Rapid-Fire Panelist Words of Wisdom. Panelists share quick “tidbits,” “quick wins,” or “best practices” in a short, defined amount of time followed by audience Q&A.

3. Rapid-Fire Questions from the Audience. Audience asks the questions in a “fast-paced Q&A”—whatever that means! The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) playfully states in the promotional material, "Shoot all you can, ask all the questions!" I was also intrigued with ICOR‘s Colorado Real Estate Investor’s description: "90 Questions in 90 Minutes: Legal Rapid-fire Panel." That’s gotta be a tough panel to moderate since most lawyers can’t answer a question in less than a minute!

4. Rapid-Fire Drinking. This one had nothing to do with the panel format, other than the panelists take a drink after answering each question. The first question at the United Security Summit’s Rapid7 Rapid-fire Panel Session was “What will be the panel’s drink of choice this year?” (I am reminded of Sally Hogshead bringing out some Jagermeister during a panel discussion at the National Speakers Association conference!)

5. Rapid-Fire Panels. This is the TSX Ignite model where there is one quick panel after another each with a single, definable topic as the focus of the conversation. Note the pluralization of “panel” into “panels.” I think that’s what makes this format different than the ones mentioned above.

So, since no one has formalized this format, I’d like to take a stab at it—and please let me know what you think! Since #1 and #2 are still within the confines of a traditional panel format, #4 is, ahem, intoxicatingly unique, and #5 is a bit harder to pull off, I’ll work with #3—where the audience is asking the esteemed expert panelists the questions in a rapid-fire manner:

  • Moderator welcome, format overview, agenda, and ground rules
  • Panelist introductions with a 30-second introductory comment from each panelist, stating his/her diverse viewpoint on the defined topic.
  • Audience Q&A (and here’s the rapid-fire part!)
  • -Audience members queue up to ask the question—either behind a microphone stand OR use a throwable microphone.
    -Audience member states the question FIRST then can add one or two sentences for background information. That is all…and the moderator will quickly intervene.
    -ONE of the panelists will answer the question with a specified period of time (e.g., 45 seconds—but that will depend on the topic).
    -Keep going until you have only five minutes to go….
  • Moderator to summarize and ask the panelists to quickly (state the timeframe, e.g., 15 seconds) offer one key point for the audience to remember.
  • Moderator mentions any administrative items, next event on the program and thanks all for their rapt participation!
  • Some of the panels actually had chimes or buzzers and even game-show music to keep it moving and add a bit of levity! Others had each of the panelists stand behind a lectern for the entire session (think Presidential debates).

So…what do you think? Have you ever run a rapid-fire panel discussion like this—or some other variation? Would love to hear from you!

Kristin Arnold is the “Panel Improvement Evangelist” helping conference organizers make all their panels to be lively and informative. Her website is


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