WOMMA Feedback: Panels should be Panels

As mentioned before, I had the pleasure this week to speak on a panel at the WOMMA Summit in D.C. The WOMMA events are always a good time both hearing smart people share, and meeting industry friends I’ve not seen in a while.

All around this event was a great time and quite valuable. That said, I had one major nit that I wanted to raise.

Basically all sessions at this event were compromised of three person panels. Now, I say "panel" because that’s what the WOMMA staff called them, but they weren’t really "panels". In my mind, a "panel" is a group of at least two speakers plus a formal or informal moderator. A panel is meant to bring together several smart people to discuss and debate a particular topic theme, with the moderator helping to keep things lively and on time.

"Speakers", on the other hand, are there to deliver a solo presentation around a mostly singular topic. Speakers work better when given ample time to introduce, then discuss that mostly singular topic.

WOMMA tried to combine these two directions by creating panels, but then asking each panel member to deliver 10-12 minutes worth of formal presentation. This bothered me for several reasons:

  • 10-12 minutes is an almost impossible length of time for a speaker. It’s barely enough time to find your groove with the room and it’s certainly not enough time to deliver anything of real substance.
  • It’s almost impossible to leave adequate time for questions, since trying to get three different people to stick to 10-12 minutes (again, an impossibly short period of time).
  • Many of the panels I sat in on had three people either repeating or conflicting with each other. The point of pulling a panel together is to hash out those disagreements in a way that the audience can watch and learn from.
  • After more than one session I heard attendees asking "So which one should I believe/trust/follow?" Since there wasn’t any time for the panelists to openly discuss their disagreements, it was nearly impossible to apply the discussion to your own business and determine what’s "right for you".
  • It’s more of the same. Why come to more than one WOMMA event? If you see the same people speak in the same ways each year, what’s the point of coming back year after year? Personally, I hope to see more challenges, more discussion, and more learning year on year.

Don’t get me wrong – all around the WOMMA team did a great job with the event. WOMMA is one of my favorite events to speak at. And as such, I want to see it grow and improve.

What do you think? For those of you who attended, did you come away with a similar feeling?