Where to sit in a panel discussion

Almost every conference has them: panel discussions. In these sessions, they often bring more speakers on stage to discuss a topic. When they invite you to be part of one of these panels, you are in luck! The organisers see you as an expert!

In the early days, I never thought about where to sit in a panel discussion. I often chose a ‘safe’ spot, usually at the end of the row. That might not have been a smart choice in retrospect. Through experience and learning about psychology, I learned other places are better.

Which places you ask? That depends. On you. On the other members of the panel. And on what the panel is for.

What is your goal?

The first thing you want to ask yourself is: what is your goal for the panel? What do you want to get out of it? Are you looking for leads? Or are you trying to show your knowledge?

How do you want to be seen?

The second question you need to ask yourself is how you want to be seen? Do you want the be seen as the most knowledgeable member? The influencer? Or would you rather they see you as the humble person?

Who are the other panel discussion members?

You want to know who the other members in the panel are. You want to know who is most vocal. You want to know who is popular. And you want to know how well they know the moderator.

Where to sit

Depending on the answers on these questions, you determine where to sit:

The most vocal one: close to the moderator

Do you want to answer a lot of questions? Be the most vocal at the Q&A? In that case, you want to sit closest to the moderator. After all, the moderator is the one asking the questions. When she or he does that, the moderator will look at the panel. If you are the first one in sight, you will get more chance to talk.

Read more about how to be a good moderator

The most influential one: in the middle

When you want to be seen as the most influential person on the panel, you want to choose the middle seat. This has to do with psychology. People subconsciously feel the person in the middle is the most influential one. And it’s true. Just think about all the movies you’ve seen in the past. The popular girl in that high school movie always walks in the middle. The leader of the band? Front center. And the most important players in a football team always play in the middle as well.

Friend of the popular one: next to the vocal one!

And finally, do you feel you want to piggy-bag on the popularity of other panel discussion members? Do you feel somewhat insecure, but want to look good anyway?

In that case, go sit next to the most vocal member of the panel. People will see you when that person is talking. They will feel you are connected to that person. And chances are that the first one they will turn to after that vocal person, is you.

It’s about perception

In the end, it’s about what you want to ‘show’ about yourself on the panel discussion. It’s what people will think of you. By sitting in the right spot, you can steer that in the direction you want.

Take your pick: where do you sit?