Even More Important That Panels & Post-Show Discussions Be About Audience Experience

Today I had a post appear on ArtsHacker where I point out some general tips for organizing panel discussions. This covers everything from pre- and post-show chats to conference panels.

Essentially, the tips follow the same philosophy generally espoused for any sort of arts and culture event — make the environment about enriching the attendee experience  rather than celebrating how awesome the people on the panel are. People are intentionally present at this conversation in the hopes of becoming better informed so the goal should be on removing any impediments to that. (And, after all, even those of us that produce and present events are audience members at some point, too. We are seeking the same enrichment.)

For discussions oriented on performances, it is all about facilitating meaningful conversations for the audience and then getting out of the way. One person I cite mentions that having performers present can inhibit a free flow conversation because people tend to censor themselves or focus on the performer rather than the performance. He suggests ways to involve performers so they don’t become the focus.

A dramaturg I quote suggests some questions that focus on the audience experience which can prevent audience members from feeling they are obligated to ask a question and resort to “How do you remember all those lines/notes/movements?”

For discussions that are the event rather than the complement to the event, the concept is very much the same. Don’t spend half the allotted time reading panelist bios and allowing them to make increasingly lengthy opening statements – keep introductions short and get right into a discussion between panelists that have real things to say to one another.

The panelists don’t have to be so diametrically opposed to each other that you need a security guard prepared to tackle them, but no one walks away with something new to consider if everyone is nodding in agreement with everyone else.

By the way, many of the same guidelines for panelists are suggested for questioners from the audience- run a disciplined Q&A with a strict time limit and ground rules stated in advance to prevent an escalating series of lengthy rants.

I am sure frequent conference attendees probably silently pray that most of these guidelines were applied to the sessions they attend.

Panels And Post Show Discussions

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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4 thoughts on “Even More Important That Panels & Post-Show Discussions Be About Audience Experience”

  1. “He suggests ways to involve performers so they don’t become the focus.” Don’t get this at all. If the performers are not the “focus,” then why are we all there in the first place??

    I hosted a pre-concert lecture with an orchestra I used to manage. I invited 4 orchestra musicians to speak: 2 who had just joined that year and we’re in their early twenties and 2 who had been in the orchestra for 30+ years. It was great!

    • If the performers are the focus rather than the performance, it doesn’t matter what was performed. If the questions are about how many hours of practice went into it rather than how the audience experienced the content, then it doesn’t matter if the program was the Rolling Stones or Mozart.

  2. It depends on the context whether the performer or the pieces performed are central to the experience. A friend of ours recently went to a Rolling Stones concert. He told us about the venue, where they were seated, interactions with the ushers, how good the sound system was, …, but never once mentioned which pieces were performed. He was there for performers—he even commented that he did not need to be close to the stage, because he had seen them many times from close up, and for this concert he did not need to see them up close.

    If I go to a talkback with actors after a theatrical performance, I want to hear about how they choose specific interpretations of their role, where a particular bit of business came from, what was particularly difficult or rewarding for them, … . Talkback with actors is about the actors, not about the audience. I don’t want to know that the clueless dude behind me liked the slapstick parts and didn’t understand any of the Shakespearean dialog—I already knew that from his reactions to the performance. If the actors are being asked to speak, I want to hear their views.

    If the discussion was just about the play, I’d want to talk with the dramaturg or the playwright, not the actors, and I’d be tempted to skip the talkback and just read about the play online (unless I knew and respected the dramaturg).

  3. Good points, Gasstation.

    Joe, I wasn’t suggesting “how many hours of practice” type questions — and, in fact, have never asked such a question in a pre-concert/post-concert event which I’ve led. It may very well not matter what was performed. The lay audience is more interested in the people behind the music. IMHO.

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