In presentation training we refer to STAR moments – something that the audience will always remember. Normally, this is something that is unusual or surprising such as Bill Gates making jokes and opening a jar of mosquitos to infect the audience at his TED talk on the need for more investment in combating malaria.

Unfortunately, STAR moments in panel discussions are far and few between. You may agree with the Guardian writer that most panels are pointless.

Panels take time and skill to organise if they are to be productive, informative and engaging for the audience.

I would therefore like to give my gold star for the best panel discussion of 2019 to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

During Geneva Peace Week they organised a panel on framing peace from a feminist perspective in which peace advocates from Nigeria, South Korea and Lebanon shared their stories of alternative paths to peace.

WILPF_Geneva Peace Week_Flyer_Web

Why does WILPF win the gold STAR?

WILPF had all the ingredients for a compelling panel discussion – editorial and creative flair combined with a dash of strategic thinking. Below is their recipe for success:

Editorial strategy

1. The event linked to one of the overarching themes of Geneva Peace Week – a global perspective on peace building. 
2. It had clear objectives:
• To explain what a feminist peace looks like
• To foster a discussion on alternative paths to peace
• To showcase the work of women advocating and working towards ending conflict
• To redefine security from a feminist perspective.
3. It was designed with the audience in mind – informed, diverse and interested in learning something new and different about peace building.
4. The selection of male and female speakers, from Lebanon, Nigeria and South Korea, and the stories they told perfectly matched the objectives and audience.

Creative flair

The Secretary General of WILPF, Madeline Rees wanted the event not to be “the usual panel discussion” but to go beyond the usual thinking about peace and bring to the surface different analysis, stories, strategies and solutions. This meant it had to be done differently and creatively.

1.The communication team was involved from the start – bringing not only an editorial but design flair.
2.The event was set in “WILPF’s Peace Lounge where the speakers were invited as guests to sit and share their stories with the invited audience.
3.The team created a space where lights and voices helped the participants to think differently and listen deeply. The event started in darkness with the audience shown to their seats by flashlight. For the first 5 minutes they listened to an audio recording – scripted by WILPF -between an actress and producer about how women tried and failed to get an inclusive and just peace after WW1.
4.The moderator made the link with women’s struggle today and as she introduced each speaker they emerged from the darkness and switched on their light.
5.In this intimate atmosphere, the speakers told stories about their commitment to justice, desire to end patriarchy and belief in a feminist peace. (In my next blog I shall review their storytelling best practice).

Preparation and rehearsal

The team organised technical rehearsals checking the set, the props, the lights and sound as if it were a theatre performance.

On the day before the speakers went through a dress rehearsal – practising their stories, timing them and working out the choreography of arriving on stage and activating the lights. As a result the “performance” was slick and professional.

Audience response

As the audience came in and sat down, I heard a few mutterings that the darkness and comfy seats could be an opportunity to take a nap. Far from it! The audience was engaged, prompted by the speaker’s stories to ask personal questions such as, “Anthony how did you become the man you are today?” and “Can I take you home as an example to my teenage son?”

The organisers had to turn away dozens of people. For those lucky enough to get seats, I heard only positive comments such as ” the best event all week” and “that was different and compelling”.

Disclaimer: I helped with the audio script, voiced over one of the roles and rehearsed the speakers, but the concept was all WILPF’s!