10 WAYS TO MAKE INDUSTRY CONFERENCE PANELS BETTER

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Me and a bunch of white men (and one white woman) at Festival Congress in Cardiff, 2015

by:Larm, CMJ, The Great Escape, Eurosonic, European Music Fair, Iceland Airwaves, Festival Congress Cardiff, SPOT, ILMC… the music industry likes to talk.

I also like to talk, and I’d like to help the music industry to talk more clearly, more passionately, in a voice other than that of a middle-aged white man. So if you will permit me, here are ten suggestions for all you seminar-bookers out there:

1.
Make sure your panelists are adept at publicly speaking, and that they are engaging on their subject. Either have met them before you book them, or ask for a sixty-second video of them speaking about a chosen subject. If they’re not enthusiastic and passionate about it, why should you expect your audience to care?

2.
If your panellists are speaking to an audience that doesn’t share their native language, suggest they moderate the speed of their speech, be mindful of their diction and vocabulary, and avoid colloquialisms where possible. Their job is to be understood

3.
Make sure they know how to use a microphone to address both their fellow panelists and the audience. It’s surprising the number of people who don’t. I’m one of them, but I’m learning. Before the start, have the moderator remind them to speak clearly to the audience, and be sure that your PA is powerful enough to enable the audience to hear the quietest of the speakers, all the way to the back of the room

4.
Make sure your panel is gender balanced and socially reflective. If you can’t find any women to appear on the panel, look harder. Lots of women work in the music industry. If you’re really struggling to find women to speak, you’re still not looking hard enough. And if, finally, you absolutely could not find any women, no matter how hard you tried, resign. If you haven’t resigned yet, go back to the start and repeat the process with people of colour

5.
Make sure no one on the panel is friendly with or works with anyone else on the panel. There’s no surer way to stifle debate. And make sure your moderator is prepared to ask rigorous questions if they need to be asked

6.
The audience vastly outnumbers your speakers, and their collective experiences more than likely vastly outnumber the experience of your speakers. Include the audience in the conversation. Leaving five minutes at the end for questions isn’t enough

7.
Have the moderator and panelists talk on email in the days before the panel, and agree on topics and the course of discussion. It doesn’t sound like there’s a whole lot of that going on

8.
Have them talk about positive outcomes, and try and direct the discussion in that direction. Have someone taking notes and then, when your conference is over, re-engage with the issues and see what can be done to bring about change, so we don’t need to sit here again in twelve months time, talking about the same problem that no one had the motivation to fix

9.
Don’t necessarily go for age/experience. Someone who’s worked in the business for one year has a year’s worth of experience, and it may be more relevant than the fifty-year old you’d planned to invite. Younger people are less burdened by ‘how things are done’ and are more likely to ask “Why are things done that way? Why can’t we do it differently?” Let’s hear from youth

10.
How many more times do we need to watch a younger white guy in thrall to an older white guy who’s there to talk about that time his guitarist threw the A&R man and eight grammes of coke in the swimming pool?

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I frequently give lectures and talks (and speak on industry panels, because I’m a middle-aged white guy). Next London event is The Road to Tour Management for Music Tank, 22 February 2016



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