Today in Tabs: Business Tips, By Laura Olin

Don’t forget to have your attendees fill out feedback cards, when you reinvent paper!

Today in Tabs: Business Tips, By Laura Olin
[Photo: Shutterstock]

Hi, Tabs readers. I’m Laura Olin, and therefore not Rusty. The two of us are swapping newsletters this week in an experiment that may delight some and mildly disappoint others but will be over on Friday either way. Everyone’s a winner!


To read some brilliant stuff Rusty’s put together for the next few days, subscribe to my newsletter for the Awl, Everything Changes. And keep reading Tabs this week for my series of business tips, the first installment of which is:


So you’ve been asked to moderate a panel discussion at a conference—and maybe you’re a bit daunted about how to run a lively, productive session! Have no fear.

It’s all about having a vision for what your attendees will get out of your panel and moving toward it, step by step.

  1. Consider your audience. Are they entrepreneurs, interested in the stories of other entrepreneurs who may have wisdom to share (the more actionable the better!)? Are they specialists in an unrelated area who want to get a sense of a zeitgeist topic? Choose panelists that will speak to those interests!

  2. Arrange a preparatory call with speakers to agree on themes.

  3. Publicize, publicize, publicize. Consider a unique hashtag!

  4. It’s Panel Day and you’ve filled a large conference hall with attendees—great job! Get mic’ed up and get on stage.

  5. After your panelists have introduced themselves, start off the discussion on a participatory note by posing a question to the audience! Turn to them and ask: “When’s the last time you felt meaning in your life? Let’s all take a few minutes to think about it.”

  6. Gesture for the room to fall silent in contemplation. There may be some titters and phone-checking at first! But after a half-minute or so, as you and your panelists maintain a thoughtful silence onstage, your attendees will follow your example and begin to consider the question for themselves.

  7. The air will thicken and get heavier as the silence becomes a near-physical presence in the room. This will only make your panel feel more dynamic!

  8. Maintain the quiet for about seven minutes or until you begin to hear audible sobs among your attendees, whichever comes first.

  9. Break the silence with something like the following—and remember to practice what you’ll say beforehand so that you’re not staring down at the notecards in your lap. Nobody likes a speaker who doesn’t make eye contact!

  10. Begin: “At the very beginning of civilization, millennia ago, there were no classes. No genders, no races. No ‘personal brands.’

  11. “There were just people in small communities living off the land. We worked together to survive. We helped each other. We loved each other widely.

  12. “We woke up each day pleasantly surprised to still be alive and set out into the dawn to find food for our families. We’d take what we could from the land, kill only what we could eat, leave things largely as we found them.

  13. “We had so much time to observe the world around us because we truly lived in it. We took in the leaves on every tree and the feathers of every passing hawk.

  14. “We died when our time came, sometimes when we were still young. We didn’t mourn long; we appreciated the time we had together and accepted it when it ended.

  15. “I say ‘we’ because we are still those people. We can live like that again. We can leave things as we found them. We can be pure of heart and free of mind again. But only if we do it together.”

  16. As you finish speaking, let the hall fall into silence again—a silence that feels somehow lighter this time, like it’s expanding the space around you rather than weighing it down.

  17. Remove your mic headset and rise from your chair. Leave your notecards behind. You won’t need them anymore.

  18. Motion for your attendees to rise along with you.

  19. Step down from the stage and walk down the hall’s center aisle to the door.

  20. Without turning around, say: “You can bring your laptop bags with you, but you won’t need the devices inside.” Open the door after you’ve heard the resulting rustle of zippers and thuds.

  21. Remain wordless as you guide your long line of followers—panelists, attendees, passers-by who feel compelled to join your quiet flow of people—through the airy halls of the convention center and finally outside, blinking, onto the bright sidewalk.

  22. Walk along surface streets until the buildings become smaller and spaced farther apart, then sparser still before receding completely to countryside as you make your way to the most heavily-wooded area in your region. Make sure to look up the most pedestrian-friendly route ahead of time to avoid any highway-shoulder mishaps!

  23. If the journey takes more than a day and you have to spend a night on the road, profit from your forethought by having your attendees turn their laptop bags into pillows by stuffing their suit jackets into them!

  24. When you arrive at your forest, the first priorities will be shelter and a source of fresh drinking water. Have your attendees count off to form workshop groups to make things as efficient as possible! Group 1 can search for suitable branches to form the spines of lean-tos, Group 2 can go on a scouting mission to locate the nearest clear-running stream, and so on.

  25. As the days continue, stay organized to keep people engaged! Arrange foraging workshops, agriculture how-tos, and bird-watching trips for an educational treat.

  26. As your community grows and matures, make sure to keep your attendees grounded! Meditate regularly and do readings of William Golding’s “The Lord of the Flies” around the evening fire to remind yourselves of the people you certainly don’t want to be.

  27. Attendee questions are always a great way to make sure people are feeling heard!

Good luck!



Laura Olin will return Wednesday with more helpful tips. Today in Tabs is brought to you by Fast Company and you may subscribe here.

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