Elevating the panel discussions at Workday’s annual People Leadership Summit

Workday banner with text "Internal events matter, too"
Workday banner

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Most people understand the importance of external-facing events. When clients, customers, analysts, and the media are in the audience, the stakes are automatically high. The host organization and its speakers have the challenging tasks of “wow-ing “their listeners and (with any luck) getting them to take bold action. That’s why organizations spend months planning, organizing, and rehearsing to ensure those external events are a great success. And yet, when it comes to internal events, many companies don’t contribute nearly the same amount of effort. Here at Duarte, we know that’s a missed opportunity.

Internal events make it possible for employees and leaders to connect on a deeper level. They have the power to delight attendees and solidify their commitment to the company’s mission and vision. Duarte’s POV: Internal events matter, too. So, when Workday reached out to ask for our help in up-leveling their annual People Leadership Summit (PLS), we were excited to make this internal event as motivational and memorable as an external one.

Based in Pleasanton, California, Workday is a leading provider of enterprise cloud applications for finance and human resources. Every year, Workday holds their People Leadership Summit for newly promoted or hired managers across Workday. Over the course of two days, leaders and emerging leaders discuss the importance of communication, adhering to Workday values, and diversity, equity, and inclusion among other important topics. Attendees walk away informed, inspired, and ready to lead! PLS is particularly special because managers are invited only once. The event team knows they have one chance to make a lasting impression on these managers and solidify their commitment to the organization.



The big challenge

From great to exceptional

PLS includes motivational keynote speeches, breakout sessions, and panel discussions. Workday partnered with Duarte to help them improve their three panels, which were on specifically: Listening and empathy; values in action; and leading inclusively. Now, normally coaching panelists on their content and delivery is an easy win for Duarte’s Executive Speaker Coaches. But this engagement was particularly challenging because the panels were already well received by event attendees. The panelists were senior and C-suite executives, well-versed in public speaking, and several had been panel participants in the past. They were pros.

“The panelists were smart, talented, and knowledgeable. I had my work cut out for me!” said Nicole Lowenbraun, Duarte Content Director and Executive Speaker Coach. “Our task was to take these panels from great to exceptional.” And that’s exactly what we did. Despite their expertise, the Workday team recognized that there’s always room to grow and improve. Even when your event already has a reputation for success. Even when the speakers are experienced. Even if the event is internal.

Making the magic happen

Duarte audited the three panels from last year by reviewing recordings and scripts. Then identified concrete ideas for how to improve both the content and the delivery for PLS 2024.

Our process

Our Executive Speaker Coach provided insights on what they saw, felt, and heard after reviewing previous panels. They evaluated what worked and what didn’t and helped Workday see how they could make the PLS panels even more engaging and powerful.

In a collaborative working session, our Executive Speaker Coach and the Workday team generated standards for what makes a successful panel – do’s and don’ts about what to say and how to say it – for both the panelists and the moderators.

Then, we conducted executive speaker coaching sessions with each group of panelists to help them harvest the right stories and practice engaging with one another (and the audience) through those stories.

Our insights

We noticed a few major areas for improvement based on our audit:

  1. Panel responses felt more like mini keynote speeches, rather than dynamic conversations. Creating a true dialogue between the moderator and panelists would be more engaging for the audience.
  2. While the content and delivery was already impressive, there was an opportunity for more “clap-able moments.” Uncovering stories and anecdotes that resulted in applause, smiles, and other emotional impact would be key to improving the panels.
  3. Past panels were informative. Responses included powerful messages, but many of them lacked stories to bring their responses to life. Adding stories that connected to those messages would be a key focus.

Our approach

We audited Workday’s panels from last year and determined what went well and what could be improved, both from a content and delivery perspective. First, we conducted collaborative working sessions with their events team, giving them feedback on how to organize the panel content. We then conducted speaker coaching sessions with the panel leaders and participants to harvest the best stories and examples and practice interacting in a way that was conversational and not overly rehearsed.

The results

Standards that scale

10+ panelists and moderators walked away knowing exactly what stories to share to impact the new leaders in the audience. They became even more impressive, given their newfound storytelling and delivery skills. The Workday events team walked away with standards they can implement in a scalable way.