An invitation to serve as a speaker in a panel discussion is a source of pride. You’re being acknowledged for your expertise and mastery of the subject.
If you’re an established expert, this is another feather in your cap and an opportunity to put the spotlight on yourself and your company. If you’re an emerging leader in your field, this is your chance to raise your profile and affirm your expertise.
But don’t think it’s easy to be a panelist. Even with a skilled moderator, panels can be dull and forgettable. Panel discussions can go south when the speakers fail to understand the value of the opportunity to connect with an audience, when they wing it and take a passive approach. I’m sure you’ve attended at least a handful of events like these.
Last month, I attended three conferences in person and observed generally poor performance in most panel discussions. At first, I thought it could be lack of practice during the pandemic and migration to video meetings. Then, I reconsidered: streaming conferences require even higher standards to keep virtual audiences engaged. So, the panelists I observed had much room to grow.
Whether in person or online, an effective panelist can shine, inspire, and inform without rambling or hijacking the conversation. Doing it well requires planning and preparation and setting a goal for your participation.
Here are 11 steps to consider as you prepare for your next panel discussion.
1. Write your own introduction. Help the event producers and moderator by providing a biographical blurb that establishes your qualifications to serve on the panel. Tell them what’s important to say about you in the program book as well.
2. Start with the audience in mind. Who will be in the audience in person or virtually? What do they need to learn to satisfy their interest in your topic? What golden nuggets can you give them to make their attendance worthwhile?
3. What do you want them to remember? Think of your comments as shareable content, one or a series of tweets or social media posts to convey your ideas clearly and concisely.
4. Speak in sound bites. You want to be quoted saying something of consequence that may end up in a trade magazine or a video recap of the conference.
5. Wrap your information in stories and anecdotes. Data is 22 times more memorable when presented in the form of story. Come ready to share stories about lessons learned, user experiences, successes, and failures, including your own, to cast a more honest and human tone.
6. Don’t hog the time or overshadow the other panelists. Show discretion and professional respect for the other experts, even if you have a different or conflicting approach.
7. Coordinate your audio visual for parity with the other speakers. Avoid being the only panelist with a slide deck unless your content adds perspective of great value to the overall discussion.
8. Speak in short and succinct sentences. Don’t stray off in tangents. Give examples that deepen understanding of the topic without going down a rabbit hole.
9. Look at the moderator and fellow panelists when you speak. Make eye contact with the audience only when you answer a question from the floor. Otherwise, keep your gaze on the members of the panel and maintain the feeling of having a conversation on stage.
10. Keep your energy high. Sit with an attentive posture and animated gestures. Speak clearly and slower than your normal rate of speech to compensate for lagging streaming audio and less-than-optimal sound systems. Smile and let the audience know you’re happy to be there.
11. Don’t sell. It’s OK to talk about your work in detail, but you’ll lose the audience if they feel you’re trying to sell to them. Build trust by giving them what they want and need to make their work and lives better.
Are you tasked with the role of moderator? From how to introduce panelists and set the stage, to managing the Q&A session, click here for nine rules to moderate a panel like a pro.