Wednesday, September 10, 2014

From the vault: 7 paths to success for panelists

(Editor's note: Since this post appeared in 2009, my own views on panels have shifted quite a bit. I now advocate for panels without slides and technology, so the panel discussion can be a real discussion--and my own preference is to attend conferences with few or no panels. But into each speaker's life some panels will fall, so you may as well be prepared.) 

Speaking as part of a panel is a great opportunity to speak without the full responsibility for holding an audience's attention...a great way to break into speaking...and a real headache if you don't plan it right. To be a sought-after panelist, try these tips to enhance your success:
  1. Stand down if you're one panelist too many: What? Turn down a speaking gig? Absolutely...if you feel the organizers have asked too many panelists. I'm most comfortable on a panel of three, but have been asked to sit on panels of as many as eight, a situation in which I was told each speaker would have precisely 2.5 minutes to make remarks! Do the math: When you add in all the introductions, moderator comments and questions, will you have enough time to make an impact?
  2. Interview the organizer or moderator: What presentation technology is available? How many panelists? How much time will each of us have? Do I need to prepare a presentation or remarks, or is this more of a roundtable with the moderator asking questions? If so, what are the questions? What's the panel setup--table with microphones or each of us taking a turn at the lectern? How many people do you expect in the audience? Can I bring handouts or takeaway materials?
  3. Provide your introduction and a bio for the program: I'm a big fan of taking charge of your introduction, but never more so than when you're on a panel. Check out this suite of introductions, and choose a shorter one for the verbal intro, and a medium-sized one for the panel--keeping in mind that more than one speaker will be featured.
  4. Keep it simple: Don't bring your video, a load of slides or your full-on I'm-the-only-speaker game. Instead, good panelists contribute as part of a group, responding to the other speakers and to the audience. Choose a handful of key points and take it from there.
  5. Find your niche: Take the time to figure out (with the organizer, moderator or the other speakers) the unique role you can play in this panel. Are you the naysayer? The surprise element? An outside observer? Once you know your role, you can focus your remarks.
  6. Don't pile on during Q&A: Some panelists seem to feel as if they must comment on every question (even if it's to say, "What she said..."). Don't be that panelist. Instead, hold your own on the questions where you can contribute strongly, and let the others handle the questions on which you're not the authority.
  7. Think how you look when you're not speaking: On a panel of three, you're not speaking two-thirds of the time...but still visible to the audience. Are you doodling? Checking your smartphone? Looking out the window? Something worse? Remember that you're on stage all the time as a panelist, and cultivate a thoughtful, listening look while your colleagues are speaking.
Related posts: 4 stepping stones to get speaking practice (including panels)

Everything in moderation (for panel moderators)

5 ways to renew your speaking skills

Speakers: 7 reasons I want you to talk more

(Creative Commons licensed photo by rosarodoe with words added)

I'll be leading Be The Eloquent Woman, my day-long workshop on women and public speaking, as a pre-conference session at the European Speechwriter Network's autumn speechwriters and business communicators conference in Amsterdam. The workshop is 23 October and the conference is 24 October. You'll learn how to speak with confidence, content and credibility to subvert the common expectations of women speakers. Please join me!