Panels are a common event at conferences and seminars today, and yet few people really know how to maximize the opportunity to speak on a panel. The best thing about a panel is that you have to chance to hear from 3-5 experts on an issue. The worst thing is that you have those 3-5 people on the panel. In other words, with up to 5 people (and a host) featured on a typical hour panel session, with introductions and a closing figured in, each person only gets 10 minutes or less to share their expertise with the audience. So panels can be tricky and difficult to manage. But if you’re ever asked to speak on a conference panel, here’s a few tips that will help you maximize that opportunity:
1. Always answer the host’s question. Too often, inexperienced panelists don’t listen to the host, because they’re thinking about what they want to say. Others default to a prepared statement, speak to their own agenda, or completely ignore the leader’s question. If you want to be asked a second time, pay attention, and respond to the actual question.
2. Keep it short and to the point. Remember, there are other people who need time to share, so don’t hog the session. Plus, your chance of being remembered is always better when you make clear, easy to understand points.
3. Don’t ramble. Listening to a panelist ramble on and on is agony for the audience. They came to learn something from different speakers, not hear your life story. If you have trouble with this, keep re-reading point number 2.
4. Don’t interrupt. Let the other panelists or leader finish before you jump into the conversation. Some people have no filters and feel they have to blurt out whatever idea pops into their head, but it’s rude and inconsiderate. Be gracious with the other guests, because people notice.
5. Prepare just like you’re the keynote speaker. Preparation for a short presentation is often harder than preparation for a full length speech. Mark Twain said: “If you want me to give you a two-hour presentation, I am ready today. If you want only a five-minute speech, it will take me two weeks to prepare.” Don’t assume that because it’s short, that it doesn’t require your homework.
And a word to the leader hosting the panel: Your job is to ask questions, not be a speaker. You have the wonderful opportunity to give voice to the audience and ask the questions they’re thinking about. Don’t blow that responsibility by taking up precious time trying to be a keynote speaker. Ask questions, challenge the panelists, cut off those who go on too long, and navigate the multiple viewpoints for the audience.
A panel is a challenge, but it can still convey great information and help the listeners. So next time you get the opportunity, don’t hesitate. Step up and give it a shot.
Any other good suggestions I’ve missed?