Think of that ultimate dinner party – conversation (and libation) is flowing, ideas are stimulating, and everyone’s having a grand time. That’s the experience to create during your next panel (minus the drinking).
Panel discussions are the perfect way to bring people of different backgrounds together to share their influence with an audience. Instead of having each person present individually, seating all of them together for a moderated talk can be an attention-grabber for your next conference or big team event. A great moderator is key (see our post on moderator skills to get the idea). On top of that, it’s important to select panelists wisely. Do you have a good mix of expertise at the table? Are they good presenters? Seek diversity and balance of opinions.
Let’s say you’ve been chosen to sit on a panel. How will you come across? From sitting on many a great (and some unfortunately disastrous) panels, here are best practices I’ve cultivated over the years, and am happy to share.
Dos and Don’ts for Panelists
Show energy! Our energy levels tend to dip when seated, so pay attention to your smile, projecting your voice, and using gestures to let your energy shine through. Audience members are more apt to pay attention when we look like we care about what we’re saying, obviously!
Listen carefully to your fellow panelists. By listening to others’ answers, you’ll be able to play off their remarks and add value of your own. If you’re solely thinking of what you’re going to say next, you may miss an opportunity.
Keep it simple. Yes, you have a lot of knowledge to share. Yes, you want to prove you know what you’re talking about. But, no data dumping! Your audience won’t absorb all of it. It’s your responsibility to prioritize the most important and relevant information.
Use SHARPs throughout. Stories, humor, analogies, references/quotes lend themselves best to panelists. Instead of just giving a flat answer, do you have an example or story that could explain it better? Have some stories in your back pocket ready to go. Not only might you be more clear, but your audience will likely remember your point long after the panel is over.
Provide a final close. If moderator asks for closing thoughts, provide it. Bring the audience back with a one or two sentence summary of your Point of View, the action that needs to be taken, and the benefit for taking that action.
Don’t ignore the audience. Make eye communication not only with the moderator and other panelists, but with the audience, too! The moderator may be the one asking the question, but he or she is a proxy for the audience. Involve and connect with those sitting out in the room.
Don’t monopolize the conversation. Even if you have a lot to say, being on a panel means you’re part of a group. Be brief and to the point so you function as a member of the team, instead of a spotlight hog.
Don’t get too serious. It’s amazing how quickly our faces can become furrowed and serious when we’re talking about our expertise. Again, audiences are drawn to those who have passion. So smile! Let your natural self out.
Don’t look bored. Nonverbal behaviors speak volumes. You aren’t always speaking on a panel. Be aware of your behavioral habits when you are listening. Do you pick at your fingers or tend to frown? Do you lose your ready position and posture? Remember that you are still part of the communications experience and know how you’re coming across.
Don’t let your intro go too long. In most cases, the moderator doesn’t know you and is relying on some long professional biography she found online. Next thing you know, you’re sitting for five minutes, a little embarrassed, listening to a bunch of outdated information about yourself. Instead, give the moderator a printed 2-3 sentence introduction of yourself right before the panel starts.
Best of luck in your panel endeavors. Please ask any questions in the comments, and I’ll be happy to answer and elaborate.