Panel discussions can be an effective communication tool or a disaster fostering boredom and miscommunication. Which do you want it to be?
As a speaker you may find yourself being asked to be on a panel as a speaker more often than being asked to be a keynote presenter. Panel discussions are a great business tool for providing audiences with multiple points of view in a short space of time. You will find that nearly every conference will have one or more panel discussions.
Expectations of speakers are high – many times the audience has paid to be there and they are expecting to hear quality information presented well and competently. Very often that is not what the audience gets.
So if you are asked to be on a panel grab the opportunity and use it to shine by being prepared, connecting with the audience, competent and professional. In fact, bring to the panel your excellent speaking skills – use storytelling, structure and body language.
Here are ten tips to keep in mind when stepping up to be a panel speaker. Follow these tips and you will shine.
1. Be aware of the difference between solo speaking and panel presentation. Quite often speakers don’t take the panel discussion seriously. They think that because they are part of the panel they don’t’ need to prepare, they can be casual and often the speaker tries to speak the same way they would as a solo presentation. Neither works. You need to stand out whilst being part of a group. Know who is moderating and contact them prior to the event, if they have not already contacted you. Prepare your introduction and present it to the moderator to introduce you. Make the introduction concise and about you, your expertise and business.
2. Be prepared. Plan your story, have examples ready and know your topic. Don’t wing it! A trap new panel speakers often fall into. Have your opening and closing statements prepared. Structure what you want to say – knowing that you may have to say it in a series of short presentations. If you don’t know the topic – don’t be on the panel – it will be too easy for the audience to realise your lack of knowledge.
3. Watch for the opportunities to shine and share. Remember, when you are on a panel you have to share in short bursts. You don’t have control. Make your opening introduction pertinent – share your summary. Use opportunities to relate your story, and add value to other panellist’s answers. Look at the audience when answering – engage with them not the moderator.
4. Remember you are one of several speakers. Plan to stand out with great language and appropriate stories. Add variety and avoid being one of the pack, repeating similar comments or reading a prepared statement. Be dynamic. Be audible – watch how you use the microphone. Speak up.
5. Be assertive. Watch for hostile questions. Anticipate questions and be prepared to reframe the discussion.
6. Listen to what the other panellists are saying. You can build on their answers. Listen to the questions being asked. Make sure you are answering the question. Clarify if you are not sure.
7. Research. Find out who you are sharing the panel with, what topics will they be discussing. Anticipate their perspective. Think of the panel as having a conversation with a group of friends.
8. Storytelling. Use your stories to inform and inspire. Share your stories to add value to the panel. Watch for jargon – keep it simple and use language that the audience will understand.
9. Maintain your energy. Keep your interest involved throughout the panel discussion. It can be very easy to sit back and let the others take over or look bored. Be enthusiastic and have fun. Smile, engage and connect with the audience. Remember the audience are watching you all the time.
10. Be concise. Don’t take over. There are others on the panel. You should all have equal time. Make your point then stop. If you find yourself talking more than others – include another panel member. The moderator should be keeping on top of this.
Being a speaker on a panel is a great way to expand your speaking skills. It gives you an opportunity to stand out, to add value and share your perspective with the audience. Often other speaking opportunities will come from being on the panel and showcasing your abilities.
So don’t wing it, prepare. Bring your best speaking skills to every speaking opportunity and that includes panel speaking. Above all have fun and use the opportunity to meet others in your field and make connections. You never know what could come of that panel discussion.
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