Advice for conference panelists

Or, how to not waste the audience’s time.

Way before the event:

  1. Frame your thoughts. Yes, you were invited because you’re perceived as an expert, but you’ll need to prove it by having clarity of thought, not a jumbled tangled string of ideas on the subject. Don’t think you can wing it.
  2. Think of one-liners to make your points memorable.
  3. Customize the message. Which of your ideas will help this specific audience?
  4. Think of some stories to back up your points.
  5. Make a commitment to never start your response with the words ‘sooo ummmm ….’ (This is probably the hardest thing to do on this list.)

Right before the panel:

  1. Check the news for any breaking developments in your field.
  2. Get to know the other panelists. Take note of which areas are they stronger at — plan on deferring to them on those subjects. Pitching your fellow panelists during the session will earn you goodwill all around.
  3. Ask the moderator about his approach to panels: Will this be a meandering conversation or does he have questions prepared?
  4. Let the moderator hype you up by giving him a really entertaining introduction to use for you.
  5. If you have a specific talking point that you’d like to discuss during the session. Provide the moderator a note with the topic or buzzword written down so he/she can tie that in.
  6. If you don’t know already, ask the moderator to quickly poll the audience about their background. Orient your vocabulary to theirs.

As the session begins:

  1. In case you are asked to introduce yourself, just say one sentence that establishes your credibility. Max two sentences.
  2. Remember, no one wants to have your resume read out to them, not even your mother.
  3. Don’t dive into the topic, right away. Simply tell people why you think you were asked to be up there for that topic without humble-bragging or outright bragging.
  4. Try to be funny.

As the conversation gets interesting:

  1. Be quotable. Remember — ideally you want some audience members tweeting out your fantastic one-liners and help your message go viral.
  2. Actually answer the moderator’s questions.
  3. Explicitly opening another angle in the conversation is great. But remember:
  4. Digressing to ramble ‘ just every once in a while’ is NOT OK. Nobody likes BS.
  5. Stick to a specific point or story every time you start speaking.
  6. If you have more than one point to your answer, help your audience process it all by breaking it down. Example: “I think potato chips are delightful for three reasons. One, their taste. Two, the crunch. Three, the carbs.”
  7. Remember — if you add value every time you open your mouth, the panel will naturally want to give you more opportunities to speak.
  8. Be as brief as possible.
Yes, you have a lot to say but panels are for conversations, not speeches.

As the panel concludes:

  1. Succinctly summarize your two largest take-aways. Succinctly means 3 sentences or less.
  2. Mention something specific you learned from the other speakers’ perspective — this will show how closely you were listening.
  3. Invite the audience to come find you to discuss their own stories about the subject.

After the panel is done:

  1. Thank the organizers and the moderator for honoring you with the spotlight.
  2. Hang around near the stage to chat with the audience members and see if they found your ideas useful. If you did a good job, you can finally enjoy the rest of the conference (and the attention.)
If you have ever wished a panelist would have read this before they started rambling, do hit the recommend button :)