Advice for conference panelists
Or, how to not waste the audience’s time.
Way before the event:
- 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.
- Think of one-liners to make your points memorable.
- Customize the message. Which of your ideas will help this specific audience?
- Think of some stories to back up your points.
- 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:
- Check the news for any breaking developments in your field.
- 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.
- Ask the moderator about his approach to panels: Will this be a meandering conversation or does he have questions prepared?
- Let the moderator hype you up by giving him a really entertaining introduction to use for you.
- 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.
- 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:
- In case you are asked to introduce yourself, just say one sentence that establishes your credibility. Max two sentences.
- Remember, no one wants to have your resume read out to them, not even your mother.
- 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.
- Try to be funny.
As the conversation gets interesting:
- Be quotable. Remember — ideally you want some audience members tweeting out your fantastic one-liners and help your message go viral.
- Actually answer the moderator’s questions.
- Explicitly opening another angle in the conversation is great. But remember:
- Digressing to ramble ‘ just every once in a while’ is NOT OK. Nobody likes BS.
- Stick to a specific point or story every time you start speaking.
- 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.”
- Remember — if you add value every time you open your mouth, the panel will naturally want to give you more opportunities to speak.
- Be as brief as possible.
Yes, you have a lot to say but panels are for conversations, not speeches.
As the panel concludes:
- Succinctly summarize your two largest take-aways. Succinctly means 3 sentences or less.
- Mention something specific you learned from the other speakers’ perspective — this will show how closely you were listening.
- Invite the audience to come find you to discuss their own stories about the subject.
After the panel is done:
- Thank the organizers and the moderator for honoring you with the spotlight.
- 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 :)