When you’re asked to be on a panel, your first thought might be, “Oh, that’s easy. I don’t have to prepare. I can just show up.” The truth is that like any presentation, preparation is key.
Before the Event
You’ve been chosen for the panel because of your knowledge about the topic. Now you need to do some digging! The more you know, the better you can serve. Here’s how to become a powerfully prepared panelist.
Connect with your moderator or host. Find out why they asked you to be on the panel. What’s their expectation? What are they hoping you’ll bring to the party? Who are your fellow panelists, and what do they bring? Many times the host will share with you the questions they plan to ask. You might be invited to share potential questions as well. As a speaker, you should answer questions you are knowledgable and passionate about.
Keep your audience in mind. Who will be there? How many? What do they know about the topic, and what would be helpful for them to know? What specific items would be good to highlight? What kinds of questions do you think the audience might ask, and which ones do you hope they don’t ask? Prepare answers for those tricky questions and practice them out loud.
Nail down the logistics. What’s the venue layout? What’s the format? Is it during a happy hour, a breakfast meeting, part of a larger event? Will someone introduce you – if so, you might need to give them material for that intro – or should you prepare a self-introduction? Are you expected to provide slides?
Practice. If you are expected to have a prepared piece and/or slides, practice just as you would for any presentation. Practice out loud with your slides and a timer. Save your slides as a PDF since that format is compatible with all projection systems. And when you get to the event, double-check that the slides and your remote clicker are working.
During the Event
Help Your Listeners. That’s your single task as a panelist. Here are some practical ways to help:
- Bring energy.
- If you’re sitting behind a table, sit on the edge of your chair, which brings your energy forward.
- Use body language whether you are standing or sitting.
- Talk with both the moderator and the audience, not just the moderator.
- Keep it near your mouth; don’t wave it around. If the mic is on a stand, keep close to it so everyone can hear your pearls of wisdom!
- If there’s a planned segment when you’ll be speaking solo, ask for a lapel mic. The mic will free you up to use body language and connect with your audience.
- For Q&A, repeat the question so everyone hears it. If you aren’t quite sure what someone is asking, take the time to clarify.
It’s an honor to be part of a panel. Your knowledge and passion are being recognized as valuable for other people. Serve those people well by being a powerfully prepared panelist!