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Tips for appearing in a panel discussion

Panel discussions at conferences and trade shows are an excellent way to raise your profile: both as an expert and also for the business you represent. If they are well run, with an excellent compere and fellow panelists, it is an exhilarating experience. However, the reality is that not all comperes are good or helpful, and there are other panelists who ‘misbehave’ making it challenging to put your responses across.

I have often seen discussion panels where the flow of the discussion doesn’t work effectively. This might be caused by:

  • One panelist being over dominant.
  • No guidance from the moderator or compere.
  • No pre-preparation from the panelists.
  • Panelists talking over each other – so no management of the discussion from the compere.
  • Individuals being excluded from the discussion.

Some of these points require the compere to manage the situation effectively. But what happens if the compere is ineffective? What can you do to ensure you are prepared and are in the right mindset.

What to ask the compere.

  • What are the goals of the discussion?
  • Who else is on the panel?
  • How long is the discussion going to be?
  • What questions will be asked?
  • What will the format of the discussion be? For example will everyone be asked their opinion or is it a free for all.
  • Practical technical questions: are you having your own lapel microphone or is there one hand held mic that is shared? How will the panel be seated? In a semi circle? Behind a table? On sofas??
  • How to get the attention of the compere so you can contribute?

How to prepare.

You have been asked to join the panel because you are an expert or you are representing a business or organisation that has a presence within the industry.

  • If you know the other people on the panel, check out their profiles and contact them to say “We’re on a panel together”.
  • If there are people on the panel you don’t know, research them. Is there anyone in your network who knows this person? Introduce yourself to them before the event.
  • If you have received questions from the compere (and if you haven’t chase them), prepare some responses. Remember to include statistics or case studies/examples in your prepared answers and try to memorise them. Even if you aren’t asked a specific question, you could use this information in some answers.
  • Visualise yourself in the panel, using the information you have been given by the compere, in the panel, responding to questions.

On the day

Unfortunately not all discussions or events run to plan; possibly there is a last minute replacement of a panelist; the AV might not be working, or the event is running late. Also, a panelist might like the sound of their voice and behave badly – speaking over other people and excluding others. Whilst a good compere will try to manage this as best as she can, you need to be prepared for the worst (sorry!) Here are some tips for the day.

  • Arrive in plenty of time, so you can see the venue, relax etc.
  • Keep referring to your preparation notes.
  • Arrive for the panel discussion early.
  • Grab a seat in the middle of the group because it is easier to be part of the discussion in the middle of the group – and also you will be likely to be more visible to the other panelists and the compere.
  • Keep your body language open and sit up.
  • If you are interrupted repeatedly by someone, calmly but firmly tell them to wait whilst you speak.
  • Remember there are two audiences when you contribute – the other panelists and the audience, so remember to include both groups!
  • If you are being ignored, get the attention of the compere or jump in to contribute and don’t stop!

These are a few of a number of tips for appearing in a panel discussion. This is an area I work on with senior executives and entrepreneurs. If you would like to discuss an event you are speaking at and would like to do some preparation with me, please contact me or call 0800 0938464