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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Panel Prowess: How to be the Best Speaker of the Bunch

If you’ve been invited to speak on a panel, congratulations! Go for it. A panel is a great opportunity to share your expertise, highlight what you know, and position yourself as a leader in your field.

But being a good panelist means more than just showing up on time. A panel position should be approached as a mini speaking engagement—yes, a more informal and succinct one—but definitely something to prepare for in advance (and not just on the bus ride over).

As a regular speaker, I’ve picked up a few pointers for standing out on a panel. Here are 10 strategies and techniques for speaking-engagement success!


1. Dress the Part

If you’re part of a panel, your audience will expect that you’re an expert or leader in your field with important information to share. So when you walk onto that stage, you want to look the part. Make sure the message you’re delivering visually is the one you intend and one that will put you in a positive light from the start.


2. Opt for an Intro

It’s important to establish credibility with your audience—and this is easily achieved with the right opener. Let people know why they should be listening to you, and take the opportunity to build up your personal brand. Whether being introduced by the moderator or doing it yourself, make your intro succinct, interesting, and reflective of why you were invited to be a panelist. The right intro can pique the audience’s interest so that they’ll pay attention when you speak.


3. Second is the Best

Turns out there’s a lot of truth in that old childhood rhyme “first is the worst, second is the best.” If each panelist has a chance to speak, as opposed to a straight Q&A format, ask to be second in the lineup, versus first or third. This allows you to be heard by the latecomers and avoid having to compete with those getting ready to leave.


4. Know Your Audience

You don’t need to know each person in the audience personally, but you should have a good idea of the general make-up of the room. With that in mind, tailor your presentation to the audience in front of you: people have a much greater attention span when the information they’re hearing is relevant to their lives.


5. Start with an Attention Grabber

Whether offering information or answering a question, you want to engage the audience from the get-go. Start with an attention-grabbing visual, statistic, or statement that relates to, supports, or progresses your upcoming points.

6. Involve the Audience

Have you ever listened to someone speak and wondered when it would end? The key to preventing your audience from doing the same is to get them involved. Ask questions that require a show of hands, pose a problem that gets the audience thinking, or make a statement that challenges the audience to see another point of view. By including interaction, however small, the audience has an active role and is less inclined to become bored or get distracted.


7. Communicate Clearly

Refrain from using industry jargon unless every person in the audience actually lives and breathes your topic. Your goal is to help the audience understand and relate to what you’re saying—not to see if they can keep up with you. In addition, keep your answers short and concise. Know the five facts or points you really want to convey. Have a pleasant tone of voice, and speak at an appropriate volume for the venue. Your body language should also support your verbal message—a confident, calm demeanor is always best.


8. Create Credibility

Sprinkle in a statistic, fact, or quote from an industry expert to make your opinion, idea, or answer not only come to life, but be more credible.

9. Listen to the Other Panelists

There is nothing more distracting and rude than a fellow panelist not paying attention. Checking your Blackberry, looking all around the room, or doodling on a pad while your colleagues speak undermines your professionalism and may prevent you from hearing valuable information that you can refer back to later in your response.


10. Have Fun!

Yes, your audience is there to learn something, but they’re probably hoping to have fun, too! So, relax, smile, and enjoy being on the panel. If you look bored or unengaged, your audience will likely reflect those feelings back. But being friendly and likeable, in addition to being a great speaker, is likely to get you invited back next time.

Photo courtesy of Ewen and Donabel.