If you’ve been asked to sit on a panel at an industry forum or some other professional event, congratulations! The mere invitation is testament to your expertise and others’ confidence in your ability to share it. You’re doing something right already.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that expertise alone will carry you through. Many a panelist has bored an audience into oblivion with information overload. Often they’re so focused on providing technically correct answers that an hour later, no one remembers a word they said.
Yet others seem to have the crowd listening, laughing and hanging on every anecdote. Afterward audience members line up like teenagers at a rock concert to ask questions and keep the conversation going. Best of all, the panelist’s performance casts a favorable glow over his or her organization and own career.
If you want to elevate your panel appearance to rock star status, take some time to prepare. Here are a few tips to get you ready:
1.) Do some homework: Of course you’ll need to find out whether each panelist is expected to give opening remarks or just field questions. But also learn a bit about your fellow panelists and what distinguishes you from them. Ask if there is anything specific you should cover. Learn what, in the eyes of the host, would make the panel a success.
2.) As always, have key messages. Think ahead of time about what three or four messages (or even adjectives) you want your audience to come away associating with you. Write those in large print on a sheet of paper as you practice answering questions. If you want to be regarded as “industry leader,” “innovative,” “hip,” and “forward thinking,” be sure your remarks include---or at least echo---those terms.
3.) Know that you have three jobs: To ensure you, your organization and the panel all come off well. It’s not as tricky as it seems since in most cases the three will be aligned---or at least not in direct opposition. But remember, if you spend all your time bragging about your company but the panel overall flops, in the end neither you nor your company will look good.
4.) Bring stories. No matter the industry, people want to hear people talk about people. Think of at least three stories you can tell to drive home your messages. Then practice telling them to be sure they’re on the mark, can be told in short order and land the way you want. More than anything else, audiences remember stories. Be sure to bring them.
5.) Prepare to be spontaneous. That sounds like a contradiction but it’s not. Once you’re clear on your role, your messages, and your stories, practice answering as many different questions as you can---always coming back to your key messages and working in your stories along the way. The more you practice, the more natural the process will become. Soon you’ll be able to confidently handle anything that comes your way during the actual panel discussion.
If you follow these tips, your audience, your host, and YOU will all be thrilled with your performance. But more importantly, days and weeks after the program, your audience will still be recalling - and with any luck, repeating - your words of wisdom and the stories that brought them to life.
Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, visit bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.