Many industry events include panel discussions. The event planner pulls together a diverse group with varying views on a topic in an attempt to educate the audience. Although from an adult learning perspective, these discussions often miss the mark, they’re fairly easy to put together (and less intimidating to the invitees), so they remain prevalent.
But, research from a recent PCMA survey suggests audience satisfaction with panel discussions is low. Of the 500 attendees at a recent event, less than 40 percent of respondents rated the panel above average.
So before you accept that next panel invitation (because it feels easy and keeps you from having to take the stage alone), remember there are ways to make your participation stronger … and you still have to spend time preparing. Don’t wing it. Being part of a boring, uninspired event is a waste of time for everyone involved.
Make a good impression. Know what message you want to leave with your audience. And keep your focus on educating the audience.
- Understand Your Audience. Who are they? What do they know about the topic? What are their concerns? What do they expect to gain from watching the discussion?
- Know your role in the discussion. Who else is on the panel? Find out more about each person. How is your perspective different from theirs? It’s these areas of disagreement that will make the discussion more interesting.
- Prepare some stories to support your points. Just as in a solo presentation, storytelling makes information more interesting.
- Be conscious of your time allotment. Make your point. Don’t ramble on and on using up airtime. Assuming the discussion has a moderator, they will likely ask you to elaborate if something is unclear or incomplete.
- If panelists aren’t receiving equal time because of a poor moderator, shift the discussion as you wrap up your comments by directing a question to another panelist.
- Stay engaged and energetic throughout the discussion. You don’t want to repeat something that’s already been said, so stay focused and listen.
- Don’t self-promote. Your credentials were part of the introductions. The audience knows who you work for. Provide great information and they’ll find you after the event.
- Make your comments meaningful and relevant. No fluff. The audience is there to learn something.
- Be conversational. A panel discussion should not be a separate presentation by each individual on the panel, but rather a flowing conversation.
A good panel discussion is similar to lively dinner conversation. Everyone is listening and interacting. It’s spontaneous and interesting. However, with any presentation, the focus should be on the audience. They are there to learn. Use your subject matter expertise to help educate.