If you’ve been invited to speak at an industry panel event, you have a great opportunity to share your knowledge and experience, while also enhancing your professional reputation. But the key to success, like so much in life, lies in the preparation and planning.
For many, presenting at a panel event can seem less intimidating than a business presentation or solo keynote speech. You share the stage, and the weight of expectation and performance, with your co-panellists. And whilst this does reduce the level of focus on you, it also presents different dynamics and challenges.
For your part in the presentation to be well-received and memorable (for the right reasons) you need to be ready for whatever the panel and audience may throw at you.
So, if you’re wondering how to prepare for a panel discussion, read on, as we share our top tips to help master and make the most of the occasion.
3 Things to Do if You’ve Been Invited to Speak at an Industry Panel Event
So, you’ve accepted the call to speak at an industry panel event. What now?
Here are three important things you should do to prepare.
1. Research the event
Spend some time researching past events so you can get a feel for the format, size and focus the event will take. Look up the other panellists to learn about their credentials and level of expertise. And importantly, consider who will be in the audience. Are they industry peers, technical specialists, business leaders, academics, students or a mix? Think about why they are attending and what they hope to gain. Make sure you keep this front of mind when writing your notes to ensure you’re covering their areas of interest.
2. Get in touch with the moderator and panellists
Where possible, it’s a good idea to reach out to the moderator prior to the event to get a sense of their style and approach, and to find out how they intend to conduct the panel discussion. Speaking to them in person or by phone is preferable to email. If you don’t already know the other panelists it’s worthwhile connecting with them via email or LinkedIn. Not only does this break the ice before the event, it will also help you to understand their angle and arguments on the topic, so you are ready to go on the day.
3. Understand your role on the panel
Speaking with the moderator prior to the event also gives you the opportunity to gain some insights into your role on the panel. It’s important to gain some understanding of things such as:
– What are the perspectives and experiences they would like you to bring to the panel discussion?
– How much time will you be allocated to speak?
– How does your content compare with that of the other presenters?
Understanding your role will help guide you in your preparations and allow you to deliver what the audience wants.
Having done the groundwork around understanding the event, who else will be on the panel and what your role will be, it’s now time to prepare yourself.
How to Prepare for an Industry Panel Discussion
You will be sharing the load with other speakers, so it’s important to get your point across clearly, being mindful that you don’t speak too much, or too little. You’ll also need to be ready for the questions and arguments that will inevitably pop up.
To walk into the panel discussion with confidence, follow these five steps.
1. Plan out your talking points
While the attraction of a panel presentation is often the spontaneous and lively discussions, you still need to be prepared with the relevant points you want to cover. Facts and figures are good, and you should have a couple of recent statistics to back up your arguments and reinforce your point too.
As a minimum, prepare a list of bullet points sequenced in a logical order to introduce, explain and round out your ideas.
2. Have personal experiences and stories to share
When we hear others talk, it’s often their personal stories that stay with us the longest and have the biggest impact on what we takeaway. When you add a personal spin it creates a vivid picture in the minds’ of the audience which helps them to retain the information. It also resonates with others on a personal level, which builds connection.
3. Prepare ahead for questions
Wondering how to best prepare for questions for the panel discussion? It can be as simple as taking note of any that come to mind while you’re preparing your talking points. Make a list of the questions as well as your answers to them. As well as this, a good idea is to get a group of colleagues together and ask them to share with you as many questions they can think might be asked at the event. While you can’t imagine every possible scenario, adopting these methods will take out much of the guesswork.
4. Expect and prepare for conflict of opinion
When you gather any number of people together, there are bound to be differences in opinion. Here are three tips to help you avoid conflict interfering with your presentation.
– Expect a conflict of ideas and be ready for it. This means deciding on a stance, researching it in advance, and having a clear, logical argument to back your views.
– Listen carefully to the other panellists and the audience. Don’t interrupt them, and never be disrespectful. Doing so will only turn them off, discredit you and tarnish your reputation.
– Be acutely aware of your body language and facial expressions if the discussion gets heated. Don’t allow your non-verbal communication (e.g. tightly crossed arms, rolling of the eyes, pursed lips, tapping of the feet etc) to display impatience, annoyance or anger. Instead, remain physically neutral and let your words get your point across.
5. Be conscious of time
In most cases, each member of the industry panel will be given a fixed amount of time to present their views. This is generally followed by the moderator opening the floor to questions regarding what you have said.
Make sure you rehearse beforehand so you know you can keep your presentation to the allocated time. In the heat of the moment it can be easy to waffle on (we all know how annoying that is when we’re in the audience!). So stay on message, and keep it sharp, relevant and to the point (without rushing or glossing over anything important of course).
6 Bonus Tips on Panel Discussion Etiquette
You can prepare to the letter and nail your presentation, but there are certain panel discussion etiquette rules that if broken will severely dent the overall impression you make on the audience.
Here are six things that are non-negotiable:
1. Stay engaged: Do not look at your phone, chat or otherwise distract yourself while the other panellists, moderator or audience are speaking. It is highly unprofessional and gives the impression that you are bored and don’t want to be there.
2. Avoid fidgeting: It’s completely normal to feel nervous, but try hard not to fidget, shuffle or make other unnecessary movements. It’s distracting and will take the focus off what you are saying. For our tips on assertive and confident body language, read this blog post.
3. Get comfortable: One element many people fail to prepare for is the physical set-up of the event. For example, will you be seated on stools (not our favourite!)? If so skirts and tight fitting trousers are going to make you feel and look uncomfortable. Or perhaps you’ll be seated in lounge-type armchairs. If you’re not used to presenting from these you may look awkward. Likewise standing behind individual podiums, or using lapel or cheek mics. It’s a good idea to practise in advance of the event speaking from whatever set-up will be used so you look totally comfortable on the day.
4. Speak up: Don’t fall into the trap of letting the other panellists do all the talking. You have been hand-picked to share your expertise. Don’t leave the audience questioning why you are there.
5. Look the part: If you’re not sure what to wear when speaking on a panel, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and overdress rather than turn up looking like you haven’t made an effort.
6. Stay on topic: Always keep your presentation focused on the topic at hand. For instance, don’t be tempted to talk about your latest innovation or product if it’s unrelated.
Prepare Yourself for Success
When you speak at a panel event, there’s lots to consider. It’s not just your presentation you need to organise – you also need to be ready to respond to questions and arguments, and to work in cohesion with the other panellists to ensure an entertaining and informative discussion is delivered.
The key here is to understand your audience and be thorough in your research and preparation – that way you can feel confident and ready for anything that arises.
Need expert guidance in preparing for a panel discussion?
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Written By Belinda Huckle
Co-Founder & Managing DirectorRead Bio
Belinda is the founder and managing director of secondnature. With a determination to drive a paradigm shift in the delivery of presentation skills training, she is a strong advocate of a more personal and sustainable presentation skills training methodology.
She believes in a training approach that harnesses people’s unique personality to build their own authentic presentation style and personal brand.
Belinda is currently helping to transform the presentation skills of people in organisations such as BBC Worldwide, DHL, ESRI, Heineken, MARS Inc., Moody’s, Pfizer, Roche, Triumph and Walmart – to name just a few.