Tips on being an awesome panelist!
1. Have 3-5 pocket stories – the best way to seem like you’ve done this before is to tell us a story about how you actually did this thing with a real client. Tell us how you failed and what you learned. Tell us about a wild success (humbly). Let your clients speak for you (using your mouth!). “Last month we faced this same issue with recruiting new volunteers for our Love Box program. One of the VPs at our corporate sponsor Dell said she’d post the need on her neighborhood Facebook page. And you know what? We got a huge response because the call for help was made by a person who had influence in their own community. It made a bigger impact coming from her than it would have from us. It’s now one of our best practices.”
2. Be the translator – After you tell us how you overcame a barrier and pushed through your limits, connect the dots to our experience. Translate how what you learned in your situation can help us. Say something like, “So, how can this help you? [ANSWER]” or “What this means to some of you in your business is….[ANSWER].” I mean, we are here to learn about your personal journey, but we REALLY want to get inspiration and new ideas from you FOR OURSELVES. Move your inward focus outward to us.
3. For the love of all that is holy, quit spouting jargon and “marketese” at us. Unless we are a homogenous group of tight-knit peers, leave your “solutions” and “optics” at home. Pretend we are your smart mom who isn’t necessarily entrenched in your industry and use everyday language to talk to us. I guarantee that having a teacher’s heart towards us will make us trust you and like you so much more.
4. We are DYING to like you – Really. We’ve sat through some really boring presentations before we got to yours. You can win this by just being LIKEABLE. Smile, make a joke, laugh at yourself, BE DIFFERENT. Let your personality shine through. Credibility + likeability = persuasion. We buy things from people we LIKE. Help us like you (And I know you know this, but have decorum in your difference. Don’t wander into circusville. I once had a speaker throw dinner rolls at us as part of her speech on innovation. It didn’t work because it didn’t fit).
5. We are watching you when you aren’t speaking – and we are gauging how much your respect the other speakers. If you are distracted, we will think you don’t like the other speakers or that you only care about yourself. If you are paying attention to the other speakers, we will credit you with respect and humility, and that’s the kind of person we want to work with.
6. Microphones – everyone has a lavalier mic or no one does. Don’t pass around a lavalier, it’s loud and distracting, and it looks awkward. Handheld mics are good – have one per every three panelists and one for the moderator. We don’t want to watch the microphone travel hand to hand down a long line of panelists. It’s a time-waster.
7. What’s your secret mission? Why did you say yes to speak on this panel? Don’t just say “it’s good marketing.” Figure out WHAT you want this audience to know about you by the time you are finished talking. Answers can be something like “I want the audience to get that Wells Fargo is not just a big, impersonal bank. We are the bank in your neighborhood that helps your kids, shows up at your events, and serves alongside you.”
8. What is the audience dying to know? Why did they spend money and a day or more coming to this conference? What did they hope to leave with? If you aren’t giving them some NEW, specific ideas and tips, you’ve failed them. Think of 1-2 insights you can TEACH this audience during your panel time. Can you help them avoid a mistake you made? Do you have a great resource they could use, too? Give us a peek under the tent and it will show us that you are, indeed, an expert worth spending money on.
9. Sameness is the enemy of the presenter – what’s expected at a panel? People sitting in a row, passing a mic, and talking. What’s not expected? You standing up, you drawing something on a whiteboard, you getting us involved in a quick activity, you reading a relevant quote from a client or an industry expert, you bringing an actual (again, relevant) prop that illustrates your point. “You’ve heard of the online dating site called Tinder, right? The app presents you with a person’s profile, and if you are interested, you swipe right on your phone [shows how to swipe right with her hand]. If you are NOT interested, you swipe left [swipes left with hand]. Let’s try it: I’m going to read some statement and if you agree, swipe right with your hand in the air. If you don’t, swipe left. [LATER] This is how our SchooLinks app works, except instead of dating profiles, we match high school students to colleges.”
10. Grab us from the get-go and we will follow you anywhere – Whether the moderator introduces you or not, open your show with a solid introduction. Follow this formula:
- Start with a quote, a startling statistic, a metaphor, a poll, a challenging question… something besides “Good morning, my name is X and I am the Y at Z” (snooze). Remember, sameness is the enemy of the presenter.
- Then, tell us your name and explain what you do at your company in PLAIN ENGLISH.
- Finally, tell us the reason WHY you love this work and that you hope to share that passion with the audience. “G.K. Chesterton, in his book Alarms and Discursions said, ‘Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.’ (pause for laughter) My name is Kendall Antonelli and I am the owner of Antonelli’s Cheese – which are two cheese shops and a bistro here in Austin. I am here to tell you that, for me, cheese has opened up an adventure into entrepreneurship and trying to use our business to do good in the community. Today, I hope to share with you some things we learned along the way. Thanks for having me.”