How to shine on a panel

Follow these tips to prepare for a potentially career-changing opportunity.
How to shine on a panel

Professionals delivering a keynote generally meticulously prepare for their speech, but those sitting on panels, where they share the spotlight with others, often ad-lib. They don't prep or practise, arrive just before showtime, or leave shortly thereafter. And as a result, they may come off as lacklustre, potentially hurting themselves, their companies, or their careers.

"There is no greater way to be perceived as an industry leader than to do well every time you speak," said Patricia Fripp, the San Francisco-based past president of the National Speakers Association and president of Fripp & Associates, which provides public speaking coaching and training to professionals.

Fripp and Benjamin Ball, founder and director of Benjamin Ball Associates Ltd., a presentation coaching firm based in London, offer these tips to financial managers invited to speak on a panel:

Determine your goal

Once asked to participate, which is a testament to your knowledge and expertise, ask yourself what you want to achieve, Ball said. Do you hope to attract investors or industry partners? Do you hope to get a job offer? Once you determine your end goal, you can focus on what you want to say, in the most interesting and engaging way possible.

Prepare and practise

Moderators may contact panellists prior to the event, and that's a great time to ask questions, determine the structure, and make suggestions. Don't assume moderators are prepared, Fripp said. Having a preliminary call with all panellists is ideal. "If you don't know what the other panellists are talking about, everyone could say the same — and then it will be boring," she warned. Then, create your opening line, practise your introduction (perhaps in front of colleagues), and think in advance how you will answer questions. "You need to prepare and rehearse the same as if you had a 30-minute keynote," Fripp said.

Understand your audience

Know in general whom you will be addressing, and tailor your comments to those in the crowd. Acknowledge any online audience that may be attending, and be sure to include them in Q&A sessions.

Make it interactive

Listen intently to what other panellists say, comment on their remarks, and, if needed, contradict them politely. "Conflict is interesting," Ball said. "The worst panels are where everyone is agreeing with each other."

Tell stories

Create or share a situation (who, what, when, where, why), explain complications or problems that have arisen, and conclude with the resolution. Then relay how this applies to the audience.

Be memorable

Conceive an unforgettable idiom that sticks. Ball once served on a panel, when a fellow speaker quipped, "Fundraising is a process, not a project", over and over again. "He said it five to six times, but every time he added more information and brought it to life — and made people think what fundraising was all about," Ball said. "That panel was six years ago, and I can still remember it."

Read your reviews

Make sure you receive a copy of any panel evaluations to look for opportunities to improve.

Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in the US.