Select the right words. Say them well.

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Edition Number 87

If you’ve ever been asked to serve on a conference or luncheon panel, you probably have had the experience of wondering how to handle that situation well. You’ll often find yourself in front of peers, clients and bosses where you have a chance to shine – or blow it! Let’s focus on the “shine” part and talk about how to make the most of your Panel fame!

Most of the time when you are asked the request falls into two categories. First, you may be an expert in the field or were just part of a high-profile effort in your profession. The stakes are higher here because you are probably at an industry meeting and the panel may get some attention from both friends and foes. Second, it may simply be a panel of experienced folks who are there to share their expertise for a gathering of students or a community group. There is less stress here because mainly you are there to offer your thoughts and experiences, but not being judged by anyone along the way.

In either case there are some absolutes you MUST know before going on that panel:

Who else is on the Panel? Always know who else is speaking. Do you know them? What is their area of expertise? And then what can you say to add to the mix?

Who is the moderator? Do you know them? Do they have an ax to grind here or are they neutral? What is their likely approach? Will they try to run the show or give each person a chance to speak their piece?

Is there a pre-meeting? There should be! You want to know what the format of the meeting is, what the other panelists want to say and what the audience is expecting. All of that can be discussed in a well-run 20 minute phone conference.

Do they allow visuals? We’ve all sat through panel discussions where it is just an endless hour of boring talking heads. Don’t let that be you! If visuals can be accommodated, bring them. Compelling pictures or video help you communicate your message (see below) and help you stand out.

Who is in the audience and how many are expected? The more you know about the audience the more you will be able to have some impact with what you offer. Most panel discussions include a few minutes for each panelist to provide some opening comments. You should frame those comments with the audience in mind.

What is your message? As with almost every Monthly Memo, we talk about this topic and it’s very important here as well. Anytime you speak, to a live audience or the media especially, you need to know your message and have a specific plan for how you would like to deliver it. If you offer a compelling message in an imaginative way you just may be the one panelist they remember!