10 Tips for Speaking on a Panel

Panel discussionIn a recent posting 10 Tips on Moderating a Panel Discussion I listed suggestions for anyone who has been appointed a panel moderator.

In this companion piece, I’ll list tips for those of you who’ve been invited to speak on a panel. Simple math indicates there’s a greater chance you’ll be asked to be on a panel than moderate one (unless your name is Terry Gross or Jeremy Paxman).

Many of the tips for moderators have a corollary for panel members. Just as the moderator should know the audience; schedule time to participate in panel rehearsals or pre-event meetings; and be aware of the electronic backchannel, so should should panelists. The reverse if also true. If panelists need to learn to shut up, the moderator must make sure to engage less aggressive panelists in the discussion. Not only is this courteous, but it provides the attendees with a more rounded, more interesting discussion. A good panel is a dialog between an intelligent and aware moderator and an engaged group of panelists for the benefit of the audience.

10 Tips for speaking on a panel

  1. Know about the panel you are on
  2. There’s a vast difference between participating in a political slug-fest such as Crossfire or light entertainment like Just a Minute. Even if you know that’s it’s an industry panel, be aware, for instance, if you are the sole Microsoft representative on an Open Source panel. Some moderators delight in generating controversy and might introduce an unwary panelist into a hostile environment.

  3. Know the other panelists
  4. Use social media tools to find out the scoop on other panelists. Search their names in Google, Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter. Find out what other panels they have been on, read any reports and look for videos of them on YouTube and read about them in blogs.

    You should know what positions they’ve taken in the past and opinions they hold. Nothing is more disarming than to reference their Alma Mater (listed in LinkedIn) or an important paper they’ve written in the middle of the discussion.

  5. Know your material
  6. It’s assumed you are an expert, but refresh yourself by checking in Google News and doing an advanced search into the Twitter archives to update yourself on the venue, issues and other hot topics. Heck, you don’t even need a Twitter account to do this.

  7. Don’t be boring
  8. Remember you are there to entertain, not to inform.

    National Speakers Association President Kristin Arnold suggests:

    Panel members face the same challenge as all speakers, the need to move from being boring to “bravo!”. Be keenly aware of how much airtime you are using, keep you remarks short and to the point. Be relevant and controversial – a little chutzpa goes a long way!

  9. Be prepared – don’t walk into the panel cold
  10. Once you’ve spoken to the moderator and other panel members, sit down and create an outline of the points you wish to make. List the brief stories you can tell to illustrate the points. Remember, an entertaining story includes a great opening line and an obstacle that was overcome. One tool to use to list your points is the Challenge, Action, Response framework.

    Media trainer TJ Walker advises:

    Treat a panel like any other speaking opportunity. Have an outline with a few points. Make sure you have a story and specific case studies for your audience to make your points come alive.

  11. Respect others
  12. Even if you get into a heated discussion with another panelist or an audience member criticizes you, don’t lose your cool. Stay in relationship with the other panelists and audience. This means interacting with other panelists, acknowledging what they say, agreeing to disagree. Be aware of the flow of the panel discussion and sensitive to the mood of the audience, but don’t allow yourself to be bullied. You can see mistakes to avoid and pick up some survival techniques by watching anyone with liberal opinions being interviewed on Fox News.

    UK business commentator and experienced panelist Stephen Harvard Davis says:

    I always remember that I’ve been invited to join the panel because someone else has views and opinions that are different to my own. When responding to what they say I should never take their words as a personal attack and must always remain calm and pleasant, whilst making my point robustly. After all, it’s not their fault that their opinion is wrong! I always remember that the audience has come to hear all the panel’s opinions and not just my own. The audience wants to see a gladiatorial contest of wits and be entertained by it. A couple of minutes in answer to any one point is more than enough and whilst my opinion may be the only one worth listening to, I must let the audience be the judge of that.

  13. Don’t be a show-off
  14. Don’t compete with the moderator or other panelists for time or attention. It’s not a discussion if one person dominates. Keep your bio brief. Don’t promote your company. Get into the topic right away.

    Joel Postman, author of SocialCorp, notes:

    In school, there was always that guy in the front row who had his hand up for every question, begging to be called on with pleas of ‘oh, oh, oh, oh.’ Well he grew up and he participates in every panel discussion. And he’s still just as annoying as he was in Mrs. Benson’s English class.

  15. Remember you are always onstage
  16. Even when not speaking, maintain eye contact with other panelists and the audience. It’s not advisable to look at the moderator, even when you are talking, it’s the audience you are there to address.

  17. Hang around afterward
  18. Unless you are a CEO with an entourage and places to go, stick around after the panel ends. Audience members who need some of your time will come up to speak. Exchange cards with them. You never know who you’ll meet.

  19. Have fun!
  20. After all, that’s what the audience wants to see. Part of the fun might be blogging or tweeting about your experience and using social media to magnify the impact of the discussion for those unable to attend the event.

    I’d like to thank Kristin Arnold, TJ Walker, Stephen Harvard Davis and Joel Postman for their contributions to this blog posting.

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Here’s an annotated list of other articles on this topic.


Love these tips. Will bookmark this for anyone who is asked to be on a panel or moderate a panel discussion.

Great tips. Especially the one about staying calm amongst opposing viewpoints

Great advice, especially about preparing what you want to say in advance. My experience with panels is mixed, largely depending on the skill and experience of the moderator and on the participation of the other panelists. (Are they prepared, respectful? Are they show-offs?)

This is great information.

I would like to add one more thing though.

Don’t lie.

People always see through deception in the end and won’t buy what they don’t believe is truth.

Very thorough list Ian. Too many people give short shrift to preparing for panel appearances. It’s still an opportunity to make a great impression, a lousy impression or no impression–just like a regular speech.

UK Media expert Alan Stevens lists the following tips for speaking on a panel:

Panel debates often feature on broadcast news channels or may be set up to give audiences a chance to ask questions of politicians. If you find yourself on a panel, here are a few tips which may help:

  • Find out who else is on the panel, and do some research on their opinions
  • Prepare a couple of stories that make your point
  • Never interrupt. Listen and plan your response
  • Lift your hand to indicate you wish to speak
  • Address your responses in general to the person chairing the debate.
  • If you speak directly to the audience, make it brief.
  • Never insult another panelist, or use abusive language
  • Respect the views of others. Don’t react. Directors love reaction shots.
  • Stay calm, even if others become angry
  • Have a prepared and powerful statement to finish on

Finally, stick around after the debate to chat to the presenter (if they have time) or production team members. You could find that you are asked for a one-to-one interview.

This information was written by Alan Stevens, and originally appeared in “The MediaCoach”, his free weekly ezine, available at themediacoach.co.uk.

IABC member Susan Main blogs on What Makes a Good Panel Discussion noting “I would like to see people arrive at panel discussions with a desire to learn, instead of using the panel as a vehicle for expressing their own opinions.”

In the largest survey ever conducted about panel discussions, 539 executives, thought leaders and meeting planners shared their frustrations about the panel format. “The Panel Report: A 2014 Snapshot on the Effectiveness of Panel Discussions at Meetings, Conferences and Conventions,” looks at the effectiveness of the format, the moderator and panelists – what drives the audience crazy – as well as recommendations to enhance the panel session. It also includes a section on the 10 most common mistakes moderators and panelists make.

World-class speaking coach Patricia Fripp shares sound advice on the prep needed to speak on a panel.

AARP Speechwriter Boe Workman recommends finding out who you will be sitting next to on a panel.

Facilitator extraordinaire Kristin Arnold shares Ground Rules for Panelists During Panel Discussions.

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