A couple of weeks ago I served on a panel on women and entrepreneurship. I was asked to talk about networking for ten minutes and then be open to questions. In preparation I wrote down a few points on what I wanted to cover, and I was ready to go.
But that’s not what happened. In fact it was much, much better. There were three of us on the panel, each offering such a different perspective – one was a seasoned and serial entrepreneur, the other was a newbie and then moi, as someone who works with small business owners.
The moderator did a skillful job, going with the flow and firing questions at us that generated great discussion and a range of points of view. It was, to be honest, a small audience, but the highlight was how we connected as a panel, each of us sharing the air and our experiences with the women in attendance who seemed to enjoy the interaction.
Over the years I have moderated and organized my share of panels, and the secret is to have a diverse perspective so the discussion is rich. Having more than three people on a panel can be risky and time-challenging, especially if they all have a lot to sayJ
But all that planning can be for naught if the panelists are not willing to take turns; one person monopolizes or tries to steal the spotlight. Remember you have three successful women or experts, three egos, yet if the panelists can manage it and connect with one another as we did in Niagara Falls, the outcome is positive for everyone – the panelists, the moderator and most importantly, the audience.
So if you are ever asked to serve on a panel – here’s my advice:
- Do your homework – find out who is in the audience and the purpose of the panel discussion.
- Ask the organizer if she will be sending questions in advance.
- Check on the dress code for the event. (When I talked in Turkey, I was the only one in a coloured outfit and I sure stood out in the sea of black business suits.)
- Look up who the other panelists are so you can sound informed when you meet them.
- Think about your key messages – what’s the takeaway you want people to have.
- Prepare but be willing to go with the flow.
- Try to share the air – it is not all about you.
- Before you speak, ask yourself whether what you want to say really adds to the discussion or are you trying to be the authority on the topic, always wanting the last word?
- Watch your body language. If you don’t agree with what someone says, try to be respectful. Remember, all eyes are on the panel so don’t let your facial expression, for example, give you away.
- If someone from the audience asks a question that would require a long and more personal answer, suggest you talk after the panel. There is nothing worse than one participant railroading the discussion, particularly if that aspect of the topic is not of interest to the rest of the audience.
Sitting on a panel is a great way to promote yourself and your business, but you don’t want to blow the opportunity by being too aggressive as that can be a big turn off.
Just be yourself.