Top 10 Tips To Help You Shine As A Panelist

I think most of us have a love-hate relationship with speaker panels. On the one hand, the experts featured are a fantastic source of information, experience, and thought-provoking insights. On the other hand, many panels can be (really) boring to watch. Panelists rambling without a clear point or providing information that’s too technical and not entirely relevant to the audience… we’ve all been there.

Part of being a successful leader in the 21st century is about being able to get your message (and yourself!) to stand out from the crowd. I created this guide to help leaders learn how to avoid the common pitfalls of participating in a panel discussion and to shine on the stage.

Top 10 Tips To Help You Shine As A Panelist

1.     Remember the 4 E’s

The best panel discussions feel like a fast-paced, unpredictable conversation between smart people on stage and smart people in the audience.  Our goal is to Entertain, Enrich, Energize, and Engage the audience!

2.     Prepare, prepare, prepare – but don’t bring any prepared materials.

Some panelists assume they can show up ready to speak “off the cuff” because they are subject matter experts… but this usually results in rambling. You want to prepare anecdotes, recent experiences, analogies, and /or data points about this topic. However, you don’t want to bring a prepared speech or a PowerPoint presentation.

3.     Stories, stories, stories.

The old adage “show, don’t tell” applies here. Audiences will remember a story much better than they will facts. Audiences are much more open to hearing new ideas through story than through debate. Note: Failure stories are as insightful as successful stories if you learned some lessons and you can save others from making the same mistake!

4.     Succinct is key.

Use 1 sentence instead of 3 and you will keep the audience engaged. You may find it helpful to prepare a few idea soundbites (ie, sharp, crisp points phrases that stand out and could be easily shared as quotes on social media) in advance.

5.     Share insights that are tangible and add value for the attendees.

We’re looking for actionable insights that aren’t vague or generalized. The more specific you can get, the more value an attendee can get out of the session.

6.     Use the What? –> So What? –> Now What? answer structure as a guideline.

What? State your opinion, usually providing an example. So What? Explain why your point is important or relevant to the conversation and audience. Now What? Explain the implications, ramifications, applications and / or recommendations based on your opinion.

7.     Push the boundaries to grow the audience’s minds.

We want to push beyond conventional conversations (and beyond notorious Swiss politeness) to get to the really interesting content. This means (non-aggressively!) highlighting differences of opinion. We’re all there to learn and grow.

8.     Please, no sales pitches!

You may, of course, mention your work and what you do in the context of answering a question, but you will lose the audience if they feel you are trying to sell to them.

9.     Be authentic and honest.

Trust is built when the audience believes what you are saying is honest as well as insightful. Share mistakes, pain, discomfort, and the “harder” side of your experiences as well.

10.  Have fun!

When we’re having fun on the stage, the energy in the room is electric. Let’s keep the energy high so the audience feels it, too. 


What other tips would you add? What have your experiences as a panelist been? We’d love to hear – leave a comment below!

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