So you’ve been asked to present on a panel and you’re not sure what that entails. What should you pack into your approximately 15 or 20 minutes (depending on how many people are on the panel)? What’s the secret to making a successful panel presentation?
I’m presenting on a panel at the Saskatchewan Writer’s Guild (SWG) annual conference and AGM on October 23, 2015, in this session:
Escaping the pen and finding words for the web will be made easier when you listen to Linda Aksomitis and Jillian Bell speak. Their farm of ideas will broaden your knowledge on using the web to allow your writing to live beyond the pen. Untangle the confusion of the net, and embrace the freedom and tools of writing online.
8 Tips for Presenting on a Panel
So, the first and most important tip I can give you for presenting on a panel is to make sure you stick to the topic. After all, your listeners have selected your panel to learn more about this exact subject–they’ll likely come with questions they hope to have answered. And when you think about it, whether it’s a book description or product information, we all like to get what we were promised.
The place to begin, then, is with a careful analysis of the topic and your area of expertise on it. After all, panels consist of writers and speakers whose brand puts them into expert status.
Panel topics are specifically designed to allow speakers to provide a different “take” or angle on the subject. That’s why it’s important to check in advance with others on the panel to make sure you’re all not going to say the exact same thing. While panels are often about the individual experience and what you’ve learned from it, confirming that every panelist includes different resources will be beneficial for your listeners.
For example, as I’m making my notes for this panel presentation, I’m zeroing in on the line about ideas that will “live beyond the pen.” The best panels all provide some specific takeaways such as whether Instagram or Twitter is a better social networking tool for a fiction writer, along with the reasons for your selection.
Many listeners are also looking for some “action” items, or things they can go home and do right now to help them with the subject of the panel. That could be something as big as come up with a Twitter handle and join, or as simple as add a specific RSS feed (one you share) to their favourite feedreader.
I’ve been a public speaker for decades, so I don’t write out what I’m going to say at panel presentations, although I know many people prefer that method. I do, however, make an outline that I either use on cards, or else on a slideshow. This keeps me from getting derailed and wandering off topic.
Speaking of wandering, keep a watch on the clock! Stick to the time you’ve been allocated–every minute you go overtime is being stolen from your fellow presenters. It’s easy to get a bad reputation with other speakers if you’re not considerate.
I also like to keep statistics and their sources handy, since I find no matter how I’m presenting information that cold, hard facts, like cold, hard cash, have high persuasive power. When I use slideshows, I include graphs and other images on the screen to captivate my audience. It always helps to have an authority or two to back up your opinion or experiences of a subject.
This type of information also helps firmly establish your expertise–and while yes, panel presenters are invited due to their brands, we all have to remember to make our presentation about the topic, not about us. Everything we say should be applicable to other people’s circumstances. Don’t make it me-me-me, if you want your listeners to rave about your panel afterwards.
Once the panelists have all spoken, it’s time to answer questions from your audience. I find this is the best part of the experience, but I know that others may not agree since answering questions can really put you on the spot. This is when your preparation–or lack of it–will really show.
When answering questions, keep these things in mind:
- Answer succinctly
- Include other panelists in responses (don’t hog the floor!)
- Avoid confrontations when you get negative comments (rely on those statistics if possible!)
- Thank the other panel members for sharing the time period with you
If you’re getting ready for your first panel, remember to relax and have fun. Your audience will appreciate your enthusiasm for your topic and your excitement.