You don’t often hear someone say “I went to this awful panel and Susie Creamcheese was just great on it.”
That’s because bad panels are a bad experience for everyone.
This post is about looking great on a panel by making your fellow panelists look great.
What You Can Do In Advance
- Do some quick social media research on your fellow panelists. You don’t have to read every book or article they’ve written, but know what they write about, what they’ve written recently, and what their hot buttons are.
- Do some quick research on the topic(s) of the panel and make a list of five things that are new and unexpected. The idea here is that you will be able to add value to the discussion by bringing something new, and factual, to the discussion. Such as:
- An organization that has just formed to deal with one of the key issues.
- A tricky procedural issue that needs explaining
- An article by an authority outside the field that pertains to the in-field topic you are discussion
What You Can Do at the Start of the Panel
- Arrive early so there is time for introductions before the panel goes live. Make sure the name you have on your screen is the name you go by—not your gaming handle or the name of your sister-in-law whose laptop your borrowed.
- If the other panelists don’t know you, introduce yourself and give your credentials in two short sentences: “I’m Karen Anderson. I have a background in investigative reporting, worked at Apple for 6 years, and now write arts criticism and science fiction.” (It’s usually the case that no one had time to do their research. If you give them this information, they’ll know when to turn the discussion your way—without information, they’re likely to ignore you.)
- If you are asked to give an opening statement to the viewers, give an indication of the topics you’ve done research on: “I’ll be talking about a new organization that has just been formed to look at these issues; asking my fellow panelists to help me figure out a tricky procedural issue; and making a few remarks about this recent article by <outside authority> that pertains to our field.”
What You Can Do During the Panel
- Panels have personality. The energy ebbs and flows. There are some folks who always have something to say, and others who wait patient for an opportunity to get a word on. There are some panelists who make canned speeches, some who like to interact, and others who see every statement as something they need to disagree with. Get a sense of your panel’s personality, and proceed accordingly.
- Think of the heart of the panel as being a ball. If you are someone who always has something to say, try to end your comments by tossing the ball to another panelist. “Rick, I saw you shaking your head when I advocated that new policy. What do you think?” If you are someone who waits patiently, you will have to reach out and snatch the ball out of the air. (For the audience, watching someone just sitting, waiting, is like watching the fly on a debate participant’s hair. It becomes a distraction.)
- If you find yourself on a panel where other panelists have strong, colorful opinions and you don’t, you can play a key role by steering these folks to questions that you and the audience would love to have answered. If one person is advocating a certain action, ask them (or–more fun–another panelist) a question such as: “I understand why you think that’s critical, but what are the specific steps we’d need to take to get there, and just who do you think would be leading that work?” You’ll look clever, and they’ll look clever as they answer. Everybody wins!
- If energy is ebbing, introduce one of the topics you researched in advance, give your opinion, and toss it to the other panelists. In most cases, they’ll leap on it. Be sure to put any relevant URLs or citations into the Chat panel.
What You Can Do at the End of the Panel
- Sum up. Think about what you’d say about the panel if you’d been in the audience and, if it’s reasonably positive, give the summary—plus your own twist on it. “It was great to hear someone with a background in our field explore some of the ramifications of these issues. I hadn’t known about the research Sarah mentioned, and it’s definitely something I’m going to look up.”
- Thank other panelists and the organizers—it’s fine to take a sentence or two to blurb the organizers and any group or publication they represent.
But, Wait, What About Promoting Me?
By being a good panelist, you have promoted yourself. The audience wanted a great panel, not five minutes of you reciting your resume or waving your latest book around. Trust me on that. If you did a good job, they’ll find you online.