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Don't Blend into the Panel-Scape

When you prep to appear on a panel, do you have a strategy to boost your messaging and deliver your brand? Or do you simply hope to skate by with coherent answers that get the job done? (It’s just you and me here, you can tell the truth.)

Unlike a media interview, when you appear on a panel it’s likely you will receive the questions (or some idea of the questions) in advance. This makes it tempting to quickly type up your answers and try to memorize them as best you can, or surreptitiously display them on your device during the event. I get it—we’re all busy.

Let’s take a step back, however. If you’re investing the time and energy in appearing on the panel in the first place, why not do whatever it takes to get the most out of it? The mind of a typical audience member today is packed tighter than a refrigerator after Thanksgiving dinner. To stand out in your market, even panel appearances need a strategy. These tips will help:

  1. Start with a story. You may have heard me or others say this in regard to a presentation. Well, the same rule applies to panels. People remember stories far better than facts, and stories make a speaker more interesting to listen to. If—and only if—you can do this organically, work a short story into your very first answer.

  2. Prepare soundbites in advance. While providing valuable information is crucial, it’s equally important to help people remember it. For most of your answers, you only need to know the general sense of what to say. However, soundbites are carefully crafted, so try to memorize them exactly. If your soundbite is hard for you to remember, it will be hard for your audience to remember, as well.

  3. Make a list of three things you want the audience to take away from your answers, and build them around that. It could be your firm’s commitment to sustainable packaging, your growth last quarter, or even your personal passion for social listening. Weave that data into your answers with quick anecdotes and references. Make sure they are always on topic and keep them brief; otherwise, they can work against you.

  4. Differentiate yourself stylistically. Sometimes panels get hypnotic. After a while, panelists tend to match each other’s volume, speed and tone, causing the audience to tune out. Instead, note the speaking style of the previous speaker’s answers and provide a contrast to wake the audience up. You can intentionally signal that what you’re about to say is new and different. Did the previous speaker talk slowly? Then, you speed up the first two sentences of your answer. If they were fast and loquacious, make sure you pause and take a breath between thoughts.

  5. Use dynamic body language. Too many panelists get comfortably settled for the long haul, and it looks that way. Leaning back in a deep chair is not flattering, and it makes you look and feel less energized. Additionally, that body position diminishes vocal quality and modulation. So, as my third grade teacher used to say, sit up straight! Or, better yet, lean a few degrees forward. Position your arms so you can easily gesture when it feels natural. Relax your shoulders and make it a point to move your head to look at all areas of the audience. The exception to head movement is if the panel is being broadcast and there is only one camera. In that case, spend most of your time looking into the lens.

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