A Number Of My Clients
are speaking on panels these days. A panel is a great example of our efforts to be efficient with audience time. In an over-booked, time-starved culture, speakers need to prove their worth. And four panelists with different viewpoints are more interesting to listen to than one, right?

Well, Not Necessarily
It doesn’t just happen. Like anything else, preparation makes all the difference. This month’s focus is on being a great panelist. Next month we’ll highlight how to be a great moderator.

Get Coordinated
A successful panel is a group effort. Please connect with the moderator ahead of time to discuss 1) what you want to talk about and 2) what they want to ask about. You, or they, can suggest questions. Together, decide on the best ones to elicit your best answers on the given topic. Remember, the goal is for you to look and sound great.

Key Messages
You always want to begin with a clear plan of what you want to communicate. Choose Three Key Messages you want to get out on the table. These will typically be in your comfort zone; what you know well and love to talk about. In corporate settings, your Communications Team may recommend messages to weave in, if appropriate. Ask them.

Your Three-Legged Stool
Imagine each Key Message is a comfortable stool that supports you. The seat is your headline/sound bite. It is supported by three legs: 1) proof points/data 2) personal story and 3) real-time examples. Play with and mix ‘n match these components to craft the most compelling answer.

Sound Bites Aren’t Bad
When you’re eating, you begin with a bite. The bite provides a taste sample, an idea of what more is to come, and encourages us to keep eating. (Unless, of course, it tastes awful and we decide we don’t want any more. But then, at least we know!)

If you think a sound bite trivializes the importance of your topic, here’s a reframe. Think of a sound bite as a headline that intrigues the listener and draws them in. It’s short, memorable and captures your specific finding or perspective so that the audience will want to hear more about it.

Big Yes’s!
– Keep it short! Two to three minutes is a good answer. Think of watching video clips… two minutes is a long time.
– Narrow the scope: when you’re asked an open-ended, run-on question, choose one aspect:
“As you mentioned, there are many variables here; let me focus on…”
“That’s an important overview and what we’ve chosen to do is…”
– Personalize your co-presenters. Use their names as you build on their comments, reference what they’ve said, or offer alternative viewpoints.
– Sit tall in your seat. In-person, on-stage panel settings today can lean towards “cozy living room.” Think deep couches or easy chairs. Slouching is not a great look.
– Pause and punch: even with limited time, try to pause to let your points land. Punch (emphasize) a few specific words to help your audience get the point.
– Smile and enjoy the interaction.

– Don’t say, “That’s a great question.”  Yikes, we’ve all heard this a million times!
– Don’t jump right into your answer. Instead, take a beat to gather thoughts (and your headline/sound bite).
– Don’t respond only to the moderator. Instead, look at and deliver your answer to the audience.
– Don’t fidget or move around while other panelists speak. This is called “pulling focus.” Instead, look super-interested in what they’re saying.

My Biggest Challenge
in writing these regular NewsNotes is being succinct and choosing what to include out of all the possibilities. The challenge is real, for you and for me, whether we’re writing or speaking. Be honest. Would you rather I present you with a few well-chosen ideas? Or do you want to read every single thing I know on the topic? Exactly.

Great panelists are pithy. Do enough prep work so you can feel good about sharing what you know, with clarity and conviction. Your listeners will love you for it!

Be the happy recipient of more great tips and techniques, along with intelligent musings on the state of communications, by signing up for Diane Ripstein’s regular NewsNotes right here.