You are invited to a panel event because you are deemed to be an expert within your profession and have a sought-after opinion or compelling story. Now, you need to get ready for it. To succeed and come across as highly credible, winging it is not really an option; especially if you are being paid, are an ambassador for your firm or are hoping to secure further work or sales as a result.

It can be quite daunting facing a sea of people who are concentrating all their attention on you. Not only that, but you will be participating with another 3 or 4 speakers who may or may not have the same opinion as you. How you perform is crucial, you want to finish with your audience wanting to know more about the professional, credible and articulate speaker they have just encountered.

How do you stand out from the rest? Below are a few tips to get you going: –

1. Know your audience. Enlighten yourself with who’s attending, what they are interested in and the likely questions that will come up. Knowing your audience’s passions and acknowledging them will go down well. Recognising their style/way of working/doing business, their dislikes and their interests will aid you in preparing a list of answers and comments accordingly. Your fellow panellists are also your audience, you can learn about them on LinkedIn. If you have been invited by an organisation, acknowledging their values or any recent successes will delight your audience and demonstrate that you have taken the time to do your homework. Sharing your thoughts on how they may be able to continue and build upon that success is even better.

2. Get to grips with the microphone. If you haven’t used one before or it’s been a while, have a little test beforehand and ensure the volume is at the right level for you. This is particularly important if you are softly spoken; there isn’t much point using a microphone if you can’t be heard at the back of the room. We all know how common this scenario is, we have all been to events where we have been unable to hear the speaker, even in a small room. If you are softly spoken, practice the power and pitch of your voice beforehand with a trusted colleague or family member. Many people that are softly spoken are unaware that they are so, asking for some candid feedback will really help you. I’ve often offered up a microphone hoping the person would get the hint; if someone offers one up to you please take it! Top tip: having a hot water and lemon in the morning helps clear the throat and gives clarity to the voice. It works for me anyway!

3. Start as you mean to go on. If you are introducing yourself, find out how long you will be given for this. Prepare and rehearse accordingly, using words and language that you are familiar with and that come naturally to you. Keep it short, sharp and succinct. Smile warmly, make eye contact with members of your audience and express happiness to be there. If you’re not a smiley person, drawing a little smiley face on top of your note paper is a helpful reminder – the saying “when you smile, the world smiles back” is true. If you are being introduced, let them have an up to date, factually correct and well written description of you, your skills and why you are excited to be there.

4. Have an opinion and speak up. This is the perfect opportunity for you to showcase your knowledge, professionalism and demonstrate to your audience that you have a valid point of view. If you don’t it’s boring, for them and for you. The good panellist will also be willing to listen and acknowledge other points of view respectfully. Have a little mental toolkit of stories, quotes, facts, figures, thought leadership and experiences that you can dip into. Sharing a personal experience, how it made you feel, what you learned from it or how you overcame it is powerful and will help your audience to connect and engage with you. Reading from a script will not come across well. If, like me, your memory in a high stakes environment occasionally goes haywire, having a small note card with key words is a helpful prompt.

5. Navigating the dress code. This can be quite a sensitive subject and is deeply personal, whether we like it or not people will notice and form an opinion. If you’re unsure, and are looking for inspiration, completing your background research on the audience and event will really help shape your decision on the most appropriate attire for you. Above all, you want to be comfortable and feel confident with your choice; if you’re not it will show. You normally sit at a panel event so you should note that how an outfit looks standing up can be quite different sitting down. Be wary of gaping buttonholes when sitting and creases when you stand up afterwards! An item of clothing or accessory in your firm or client’s brand colour is always a nice touch.

Happy sailing!


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