Speaking on a Panel – Yes, It’s Different

  • December 29, 2014
  • Starr Million Baker

It’s late December and that means scores of tech people are scratching their heads and thinking “Oh crap, I’m speaking on a panel at CES – surely I don’t need to prep THAT much.” Wrong.  Panel speaking the right way can be even more challenging than a keynote. Do it wrong and you’ve wasted the audience’s time, your time, and your company’s travel funds. Here are some do’s and don’ts for your next panel session:


1. Know the topic – This sounds obvious, but way too many people say “Sure, I’d love to be on a panel!” and then they find themselves in a losing situation. Know what the heck you’ve agreed to talk about.

2. Control your intro – Give the moderator 2-3 sentences about your recent work and your current position. Otherwise, this info will be pulled from LinkedIn and who knows the last time you updated that page.

3. Speak up – Two things here: 1) the physical – optimal distance between your mouth and the microphone is 1 inch. Sit up straight; it helps you project. SLOW DOWN – when you’re nervous you tend to speak fast. Project your voice to the back of the room. 2) the game – jump in quick, it gives you confidence to keep going. Practice segues ahead of time – these will keep you in the presentation even when it’s not your designated question.

4. Entertain – Audiences come to the session to be informed, yes, but what they really want is to enjoy themselves. (Note: this is where you win the panel “best speaker” prize.) Give them information in an interesting way. Tell stories, embrace conflict with your fellow panelists, throw out a quip or two. Seriously, this is where you will “win” the panel.

5. Tell the truth – This may seem obvious, but what I mean by this is it’s okay to share information that may not make things all that rosy. This audience is here to learn, and they understand that there are barriers to major innovation. Don’t be Negative Nancy – share the positive too – but it’s okay, encouraged even, to embrace and tell the truth.

6. Answer the question that’s posed – By all means, if asked a question, answer it. But BRIDGE, for the love of being a good speaker, please bridge to what YOU want to tell this audience.

7. Be plain, simple and short – No jargon. None. It may be tempting, particularly if you are on a panel of your expert peers, to one-up each other with jargon-laden descriptions of the latest what-not. I beg you – keep it simple. The audience will love you for it.

8. Stay after – so many relationships start in the first 5 minutes after you walk off that stage. Give people a chance – who knows, your next customer might just be intimated to ask a question in a group, but wants to drop your dream project in your lap. That’s what staying after gets you.


1. Limit yourself to the question that’s posed – Do NOT just answer the question. This is your time in the sun! Your five minutes of fame! Make it everything it can be and BRIDGE to what you want to say! Don’t stop.

2. Look bored – If you look at your phone, you are a dead man (and a client I will actually yell at). Seriously, I don’t care if you are THE social media “guru” of the planet, don’t touch your phone. It will make you look like you care nothing at all about your audience, even if you are tweeting to them as you speak. Don’t do it.

3. Look at the moderator – Your job is to engage with the audience. A good moderator will ask you a question and not even look at you, so as to encourage you to look at the audience. You just go ahead and do that anyway.

4. Say “I agree with XX panelist” – To agree with a fellow panelist may seem nice to you, but it seems totally boring to the audience. Redundancy is not interesting. You are there to add to the conversation so do it. Embrace conflict. Agree, but then in the same answer add an alternative viewpoint. If you have to agree, bridge.

5. Forget your face – Do not forget the fact that even while you aren’t talking, you are being watched. Look at the panelist who’s speaking, be ready to jump in and add to the conversation. Do not fidget with your hands or a pen, and don’t forget the look on your face counts.

Have you been a successful panel speaker? Please share your tips!


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