As a service professional I attend a fair amount of networking events. Some events are organized around a theme and often include a panel discussion. The relative ‘fame’ of panel participants varies, but the panelists are usually well-known and respected people in the community. After having witnessed plenty and even participating in a few, I believe there are some best practices to making the most of your time as a panelist.
1. What You Want and What They Want
Many service professionals view panels as solely marketing opportunities and I think this is the wrong approach. It is an opportunity for exposure, but if it is your primary reason people will smell it and may reject you entirely. The audience came to network and hopefully learn something. You were invited to be a panelist to share your experiences for the benefit of others. Hold up your end of the bargain and you’ll get the results you want.
2. Know Your Audience
The best panelists tailor their responses to the audience. Do some research to understand their world views and tailor your stories, examples and responses in a way that is understandable. Avoid insider or industry jargon when possible. At the same time, don’t talk down to the audience by over-explaining.
3. Don’t Fret, You Have Credibility
You were asked to be on the panel based on your level of expertise in a given area. People have likely researched you beforehand or will do so afterwards. You were probably given a flattering introduction before getting on stage. They know why you’re up there. You don’t need to hammer on your greatest accomplishments as if people are hearing about them for the first time – I recently watched a panelist repeat how great he was over and over again and people slowly snuck out the back while he droned on. It’s easy to identify a self-centered person and ain’t nobody got time for that.
4. You Probably Need to Earn Trust
The audience may know of you and be familiar with your work, but they may not trust you. You have a precious, but short, window to attach a human being (you) to your achievements. Use the opportunity to be vulnerable and talk about the failures or tough times that preceded your success. The audience more than likely came because they are struggling and believe you have an answer. They will trust what you say far more when they see you as a human, with the same struggles they have.
5. It’s Not About You
This is worth saying again. The audience came to learn, not to be sold. Give, don’t take. Be generous. Share as much as possible. People will be grateful for your transparency. If you want leads from the event, know this, people will be more likely to call someone with expertise and generosity and humanity.
Service professionals don’t expect great things from a panel these days. The bar is low, so why not do something differently and give the audience something memorable?