Beware these 3 Types of Risks of being a Part of an Event Panel and How to Mitigate Them
As a speaker coach, I’ve a lot of clients who say to me, “This is not a speech, it’s just a panel, so it should be easy!”
I always caution them to think again.
You probably think that unlike a keynote speech in which you need to painstakingly prepare, craft and rehearse your presentation, all you need to do as part of a panel is to take questions from the moderator and the audience.
I’m afraid you may be mistaken…
There are risks involved in being a part of a panel, and from my years of experiences attending, moderating, and being on panels.
In this article, I’ll share with you the 3 common risks that you may fall prey to, that may derail your performance.
Risk #1: Moderator Risk
From my experiences, panels can be very boring. And moderators have to shoulder a very big part of that blame!
I have seen moderators who are not prepared at all about the topic, or about the background of the speakers. As a result, the questions asked are way off the mark.
Some moderators also come across as monotonous and dry. Not only are they unable to create momentum for the speakers, they suck the energy out of the room.
On the other hand, I have also seen some moderators, who in their enthusiasm to raise the energy and interest of the audience, ask wildly off-tangent questions that stray away from the topic, and put the panellists in a very difficult spot.
How to Mitigate Moderator Risk?
- Reach out to the moderator to establish expectations over a “chemistry session” – This might sound like extra work, but this is an extremely important step. There are many events-organizers and moderators who may neglect this important step. After all, if they are professional moderators interviewing experts in their domains, surely everything should go well, right? If you want to be a panellist with panache, then you want to leave nothing to chance. Establishing rapport with the moderator lets you both understand each other’s communication styles and your topics of expertise. You may be surprised how much influence a moderator can have in making you look like a Rockstar, or like an Out-of-Depth Rookie.
- Prepare “sure-fire” questions for the moderator to ask you – This one works a treat because there are definitely times when the moderator may be caught in a bind. Perhaps the discussion has gone off-tangent and the moderator has to steer the topic back. Perhaps, they were caught by an unexpected question from the audience. Either way, if you provide the moderator with a sure-fire question, then he/she can ask you. You will get to give your best answer, and the moderator “gets out of jail.” Win-Win!
Risk #2: Panellist Risk
From my experience, one of the reasons why panels can be boring affairs is because often panellists come with canned answers to deliver. It’s almost like listening to 3 speakers speaking, except that you switch regularly from topic to topic. It’s painful to watch! There are also times when certain panellists get carried away with their enthusiasm and get unaware of the audience and other panellists. They hog air-time by oversharing, and eat into your time. Even worse, they hand over to you a restless and disengaged audience. Finally, and perhaps less likely, but nevertheless still possible, is when a panellist openly refutes your points. I am all for having different viewpoints, which may actually spice up the discussion. However, when panellists openly refute each other, and take pot-shots, then the discussion becomes a farce and things get too personal.
How to Mitigate Panellist Risk?
- Research your fellow panellists – Understand the backgrounds of the other panellists, their recent successes and wins, media coverage, and what they are currently working on. In this way, you will know how to dovetail your sharing with theirs, so that you stick to your area of expertise, while leaving them to share theirs. In this way, you might even learn from the experience.
- Reach out to build chemistry with the other panellists– You can take a step further by reaching out to establish rapport and a relationship with the other panellists. In this way, you will be able to have great chemistry on the panel, and the audience can pick up on that. There’s nothing greater than listening to a great discussion between a group of people who truly enjoys each other’s company. You may even take it further by making your fellow panellist “the Hero” by referencing their sharing, such as “Like what ABC mentioned earlier…” and “To build on what XYZ said…” By making each other look good, you actually raise your own profile in the eyes of the audience.
- Agree to disagree – You may find that you have differing opinions with your fellow panellists, but you can set the context for a lively and fruitful discussion by agreeing to disagree. You may then preface your viewpoints by saying “I know that ABC probably disagrees with me on this, but this is what I think…” This actually brings more sizzle to the discussion, and the audience derive value by hearing 2 sides of the argument, and form their own conclusions.
Risk #3: Audience Risk
This one is one of the lesser risks, but it may still creep up on you. This happens when the audience may throw a curveball question at you, or may raise a sensitive topic. Over the past few months, we’ve seen several high-profile leaders and celebrities get into trouble because they were triggered by questions from the audience.
How to Mitigate Audience Risk?
- Set the Context for Questions you Would and Would Not Answer – This may ultimately be the Moderator’s job, which is why setting expectations with the Moderator (see above) is vital. Let the Moderator know what kind of questions is “out-of-bounds” for you, so that they can step in to do just what they’re supposed to do – moderate! However, failing which, it will still be useful for you to have thought about this in advance – which questions you would and would not answer.
- Keep the Theme of the Event in Mind – This is related to the above point about setting context. One of the best ways is to always couch your answers according to the theme of the event. The theme should give you a clue about what kinds of questions are appropriate and which ones are not. By always tying your answers (or non-answers) to the theme of the event, you’d never go wrong.
Enjoy the Process – That’s Panache
To be invited to be on an events panel is a great opportunity! It is a sign that you’re a recognized expert in your domain and it’s the perfect opportunity for you to to demonstrate thought leadership and share your professional opinions on topics that matter to the audience.
I’ve shared with you the 3 common risks that may derail a successful panel, and how you, as a panellist, can take proactive steps to prevent them from happening. Ultimately, being part of a panel can be a hugely rewarding process. By portraying yourself with professionalism and poise and panache, you demonstrate more than your expertise, but also your confidence and class as a leader.
Finally, while it is technically not a presentation, do not forget that your purpose is still to SERVE THE AUDIENCE. That’s why it is still ultra-important that you research your audience to know who you are speaking to. Take every opportunity to quiz the organizers about the audience, and if possible, ask to speak to other key stakeholders who will be present. One group of stakeholders that may be of most help are the Key Opinion Leaders among the audience. They are people who may or may not have formal authority, but their voices are respected by the others. They may also provide you with useful insights about the audience, and can be a powerful ally.
Bring your “A-Game” by arming yourself with stories, anecdotes and sound-bites related to your topic. This will make it real and relatable for your audience.
Most importantly, have fun! After all, when you’re enjoying yourself, that’s truly when your audience can sit back and enjoy themselves and learn!