In a recent survey of 539 executives, thought leaders, and meeting planners, 66% of the respondents had issues with the panelists being out of control. That’s 2/3 of the people think the panelists can do a better job sharing their wisdom with the crowd. After all, how hard can it be for a panelist to show up, share a few pearls of wisdom answer a few questions?
Evidently, it takes more than just showing up. Here’s the top ten most common mistakes panelists make during a panel discussion – and what you can do about it:
1. Dominated the discussion/answered every question. This requires the panelist to be self-aware of how much airtime they are using. Be considerate of your fellow panelists and don’t hog the airtime. Even if you have something worthwhile to add to the conversation, if you’ve been dominating, try deflecting an answer to another suitable panelist – or even out to the audience.
2. Promoted themselves/their company. There’s a fine line between mentioning that your book was just released and hawking the darn thing – picking it up and lovingly petting it like your long lost puppy. Mentioning that they can buy it on any online or local bookseller. Telling them they would be idiots if they didn’t come up to talk to you about the book etc. So here’s the deal: The audience is not stupid. They know who you are and what company you work for. Provide great value and take-away for the audience and then you and your company may bask in the afterglow. If you rocked the house, people will come up to talk to you about the book you casually mentioned once.
3. Got off topic/didn’t make the point. Nobody likes a rambler. Stick to the topic and the question being discussed. Make your answers pithy and to the point. Everyone likes a good story – just make sure it is tightly told and relevant to the point.
4. Wasn’t conversational. Perhaps the “panel discussion” was a series of presentations, or the panelists didn’t listen to the question or to each other, or perhaps they didn’t build on what each person was saying to create a conversation. Part of this is the responsibility of the moderator, but every panelist has the opportunity to make it more conversational by really being present and listening to their fellow panelists. Contribute to the conversation by bridging key points and making a new statement. Ask another panelist for his or her opinion. Think of the session as a lively dinner table conversation!
5. Disagreeable. Some panelists are just going to argue about everything…and don’t argue with me about that! LOL – just don’t be that guy (or gal).
6. Repetitive. It’s irritating to hear a panelist repeat what has already been said. “Yes, I agree with Sally” and then spend 2 minutes paraphrasing what Sally just said. What a waste of time! Try saying “I agree with Sally AND…” then add something NEW to the conversation. Or try saying, “I agree with Sally BUT….” and then mention a specific upgrade you have to her thinking. Be additive to the conversation and not repetitive.
7. Poor speaking/presentation skills. You would never just show up to give an important speech, so why would you just show up to serve on a panel? Do some prep work thinking through your key messages, prepare a handful of talking points with a short story that illustrates each point. Think of it as a media interview where your words need to be more of a soundbite than a long drawn-out lecture. If you fear public speaking, consider getting a coach to help you be a better panelist.
8. Superficial Comments. The audience wants the inside scoop, real take-aways, and powerful insights – not some fluffy comments that don’t say anything. So make sure your talking points are meaningful and relevant to that specific audience.
9. Appear Distracted. Going somewhere? Stop looking at your watch, picking at your shoes, or glancing away from the action. You look (and probably are) distracted. Stay present in the moment and self-aware of your situation. The moderator is keeping track of time and you have every expectation that the session will end on time.
10. Arrived late. For goodness sakes – does this really happen? Take into account the traffic and other maladies that can torpedo your day and arrive at least a few minutes early to touch base with the moderator and fellow panelists. Warm yourself up by mingling with the crowd. Get a sense for what’s on their minds so you can address your comments and concerns appropriately.
How do you know that the panelists have done a good job? Harry A. Overstreet, and American educator who first coined the term “panel discussion” said, “I have frequently found panel members, at the end of a discussion, glowing with enthusiasm at the way ideas unexpectedly emerged.” Are your panelists “glowing with enthusiasm” and more importantly, is the audience bursting with ideas and insights?
For more information about how to moderate a lively & informative leadership panel discussion, check out our free 7-part video series on how to moderate a panel and other resources to help you organize, moderate, or be a panel member.