How to be a Panelist in a Panel Discussion More Frequently

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How to be a Panelist in a Panel Discussion More Frequently

The main way to learn how to be a better panelist is to be a panelist in a panel discussion more frequently.

You know that you will have to do more than just show up, right? After the panel, note what worked well and what didn’t work so great. Then, at the next panel, keep doing what works well and change the things that do not work as well. I realize how basic this sounds, but I am continually surprised at how seldom this happens.


You sit on the panel and then dash off to the next session, meeting, or assignment. Perhaps a bit later, while you are driving home, you think about what worked well and what you would do next time. You think you will remember your observations, but you are not on another panel for another few weeks or months, and when it rolls around, you forgot all the things you wanted to do differently!

Here is how I critique myself after a panel or any kind of presentation for that matter:

  • Reflect. As soon as possible after the panel, take a moment to reflect on what went well and what did not go so well. Do not forget to consider the feedback received from the panel moderator or meeting organizer as well.
  • Analysis. Ask yourself these three “W” questions: “What happened?” Why did that work well?” “Why didn’t that work as well as I thought it would?” Your answers could be a host of causes ranging from the format and flow, your approach, and comfort level to the topic and the audience’s personality.
  • Upgrades. How would you improve your contributions to the panel next time? Write down specifics about how you would change it. Even if you never speak on a panel about this topic, still go through this process, as you may give a variation sometime later.
  • One Thing. Close to the bottom, draw a red line across the page. Write down the one thing you learned through this critique process. It could be something you want to reinforce or change for the next time.
  • Binder. Keep your self-evaluations in a binder or digital folder. As you prepare for your next panel, flip through your binder and notice the trends in your comments, the one thing you learned through the self-evaluation process, and your assessment results. You will notice emerging themes and trends.

For panelist overachievers, would you like to get better even faster? You can accelerate your learning curve by watching yourself in action. Record the panel discussion using your smartphone, or digital recorder, or ask the A/V tech to record it for you. Note: Don’t worry about the digital quality since you are just making this for your own educational benefit and not your YouTube channel.

When watching the recording:

  • Make a Transcript. Using speech recognition software, make a transcript of the panel discussion.
  • Listen to Yourself. Notice the language you use. Is it inclusive? Is it descriptive?
    • Could you tell your stories a bit better? Make notations on your transcript as you listen to the panel. Look at your gestures to see if you scrunch or wiggle your eyebrows, wring your hands, crack your knuckles, tap your foot, shift back and forth, sway side to side, blink excessively, or swallow hard or clear your throat
    • Listen for any annoying clicks or vocalized pauses such as “um,” “uh,” or “like.”
  • Watch Yourself. If you have never watched a video of yourself, this may be a little unsettling, but you will get used to it after you have watched yourself a few times.
    • The first time you watch the video, watch it by yourself with no other objective than to watch yourself. Get the curiosity out of the way. The second viewing should be a thorough critique. Note what worked well and what did not. Try not to get caught up in all the “bad things” you did. Rather, give equal weight to what went well and what you would do differently. Note the significant bits that can be improved on the transcript. Make comments on the side. The third viewing should be with the volume muted. Pay attention to how you are nonverbally connecting with the other panelists and the audience.
    • Finally, watch the video through the audience’s eyes. In this case, invite a few friends to watch the video with you (but sit behind them so you do not influence their responses). Note when they become engaged and when they do not. Better yet, videotape the audience rather than (or in addition to) yourself. This way, you will be able to gauge the audience’s level of interest.
  • Get Another Perspective. Though it is helpful to do a self-critique, it is extremely valuable to ask a knowledgeable source to give you objective feedback. The person who is helping you should be a good speaker and someone whose opinion you value. If you can afford it, hire a reputable speech coach who will give you suggestions on how to improve your speaking skills.

So if you want to be a panelist in a panel discussion more frequently, do the work to make each one better and better!

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To order your copy of The Powerful Panelist: Everything You Need to Know to be a Capable and Confident Panelist in a Panel Discussion visit this link.

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Kristin ArnoldKristin Arnold
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.
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