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Insert Yourself into a Panel Discussion

It’s possible that you, as a panelist, may not be able to insert yourself into a panel discussion. Perhaps it is because you’re an introvert, or you’re sitting at the end of a long row of panelists, or you’re the outsider and all the other panelists know each other well.


Regardless of the cause, the moderator is not balancing the airtime, and you simply can’t get a word in edgewise. Not to worry, here are some easy things to do to insert yourself into a panel discussion:

7 Tips to Insert Yourself into a Panel Discussion

  1. Shift Your Mindset. Patrick Allan says, “If you feel like you struggle to be heard, there’s a good chance that a lot of it comes from your own mind. You might think it’s important for you to sound intelligent or funny…Change your perspective on the whole ordeal.” Consider it to be a casual dinner party with friends where everyone should have a chance to talk! Allan continues with a pool metaphor: “It’s a pool full of splashing kids, having a good time, so take off the floaties and dive in!”
  2. Appreciate Your Role. Perhaps you are intimidated by the other panelists and are hesitant to barge into the conversation. Don’t forget that you were asked to provide a specific perspective on the topic – and you are depriving the audience of your knowledge! Make sure you come prepared with your three talking points with concise, corresponding stories.
  3. Adjust Your Body. Take a look in the mirror. Your natural stance may be sending subliminal signals that you don’t want to talk. Crossed arms, looking at your notes, fidgeting, etc. don’t make it easy for the moderator to direct the conversation toward you. Lea McLeod at The Muse recommends “a neutral pose that shows you’re engaged, but not presumptuous. Use open body language (i.e., don’t cross your arms), avoid extreme facial expressions (regardless of whether they’re favorable or disapproving), and nix the foot tapping and other fidgety habits that signal impatience.”
  4. Listen Actively. If there are four panelists, each person will only be able to talk 25% of the time. So you will be in listening mode the majority of the time. Keep eye contact, nod when you agree, and react appropriately to what is being said. David Morin says, “As long as you are involved in what is being said and show it with your body language, people will see you as part of the conversation even if you actually don’t say much.” The added benefit of being a good listener is that they will direct their attention to you when you speak.
  5. Signal the Moderator. One of the main roles of a panel moderator is to balance the airtime evenly between panelists. They should be constantly scanning the panelists and creating space for them to weigh in as appropriate. When ready to speak, look directly at the moderator, lean in, and open your hands as if you are going to say something. A savvy moderator will create a space for you to break into the conversation.
  6. Dive In! When you have something to say, seek a small break in the conversation – even if it is a fellow panelist taking a breath! Confidently lower your voice in tone, lean in, open your hands, and share a quick comment about what the panelist just said, add the word “and,” and share what you want to say! The gestures trigger people’s motion sensing and everyone’s eyes will be drawn toward you.
  7. Interrupt. Sometimes, the only way to get to speak is to interrupt the moderator or a panelist. But that’s easier said than done for most people. Have some “starter” phrases at the ready if you think this may be a problem:
    • “Hold on just a moment, Jack, I appreciate that point….”  State his point concisely and add to the conversation.
    • “Hui, that’s an interesting point and I’d like to add to that.”
    • “You have an interesting point there, but I have a different perspective that I’d like to share.”

Next time you’re feeling left out of the panel, try one of these seven tips to insert yourself in a panel discussion.

Related Articles

8 Reasons Why You Should Be a Panelist

How Panel Moderators and Panelists Impress the Audience and Leave a Lasting Impression

How to Gracefully Interrupt a Panelist Who Talks Too Long

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.

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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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