A panelist is one among a group of people, typically 3-4 experts or practitioners in the field, who share facts, offer opinions, and respond to audience questions either through questions curated by the moderator or taken from the audience directly either in person, virtually, or remotely.
Ideally, a panelist has been selected because they are D.E.E.P.:
Diverse. The people on the panel should reflect the diversity seen in the audience. It’s also about diverse perspectives as a group that is in complete agreement makes for a boring panel. A panel that knows each other well may lack a fresh perspective.
Expertise. A recognized authority, news-maker, or thought leader within the industry who possesses strong enough credentials that generate credibility quickly through a bio or 30-second introduction. Or a practitioner with firsthand knowledge about the topic and has applied it successfully (or not) in the real world. Or stakeholder representatives along the value chain e.g. a high-profile end-user customer, an employee or a vendor-partner who has expertise on the topic.
Eloquent. Panelists should be good conversationalists, able to express their opinion concisely and take a controversial position on a topic – without being a jerk!
Prepared. The audience knows when a panelist has just shown up without any thought or preparation. The panelists need to know the overall flow of the conversation and have several key points, examples, and takeaways for the audience. Otherwise, the conversation may degrade quickly.
Panelists are typically invited by the meeting sponsor or organizer, contacted by the panel moderator for initial instructions, and may have a meet-up with the moderator and other panelists prior to the panel discussion. On the day of the panel, panelists should check in with the moderator thirty minutes prior to “showtime” and be prepared to stay afterward to answer any individual audience questions.
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.