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Panelist Speaking Order

The order in which panelists offer their prepared remarks is a major factor in determining how they will be perceived.  While each panelist will be speaking on the same topic, your pre-event meet-up should have ensured that your key points shed a different aspect or point of view in this segment of the program.

Think about the advantages and disadvantages to being the first, last or in the middle.


First Speaker Advantages & Disadvantages:

  • The good news about going first is that you won’t be compared to anyone – yet.  So if you are on a panel of several strong presenters, going first makes sense. 
  • The first speaker also frames the issue and sets the tone for the entire panel.
  • Since the first speaker typically sits next to the panel moderator, you will benefit from subliminal associative power as the audience looks to the panel moderator for guidance. You’ll also have easy access to the conversation gatekeeper to signal that you want to interject a comment.
  • The first speaker is typically the first panelist to get the first questions.
  • Even if the panel moderator loses control of the clock, the first speaker typically gets all the time that was allotted.
  • The disadvantage to going first is that you can’t refer to the other panelists in your presentation as they haven’t said anything yet.  You’ll have to wait until the panel moves into the discussion segment.

Last Speaker Advantages & Disadvantages: 

  • The biggest advantage of going last is that during your presentation, you can react to and comment on what all the other panelists have said.  (Of course, this presumes that you have the gift of weaving new thoughts and concepts into your carefully crafted presentation on the fly). 
  • Going last also allows you to summarize, rebut what has been said, or propose an entirely different idea.
  • The last speaker gets the last word of this segment.
  • The downside is that you may not have anything else to add, or your time may be cut short if the moderator loses control of the clock.

Middle Speaker Advantages & Disadvantages: 

  • The good news about going in the middle is that you can comment on what has been said and still shape the discussion for the panelists that go after you.
  • The disadvantage is that you can get lost in the middle.  People generally tend to remember things that come first (primacy bias) or things that come last (recency bias).

Truth be told, most panelists never bother to ask about what position they will be asked to speak in.  As a powerful panelist, take the initiative to ask to speak in the position you feel would position you and your company in the best light.

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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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