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ways to calm your nerves before a panel discussion

A little worried about your upcoming panel discussion? Here’s the good news: Stage fright or presentation anxiety is fairly common for new panel moderators or panelists, manifesting itself with dry mouth, sweaty palms, and an increased heart rate.


Here’s even better news: There are specific techniques you can use to reduce that anxiety – and here’s twenty-one ways to calm your nerves before a panel discussion.

21 Specific Ways to Calm Your Nerves Before a Panel Discussion

  1. Chat with the Meeting Organizer. The meeting organizer has sent you an invitation with all the details and/or set up a call to go over the details. This is a good time to ask any questions that might be keeping you up at night. And, as you get closer to the date, you can always pick up the phone or send an email to ask about any of those “what ifs” you have rattling around in your brain!
  2. Check Out Your Fellow Panelists. Google their work and the views they hold on the topic. As you review their social footprint (websites, social profiles, book reviews, bios, blogs, recent presentations, media mentions, papers, etc.), note where you have similar and different points of view.
  3. Know Your Audience. Find out who will be in your audience and think about what they need to know about the topic. As you do this, you’ll become more familiar with them and their expectations.
  4. Know the First Question. Ask the panel moderator how they will introduce you and what the first question will be. Knowing how it will start and your first interaction will make the transition into the panel easier.
  5. Practice Your Key Messages. Unlike giving a presentation, you can’t practice your speech, but you can practice your three key messages along with an example, a story, demonstration, or prop that will make your idea come to life as well as a short, “Twitterable” soundbite that audiences will remember after the panel discussion is over.
  6. Prepare a List of Potential Questions. The panel moderator might have shared the questions, but maybe not. Think about what questions the moderator and/or audience might ask about the topic in general and what specific questions they might ask you about the topic. Then prepare clear and succinct answers to those questions.
  7. Prepare “I Don’t Know” Responses. One of your fears may be that you are caught flat-footed and unable to answer the question. Amy Jen Su says in the Harvard Business Review that “if you’re asked something you’re not sure about, have a few different responses in your back pocket, such as:
    • That’s a good question. I don’t have the answer right now, but I’ll get back to you on that.
    • My initial view and instinct on that is x. It’s a good question. Let me have the team dig into that this week and I’ll send out a fuller response.
    • Let me turn this back to the group – does anyone have thoughts or a view on that right now?”
  8. Use Notes. Have your key messages on some index cards or on your phone, especially if you have some statistics or hard-to-remember examples. You may not even need them, but you’ll have them there if you need them.
  9. Get a Good Night’s Sleep. Go to bed at a normal time and don’t worry about the panel. You’ve been asked to share your experience and your perspective, so you will do great! No need to worry.
  10. Arrive Early. Get there in plenty of time so you feel calm vs. rushed and frazzled! When you arrive, seek out the meeting organizer, the panel moderator, and other panelists.
  11. Mingle. Warm up your vocal cords by chatting with colleagues or audience members. Find out something interesting about them. Now you’ll have some friends in the room!
  12. Be Authentic. Be true to your natural style and allow your unique personality to shine.
  13. Smile. We know that smiling releases endorphins – which help to calm your nerves. Especially when you smile at that friend you just made!
  14. Check Out the Room. Take a peek into the room where the panel discussion will be. Envision yourself having a great discussion that delivers fabulous value to the audience.
  15. Breathe. Sounds obvious, but take a few deep breaths to calm your nervous system. David Greenberg, author of the book Simply Speaking recommends that you say to yourself “I am” as you inhale and “relaxed” as you exhale.
  16. Stay Hydrated. Prevent anxiety-induced cotton mouth by drinking plenty of water before the panel. (Don’t forget to go to the bathroom before starting!). Make sure there is a bottle of water near your chair.
  17. Listen to Music. Put your earbuds in and listen to your favorite song.
  18. Meditate Briefly. Find a quiet place (even a toilet stall). Close your eyes to block out distractions. Focus on your breathing. As thoughts arise in your mind, acknowledge them and let them go, allowing your breathing to become slower and deeper.
  19. Move. Moving your body and getting your heart pumping also releases endorphins. Exercise in the morning, take a brisk walk around the conference center, or stretch your muscles to calm your nerves in a jiffy!
  20. Avoid Caffeine. Coffee can make your throat scratchy and other caffeinated drinks can make you jittery and increase your heart rate. Not a good look so just don’t drink it!
  21. Learn the Art of State Shifting. Adam Guild in Forbes says, “Fixing nervousness before a big pitch or meeting [or panel discussion] requires a state shift. This is a switch in your mind and emotions. When you’re worried about what others will think of your pitch, you’re probably in your head and in a people-pleasing mode. Instead of hoping they like you and your presentation, focus on them, on the value you’re bringing and how it will improve their lives.”

I’m sure there are more than twentyone ways to calm your nerves before a panel discussion…but I have to get to a panel discussion and I don’t want to be late!

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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.

Photo by Alex Green

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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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