Part of being a small business owner sometimes means having to step outside of your comfort zone for exciting business ventures, fun networking events, and new opportunities.

If you’re not a natural at public speaking, speaking on your first panel can seem overwhelming in the beginning.

Below, are our top 10 Tips and Best Practices to keep in mind whenever you’re preparing to speak on your very first panel.

Top 10 Tips For Panel Prep:

1.  Take Note – Usually, you’ll know the discussion topic beforehand, and you’ll have a few weeks to prep! This is the best time to get your talking points and notes ready for the panel. (And bring some along if needed!)

2.  Understand Your Role – You’re just one piece of the puzzle; make sure you understand how you fit in. Why were you invited? What specific perspective does the moderator hope you can add? Look at the other panelists. What can you contribute that they can’t, and vice-versa? If you don’t have their bios, look them up on social media (LinkedIn) and research them online.

3.  Prepare Stories – If you want to be remembered and you want your ideas to stick, few things beat a well-told story. Come prepared with anecdotes, examples and stories that capture your points. That will be a lot more effective than dumping a ton of data and information on your audience. Remember to be succinct, though. Keep your stories short and focused so you don’t dominate the conversation.

4.  Keep Your Energy Up – Keeping your energy up is essential, especially if you’re stuck in the typical panel setup—seated behind a table. A table creates a barrier between the panel and the audience. We recommend that you ditch the table and use stools instead of chairs. Ask about the set-up in advance and see if the organizers are willing to make this adjustment. If you have to be seated, don’t slouch or lean back. That will drain the energy right out of you. Lean in and stay physically engaged. Plus all that talking…can be thirsty work! Bring your favorite water bottle in case you don’t have easy access to a drink

5.  Have a Goal – Be strategic. Go into the panel discussion with a specific goal in mind. Do you want to:

  • Solve a particular problem the audience has?
  • Showcase your expertise or your organization’s capabilities?
  • Challenge conventional wisdom?

Figure out what you want to accomplish, and direct everything you say toward that goal.

6.  Throw away your notes – Although you should have written notes on all of the points you want to make for each slide, don’t take them into the presentation with you. (If you must have something in case of an emergency, then create a list of bullet points below your slides in your presentation software.)

Using notes could appear that you are not an expert on the topic, and reduce your credibility. If you are looking down at your notes, you are not engaging with your audience, and If you are not engaging, then it’s likely they are not listening properly.

Finally, avoid reading directly from notes as your tone of voice will likely be flat, and you will have minimal stage presence.

7.  Make Eye Contact – Always make eye contact with the room! It will help you better engage with the audience. And, if you’re nervous… single out one person (friend, family, or someone that’s resonating with your talking points) to direct your attention to so you feel more at ease when speaking.

8.  Listen to the Other Panelists – Listen to what they have to say and extend the conversation. Refer to points a fellow panelist has made and build on them (or point out areas where you respectfully disagree). This makes for a more fluid and engaging discussion.

9.  Remember – you are a resource for your audience – The audience is there to hear from you. You are a valuable source of information for them, and they’re excited to listen and learn from you. The better you know your audience, the more relevant your contribution will be. So work with the moderator to understand the context of the event, who the audience is, and what they know about the topic. And find out about their concerns, doubts, expectations and mood.

10.  HAVE FUN! Don’t take it too seriously, and enjoy it! Looking back at my first panel, I wish I would have loosened up a bit more, and not been so worried about chiming in! I was so nervous, but at the end of the day, it was a wonderful first experience and only helped prepare me for the next one. The best panel discussions are filled with high energy, focused content, and easy give-and-take among the participants. The more you take a personal stake in its success, the more your audience will appreciate it.

When you’re getting ready to speak on your first panel, it’s such an exciting time. If you’re a little stage shy, Don’t let the nerves get the best of you!

Speaking on a panel is such a wonderful opportunity to be able to check off of your goal list. Reaching this new level will be a great launching point for what’s in store for you and your brand!

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