In part 3 of this ever-expanding series of posts about panel presentations, I want to cover tips that panelists should keep in mind for rehearsing and speaking.
The first item is trivial, but deserves a quick mention. PICK A NAME! Let your panel moderator and other participants know your preferred form of address. Don't be coy and say "Oh, I answer to all kinds of things." If it really doesn't matter to you, just pick a version. It's not for your benefit, it's for the benefit of your fellow participants and the audience. If one person calls you Billy while someone else calls you William and a third person says Dr. Smith, the audience has a hard time keeping track of who is being addressed. So pick a version of your name during rehearsal and make sure everyone knows how to pronounce it (I hate watching panels where one person says "FAR-hahd" while someone else says "furr-AHD").
On to more substantive matters…
A group rehearsal gives everyone the opportunity to listen to how the other participants are addressing the topic points and how the delivery styles mesh on the panel. A good moderator/facilitator will give you suggestions for either scaling back or stepping up your volume and energy to create a cohesive presentation with your fellow panelists. They may also let you know when you are coming across as too "pitchy" and sounding like you are trying to promote your company or products. Listen to their advice and adapt accordingly. They are giving you a valuable external perception check that you can't create in your own mind. Let them help you be more appreciated by the audience that will hear you.
One of the best things to look for during rehearsal is a point of view from another panelist that you want to counter. Panel agreement is boring. Panel disagreement is engaging and often provides more value for audience members as they think about different perspectives. Let your moderator know that you would like to offer a different take on a topic point after the other person has spoken. This lets the moderator plan who they should include at different times. It also lets your "opponent" have advance warning that this will be a discussion point, so they don't feel shocked and attacked on stage.
The other side of that coin is to let your moderator know when you don't have anything significant to add to what someone else has said. They can make a note to NOT call on you at this point of the conversation so you aren't left feeling superfluous and trying to figure out a way to say the same thing again. Audiences HATE "long agreement" speeches that use up time without adding value. You should always feel comfortable in skipping the opportunity to agree at length, in favor of giving yourself more time later to introduce additional insights and information.
Make sure to assemble the full panel at least 15 minutes before show time (I prefer 30 minutes if possible). If you are on-site, gather outside your meeting room. If you are presenting online, log in early. More people involved means more opportunities for last-minute problems. If somebody is running late or is unable to attend, you want time to know about it and adjust. Review the topic order or agenda, and confirm handoffs (panelist to panelist, or back to the moderator).
Everybody on the panel should have a cheat sheet in front of them. This includes a quick bullet list of the main topic items (and maybe an indication of who wants to speak on each), along with a reminder of each person's preferred form of address and the name of their company. It's amazing how your mind can suddenly go blank when you're on a stage in front of 300 people. Don't get embarrassed by forgetting the name of that person you've been working with for the past month!
During the panel presentation, keep an ear open for subtle cues from your moderator that you are not coming across as clearly as you think you are. Is the moderator asking you to repeat things a lot, or asking you for clarification on what you meant, or repeatedly restating points you have just made? It's probably an indication that you need to slow down a bit and make your points more concisely and unambiguously.
The last point I'll make in this post about speaking on a panel is about not speaking. When someone else has the floor, you should give them your attention. Look at them, nod your head, pretend like you are interested. Your behavior signals your audience as to whether they should care. Don't sabotage your fellow panelists by looking down at your own notes or idly picking your teeth and humming to yourself.
Tomorrow's post will continue the subject by looking at code phrases that moderators can use to help guide and instruct their panelists during the presentation.