This week I am going to run a series of posts concentrating on specifics for participating in panel presentations or discussions.
The basics of good presentation skills and content design still apply. You need to work on clarity, projection, audience empathy, and all those other things that are critical in public speaking. But there are additional things to think about when taking part as a panelist or leading a discussion as a panel facilitator.
I am making a distinction in these posts between a "panel" and a "presentation with multiple speakers." The latter is merely a case of giving consecutive talks. Each presenter provides value by offering a self-contained delivery of information.
A panel should allow for more free-flowing conversational give and take, with sharing of insights, experiences, and interpretations stemming from a shared set of facts or assumptions. The best panels consist of participants who represent the variety of interests or perspectives that audience members have. The facilitator acts as a liaison between the speakers and the audience to make sure that all viewpoints are being considered.
Audience members have four key desires:
- CLARITY - Information, opinions, and facts need to be succinct and understandable.
- RELEVANCE - The discussion should offer practical value that can be applied in the audience's work or life.
- INCLUSION - The discussion should acknowledge audience needs and interests so that listeners feel like an active part of the process and not like superfluous bystanders.
- FOCUS - The discussion should stay on topic and deliver on promises made.
These are the same as for any formal presentation, but it is worth paying extra attention to those goals and making sure that panelists have them as priorities. They more easily get lost when multiple personalities are involved and people are fighting to be heard and to express their opinions.
I'll get into details with tomorrow's post, which will concentrate on preparation and coordination among panel members. As with a symphony performance, most of the hard work is done ahead of time - agreeing on pacing, interpretation of the key themes, and how each person is expected to play their part in relation to everyone else.