Top 10 Tips For Panelists

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Brian Halligan
Brian Halligan



I am invited to be on a lot of panels these days and end up doing something like 2 per week .  If you are invited to do a panel, here are my tips:


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1.  Don't be a moderator, be a panelist.  The moderator does not get to really tell a story or exhibit any expertise -- they really just guide the questions.  If given the choice, ask to be a panelist.  If asked to be a moderator, request to be a panelist.  If you don't have a choice, be a moderator.

2.  Answer the question you wanted to be asked, not the question that was asked of you.   When you are done with your brilliant remark, no one will remember what question was asked in the first place.  Mike Linton told me a story about Tony Blair who had to face parliament every week for a drilling.  Tony said there were three scenarios.  If someone asked him a question he actually wanted to answer (rare), he would answer the question.  If someone asked him a question he didn't want to answer, he would answer the question he wanted them to ask.  If someone insisted he answer the question, then he would berate them for asking such a stupid question when there are people starving in Africa.

3.  Disagree once.  Panels can get really dry and really boring for the audience, particularly after lunch.  Find an opportunity to disagree with another panelist to spice it up, get the crowd engaged, and get the dialog rolling.

4.  Avoid moderator ping-pong.  If one of the other panelists answers a question that you want to "riff" on, just do it -- preempt the moderator with your riff.  In fact, if the pattern is panelist A -- moderator -- panelist B -- moderator -- panelist C -- moderator -- panelist B -- moderator -- on so on, that's a bad panel.  You want a discussion to occur between the panelists.

5.  The prep call.   Most moderators organize a call before the panel to introduce the people, discuss format, and talk about questions.  It is a good idea to attend this, but if you can't, ask for the moderator to send out a summary by email.  Panels occasionally involve each panelist doing a short Powerpoint prior to the discussion, so make sure you find out if it is one of those as you want to prepare a bit for it.

6.  Be prepared.  Before you sit down on the panel, think about the topic.  If they sent out questions in advance, think about your responses and have some notes.  Show up with a piece of paper, a pen, your notes and room to make further notes while other panelists are talking.

7.  Soundbytes, Soundbytes, Soundbytes.   On the piece of paper you bring to the panel, have several pithy sound bytes on there that people will shake their head up and down at, write down, and tweet.  One of my recent favorite is "there will be more changes in marketing in the next 5 years than there has been in the last 50 years."

8.  Acronyms, Acronyms, Acronyms.   For some reason, every time I give folks an acronym, I see everyone's head go down and write.  Here are some of my favorites:

    Describing the ideal modern marketer - DARC: D-Digital Native; A-Analytical; R-Reach; C-Content Creator

    Describing the inbound marketing process - COPCA:  C-Create Content; O-Optimize Content; P-Promote Content; C-Convert Visitors; A-Analyze Results

    Describing the call-to-action on your website - VEPA:  V-Valuable; E-Easy; P-Prominent; A-Action Oriented

9.  Don't Be Shy and Don't Dominate:  If you were invited on a panel, you want to say your piece and you want to get all your soundbytes out there, but you don't want to take up too much airtime.

10. Don't Pimp too hard and if you do pimp, call yourself out on it.   For example, if/when you mention your product/service/book, say "and yes, that was a shameless plug."

Here is a bonus....Four signs you did well on a panel:

1.  If presenting to a connected crew, just look at the tweet stream when the panel is done.  If you are not on Twitter yet, go to and do a search on the topic that you spoke about.

2.  See where the questions are directed when they get to Q&A at the end.  If you are feeling a little uncomfortable that all the questions are directed at you and not your other panelists, then you did a good job of getting inside the audience's head.

3.  If you end up shaking a lot of hands and handing out all your cards at the end, that's a sign that it went well.

4.  People are taking notes when you are talking.  (Don't confuse that with people checking their email!)

-- Brian Halligan

photo by Brendan Biele

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