Recently I moderated a speakers panel on innovation for MUSC Information Solutions meeting (of nearly 400 folk, in the room and remote.) Speakers panels are fabulous for shaking things up and spreading a core message. Panels are low-cost, high pay-off messaging catalysts.
The first panel I moderated was at Dig South more than a year ago, and since then I’ve either been a guest or moderated a few more.
Panels have magnetic power to attract the interest of your ADHD (possibly sleep deprived and overtaxed) audience.
A speakers panel should feel like a casual conversation between you and a group of friends (even if you’ve never seen any of them before). #workistheatre
A speakers panel is the Twitter of presentation. The audience gets several points of view, concise messages, plus fun and friendly interaction….and questions!
Putting together an effective panel is not a big deal and preparation makes the difference. As moderator, you’re the stage director and online editor all in live stream.
If you’re a panel member, you’re got the chance to speak your mind without going on and on about it.
Speaking on a panel is actually a fun way to get to know interesting people and to get your own voice out there. #brandyou
Stay present and listen to the answers and opinions of the other panelists. It’s okay to ask them questions or dive deeper into a particular idea—just go for it!
Panels are a stealthy way of getting concise input from a variety of players, not just the usual ones.
To put together an interest-grabbing panel, seek diverse points of view on your topic. Get speakers who interact with your topic in different ways. At Dig South, my panel on doing business around the world (broad topic) including serial entrepreneur and former big shot executive, John Warner from Greenville, then Dean of Benefitfocus University, Bucky Wall and entrepreneur, author and software consultant, Brent Hanis. On our topic of global work, we pooled experiences from India, China, Middle East, Latin America, Africa.
At the more recent MUSC Innovations Solutions town hall I moderated, the topic was innovation with a focus on innovating in a large organization (13,000+ employees.) Dr. David McSwain, is a pediatric critical care physician and Medical Director for MUSC’s Telehealth program shared how tangible benefits from proof of concept get buy in (and $$). Rural patients who have a video visit are often able to avoid a costly hospital visit altogether. Biomed engineer and med student, Ryan Gedney talked about how mindset is fundamental for innovation. Jonathan Yantis, a senior network engineer spelled out how he actually developed a new software product for MUSC and then partnering with the company for commercialization.
Bottom line, the audience got a break from the usual powerpoint presentations from their leaders. A panel attracts a variety of speakers, each with very little time (compared to a solo presentation.)
Fun things you can do with a speakers panel include:
:: Enliven your next town hall or other Big Company Meeting…or retreat.
Use in-house and guest panelists to freshen up everyone’s thinking and get direction on a topic.
:: Put yourself out there to organize a panel, as a fun personal branding-building project.
Do this for your company or an industry group you like.
:: Practice a panel with your team.
Have 3 to 4 folks who report to you present as a panel on some current pesky issue. It’s a good way to get input without certain people (you know who they are) dominating the conversation.
How to Pull off a Panel: (It’s easy!)
- Decide on the venue and how much time will be allotted. If it’s for a large crowd, line up technical support for microphone and/or remote access.
- Define your topic. From broad to narrow, you will make to make sure everyone gets the same information. Discussing your topic with top leadership is usually a good idea. #brandyou
- Invite 3 to 5 people to be on the panel, letting them know the time span and the topic. As panels are easy to prepare for, most people you ask will accept the invitation. You want diverse points of view.
- Write your questions and get them to the panel speakers. Invite them to submit questions as they may have another point of view you haven’t considered. (They almost never submit a question but it’s nice to be asked.)
- Research your panel speakers on LinkedIn. Make sure you include a fun fact as well as a summary of their work….as it relates to the topic. Write out a 50-100 word introduction for each person for your reference.
- When it’s Show Tim, open your panel with enthusiasm. Briefly explain who you are and WHY you put this panel together.
- You can ask each person the same question or ask different questions to different people. Mix it up. Ask the audience for questions (it’s okay to plant those in advance!)
- Be mindful of the time. You’re director of this show and being on time shows respect for your audience.
- Afterwards, thank the panelists for participating.
About visual support….the answer is “it depends.” For my global panel at Dig South, I put together a looped, auto-advance PowerPoint with photos taken abroad by all the speakers. It ran in the background during the 50-minute presentation. For short panels (the one at MUSC last week was less than 15 minutes) I would skip visual support.
Use a panel to break up the routine and get diverse points of view in a short period of time. It’s a fun way to actually make a difference.