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Preparing For A Panel

A panelist differs from being a solo speaker — prepare accordingly

Erica LaCentra headshot
Erica LaCentra
Preparing for a panel

With event season in full swing, mortgage professionals should be thinking about what opportunities exist at trade shows and conferences that allow them and their company to gain greater visibility with the event audience. Having the ability to speak at an event can be a tremendous opportunity to position yourself and your company as an authority in the industry and share your expertise in a more actionable way than just giving an elevator pitch at your booth.

While giving a solo presentation to a large audience can be daunting or it can be difficult to snag a coveted keynote spot, participating in a panel discussion can be a great way to start your foray into the world of professional speaking. However, while you may think that being a panelist is going to be a breeze compared to being the one and only speaker during a solo session, there are certain steps that folks should take to better prepare for participation and ensure that they are providing a more informative experience for the audience.

So, if you’re a first-time panelist, what should you do to prepare?

Connect With Fellow Panelists

The best piece of advice for any person participating in an industry panel is to take time to connect with the panel moderator and your fellow panelists long before you hit the stage. Unlike an individual speaking session where you are monologuing information usually with an accompanying presentation, the best and most entertaining panels are when participants have a meaningful and lively conversation based on the presented topic. Great panel sessions flow seamlessly from topic to topic and create actual discussions among the panelists so that certain concepts can be expanded so that each participant can provide a unique viewpoint.

To ensure there is no shortage of topics that panelists can add their insights to, it is critical that the moderator and panelists connect ahead of time to create an outline of the flow of the panel. Panelists should craft questions with the moderator to ensure they have a chance to touch on all the most critical information to provide value for the audience to guarantee a better flow to the discussion. Panelists should be thinking about what topics you, as a group, want to cover and how they could logically flow from one discussion point to the next.

Also, you should be thinking about how each panelist’s area of experience can be best highlighted so that each participant has an equal amount of time to show off their expertise. When done properly, a moderator can pitch a single question to one panelist and it should either cycle through all panelists so that each participant can provide a unique key piece of information or build off a previous piece of information. Done right, if panelists don't have anything specific to contribute to one question, they can at least use the information gleaned as a stepping stone for the next topic so that everything connects and flows properly.

Prepare Your Talking Points

After you’ve had a chance to connect with the panel moderator and your fellow panelists and you know the general format and topics being covered, it’s time to prepare your own talking points. While panels should be more conversational and not just regurgitating facts and figures, it certainly doesn’t hurt to come prepared with key takeaways that you can provide to the audience. You should be thinking about how you are going to be able to add the most value for the audience on this topic and preparing actionable advice or insight that you can add as the panel discussion progresses. It could be anecdotal, it could be stats you have researched, or it could be a mix of both, but regardless, you should be going into a panel discussion knowing what key points you want to present that the audience will be walking away from the session with.

You can create general notes that you can bring with you to make sure you are addressing your talking points while also making the discussion more fluid. Especially during your first panel, it can be easy to get distracted or off track as the conversation progresses. Preparing your talking points ahead of time and having them on hand will make sure you hit everything you had hoped to discuss and also ensures you look like you are on top of your game throughout the panel.

Remember It’s Not Just About You

Audiences like panel sessions because they can learn from numerous industry experts in one sitting. A good panel should be the equivalent of multiple solo speaking session highlights condensed into one discussion.

One of the biggest mistakes that panelists often make is thinking they don’t have the same opportunity for company and self-promotion to the extent that they would during a solo speaking session. Often speakers will overcompensate by doing too much self-promotion to get their money’s worth rather than providing insight on the topic at hand. Panelists who often monopolize the conversation aren’t really adding value to the discussion. Audience members are usually turned off by this behavior and tune out this speaker.

In order to avoid being tuned out, remember that contributing value to a panel discussion is the best promotion you could do for yourself and your company. Rather than making your talking points all about you, add industry insight and position yourself as a thought leader. Present real life examples and be relatable, honest, and vulnerable, and listen and add to other panelists’ commentary. This will ultimately show the value you and your company can provide to audience members.

Don’t Be Perfect, Just Prepared

At the end of the day, getting ready for your first or hundredth panel all comes down to preparation. Panels can be an extremely valuable tool to gain additional reach and recognition at events. Just remember it’s all about the actionable advice you can provide that audience members can ultimately take away at the end of the session, not blatant self-promotion. Panels should be seen as an opportunity to connect with your fellow panelists as well as the audience and as long as you are providing your unique perspective and knowledge, you’ll be in a good spot to make the most of your participation. 

This article was originally published in the NMP Magazine October 2023 issue.
Erica LaCentra headshot
Erica LaCentra

Erica LaCentra is Chief Marketing Officer for RCN Capital.

Published on
Sep 27, 2023
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