How to maximise your experience speaking on a panel
‘Insider’s View’, Published in BlueSky Business Aviation News
Patrick Margetson-Rushmore, chief executive of Luxaviation UK.
Speaking on an expert panel at a conference can be a very rewarding experience. Not only can you boost your personal profile but also, much more importantly, you can present your industry and company to an influential audience with authority and integrity. Yet, this can be a very daunting process.
I’ve appeared and spoken on panels many times and feel like I’ve learnt a great deal over the years; however, that doesn’t mean I don’t get nervous. Here are just a few of my tips on how to make the most out of your appearance on a panel.
Before the event:
- Know your other panellists in advance, so you can plan insights specific to your position in the industry. You don’t want to find yourself simply repeating what everyone else has said or, worse yet, just nodding in silent agreement. Why not ask the moderator to arrange a pre-event conference call for the panellists, so you can judge the direction the conversation might take? After all, operators, brokers, manufacturers and regulators – to name just four groups – can have very different perspectives on an issue. If you can make your comments unique, you’ll make your comments memorable.
- Prepare two or three key points you wish to deliver but don’t try to learn long speeches. If, for example, you believe the key to a successful Brexit for business aviation will be the evolution of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), don’t try to show off by memorising pages of complex constitutional points and regulations. At best, you’ll look stiff and awkward and, at worst, you’ll look foolish if you forget your lines. Instead, just learning a short phrase (“Brexit means EASA”) will help guide and trigger your thoughts. The most impressive panellists talk conversationally, comfortable with their knowledge. You’ll actually look unconvincing if you appear to have learnt everything you are saying, word for word, the night before.
- Be aware of any cultural sensitivities in the region in which you are speaking; you don’t want to unintentionally cause offence. And have there been any local incidents or accidents you should address with caution or, perhaps better yet, avoid mentioning?
On the day:
- Check the world and aviation news. You’ll look sharp if you reference a breaking story or current trend. And, equally, you’ll be embarrassed if you spend time praising an industry leader, not realising he or she left their position that morning.
- Breathe deeply just before the session begins, convincing your brain you feel relaxed (even if you don’t). Take a few deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth, and you’ll notice this has a calming effect.
During the panel session:
- Don’t just answer questions with “yes” or “no” but don’t look as if you want to dominate proceedings by speaking for minutes at a time either.
- Speak slowly to convey authority; nervous people talk quickly.
- Don’t keep repeating yourself but don’t be afraid to repeat an important point (especially if you think someone coughed and drowned you out when you first made the point).
- If in doubt, never guess; you will soon be uncomfortably exposed if you have guessed wrongly. It’s only reasonable – in fact, it’s highly professional – to say when you need to check a fact before answering a question and to say you do not want to risk misleading the audience.
- If you don’t understand a question, say so; you won’t be the only person feeling confused.
- Don’t openly promote your company but feel free to use a positive example of your company’s activities to illustrate a point.
- If you disagree with another panellist, don’t be confrontational; simply and respectfully put forward a different perspective. Now might be a good moment to mention one of your company’s actual experiences, to prove your opinion is valid.
At first, speaking on panels at conferences can be daunting but, as with so much in business, preparation and experience prove invaluable. Make the most of your opportunities. The more you relax, the more the audience will enjoy, and benefit from, your observations.
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