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Secrets of Successful Presentations by Panels
by Chris King

Last week I was a presenter on a panel consisting of three other entrepreneurs and moderated by a college president – all of us women. It gave me a chance to revisit the potential power of panel presentations, so I decided to highlight what I feel made and makes a panel presentation successful.

Start by picking a theme that will be timely for your niche audience. The reason our panel consisted of women was that the event, called an IT (Information Technology) Tea was one in a series of presentations put on by a local technology publication that has been working to bring together women involved in the technology field. Each Tea has featured a woman speaker who in some way has succeeded in an IT career. The theme for our presentation was “Doing It Her Way” and involved women entrepreneurs working with IT. Therefore, the attendees were all receptive to our topics and what we had to offer. Good listeners that hang on almost every word are a speaker’s dream.

Pick panel members with forethought. The meeting planners had obviously chosen our panel with many criteria in mind. Even though we all had the common thread of entrepreneurship and IT, we each had totally different types of companies, different backgrounds, age differences and different approaches to business. We did, however, have other qualities in common that were obvious. All are passionate about what we are accomplishing and love talking about it. We were all interested in each other (none of us had met before) and no-one tried to dominate the discussion. We could all laugh at ourselves and yet be serious about our directions. I feel that it was obvious to the audience that we were enjoying the afternoon as much as they were.

Prepare, prepare, prepare. Organize, organize, organize. It is my firm belief that the success of a panel undertaking depends upon prior preparation. The woman who pulled our presentation together told us to the minute when and how long we would be speaking. She wrote the introductions and sample questions for the moderator and made copies of everything (including the timeline) for each of us. She had an excellent sound system set up with an extra microphone for the audience, and when we got to the Question and Answer part (with sufficient time set aside for this portion of the presentation), she had planted a few questions with audience members to get the ball rolling – which it did. When I say she allowed sufficient time for questions, I mean she left enough time so that a good variety of questions and answers were posed, and yet it wasn’t so much time that the audience ran out of good questions – it could have even lasted longer. The sign of a successful presentation is when people leave wishing they could have heard more.

You’ve been asked to be part of a panel, so how do you prepare? Yes, even though as a panel participant you don’t know for sure what the other panelists are going to say, or what questions will be asked, it is as important, as always, to be prepared. We were fortunate because we had timelines and biographies of the other panelists beforehand. But we had no idea about what or how the others would speak. Each of us brought notes and had a strong opening and closing statement (sort of a motto for our lives and our businesses). Two of the women had most of their presentations typed out, but we were given less time than previously planned, so that made them more spontaneous in their delivery too. Because you are not the only show, be ready to have fun with the other panelists and be flexible enough to change parts of what you might have said to balance the whole presentation. Each of us made it plain to the others and the audience that we felt honored to be asked to be part of this panel and we all took the opportunity to work together to make the afternoon worthwhile for everyone.

Whether you are a presenter and/or a meeting planner and/or program coordinator, consider using the idea of a panel for your next presentation. It takes some extra organization and work, but I think you will find that it is well worth the time. I heard many say as they left the room that this was the “best IT Tea yet!”

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