Public-speaking engagements are a strong component of a good B2B PR thought leadership plan. Industry discussion panels in particular can be very effective, whether part of a larger conference or trade show, or created as a customized event for prospects. The best industry panels are not only well attended, but promoted and covered by relevant media. They can also present valuable networking opportunities. Above all, a panel is an excellent way to develop original content around a hot-button industry issue. When live-streamed or taped for repurposing as short videos, they demonstrate expertise and expanding brand visibility well beyond the panel event.
Like every other public relations activity, panel speaking requires preparation. If you’ve ever attended a dull panel event where one person pontificated endlessly, or the moderator didn’t spread the wealth, you know how uncomfortable it can be. Here are some guidelines to help you shine in your next panel appearance.
Arriving a few minutes early will save any anxiety about being late, and, in the case of smaller audiences, it can offer the opportunity to mingle with members of the audience and possibly other panelists. Audience knowledge is important for tailoring your comments within the group discussion, and for those who get nervous about speaking in front of a group, it’s a good tip for boosting confidence.
Don’t advertise your brand
Your name and affiliation on panel materials and your stellar participation in the group discussion should be enough. Most thought leadership panels are created with the tacit – or stated – understanding that they are not meant for commercial purposes. There’s no need to digress into an advertisement for your company or service (although a good introduction is essential, as outlined below.) Show your expertise with facts, short anecdotes, and insights. And while it’s fine to jump in and add to someone’s comment, no panel member should try to outshine others by talking over them.
But make sure you have a strong introduction
Don’t leave your introduction to chance; make sure the moderator or panel planner has an updated bio that captures your experience and accomplishments. Too often a PR person will simply google around for a biographical blurb, but it’s better to create or tweak an impressive bio for purposes of the industry panel. Also, it’s a good idea to bring an extra copy in case it falls through the cracks.
Present the best face of the company
Dress attractively, sit up straight, speak naturally, and listen to others as they speak. As actors are trained to do, panel participants should enunciate and project just a little bit more than normal, speaking clearly into the microphone. Make eye contact with the audience rather than only with the moderator or other panel members. Any mumbling, slumping, or other presentation foibles will detract from the insights offered. Going forward, the audience will think of the panelist’s face and voice when they think of your company. You want them to remember you as an engaging communicator and an expert resource on the topics at hand.
Above all, don’t be boring
Bring a spark. If you hold a minority or contrarian opinion about a specific issue, this is a great opportunity to share it. If you disagree, say so respectfully and briefly explain why. If you agree, don’t just say so. Be prepared to elaborate, offer an anecdote, or introduce a new issue. There’s nothing wrong with being entertaining on an industry panel. Have a cup of strong coffee and let your charisma elevate the energy of the event.
Get in the know
Do the requisite research on the personal and professional backgrounds of the panelists and the moderator. This will help you anticipate questions, answers, and other points of view – allowing you to prepare retorts ahead of the event. Know your audience. Calibrate the amount of techno-speak and jargon based on the sophistication of the attendees. Also, don’t forget to prepare an outline of answers from a list of potential questions. If your panelist is inexperienced or not a natural public speaker, your PR team may want to offer some spokesperson training ahead of the panel.
Shining on a panel at a conference can lead to other thought leadership opportunities for an executive spokesperson, like invitations to other panels, podcast guesting, byline contribution, and media placements. Most importantly, a young B2B tech brand can begin to cultivate real brand voice, credibility, and point of view, all of which establishes a solid reputation for competitive advantage. Along with keynote speaking or workshop participation, paneling is one of the best ways to make the most out of industry conferences and trade shows. See this earlier post for more on placing execs on panels and other speaking gigs.