Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion with 2 colleagues. The topic of discussion was “Your Customers are Online, Why Isn’t Your Business?” Through questions and answers, we covered websites, QR codes, blogs, social media, mobile web, online reputation and reviews, search engine optimization and more.
Benefits of Panel Discussions
- Small business owners were able to ask questions and learn from the questions posed by others.
- With 3 “online experts” we were able to cover a range of topics of which, individually, we may not have been as knowledgeable.
- As the experts, we were able to demonstrate our expertise and give exposure to our own businesses.
- Business owners could follow up afterwards with the expert of their choice whether they had more questions or required help with their own online presence.
- Even the experts benefited from the knowledge of the other panelists in areas where our own proficiency was weak.
Some Planning and Preparation Can Help
If you decide to initiate a panel discussion, do some preparation. I believe our discussion went well because:
- A theme and a range of topics were chosen that were loosely related but diverse enough so that the panelists could shine in their own areas of expertise.
- The panelists are respected in their field and could articulate their answers well.
- The discussion theme and range of topics was made clear to the panel participants and to the moderator so that everyone driving the discussion was on the same page.
- Notifications were posted and invitations to attend were sent out, describing the event, the problems being discussed, and encouraging participation.
- identified our areas of expertise (this helped decide who would take the lead on answering questions based on the subject matter).
- identified areas of overlap.
- made a list of “seed questions” for the moderator should the discussion fade.
- provided individual bio’s for the moderator and for each other.
- decided on what supporting materials we could each provide.
I believe our little bit of preparation allowed the discussion to get started quickly and continue smoothly.
Regarding Discussion Etiquette
Not that we had any issues during our discussion, but I have a few suggestions on etiquette:
- Don’t ever talk down or belittle the person asking a question. Remember they’re better at what they do than you are, so don’t get a big head.
- Keep your answers on topic, clear and logical.
- Respect and support your co-panelists. Provide supporting comments if you agree but don’t cut off their answer before they’ve finished.
- If you happen to disagree, don’t be confrontational. Offer an alternative answer and let the audience decide. A little friendly controversy can enliven the discussion.
- Don’t hog the spotlight. If it seems like you’re answering more than the other panelists, look for an opportunity to defer to them. (Knowing where our skills overlapped helped here.)
- Know your audience in order to provide meaningful conversation in their terms and addressing their concerns.
- This is an opportunity to educate your audience. It’s not an opening for a sales pitch.
An Unexpected Invitation
Our discussion was with a local networking group, so we knew our audience. However, there could be a time you’re invited to participate at an unfamiliar venue with a panel of experts who you don’t know personally. Wow! What an honor! But, don’t rest on your laurels.
Do some homework to prepare to present yourself most effectively. Learn a little bit about your co-panelists. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn from the others and make new connections. Here’s an article by entrepreneur and venture capitalist, Mark Suster, that provides more good advice.
Share your experiences of being on a panel. What do you wish you would have done differently? How did you help make it successful?