Go beyond Talking Heads: How to build a panel presentation that Pops

Wanh. Wanh. Wanh.fireworks

No matter how interested you are in a topic, talking heads start sounding like the teachers in the Charlie Brown cartoons. Sometimes, the panel can even put their audience to sleep.

Most people who speak at an event choose to do so – meaning that they have a message that they want to share. I am not a professional or fabulous speaker, but I do speak on occasion at the typical talking heads conference. And while you cannot please all of the people all of the time, there are some basic tips that can improve just about any panel presentation.

My ten top popping panel tips:

1. Create a diverse panel
Whether the diversity is in gender, sector, perspective, opinion, race, title, role – whatever – make the panel diverse. Give the audience someone to whom each one of them can relate.

2. Be creative, but keep it within limits
There are ways that even talking heads can present the same material, but creatively. I have participated in presentation based on the dating game, family feud, a political debate, and more. Recognize that not everyone in the audience will relate to creativity, but the overwhelming majority will like it.

3. Get organized before the presentation
Get on the phone. Speak to each other. Know who is going to change the slides. How will the chairs be organized? Determine if you want to sit behind a long table. Will you rise to speak at a podium? How will you handle too many questions and comments? How will you handle none?

4. Appoint a control person
Someone needs to be in charge of keeping the presentation moving. This should and could be done with ruthless charm. You can disclaim at the beginning how you will handle questions and comments. If time starts running short, the control person can keep it moving.

5. Do a true dry run
You may have everything planned out, but a true dry run – a real one – (cannot emphasize realism enough) should help ferret out problem areas, such as a long-winded speaker.

6. Speak to the slides, rather than read from them
There is not much worse than a presentation with paragraphs of material on each slide. Ugh. The audience will be reading them and not listening. You should have impactful slides that you can easily speak to. You can develop substantive material to submit for continuing education credit, and inform the audience that such material is available, just not what they will see in the panel presentation.

7. Stay on time and on point
Often, panelists have no say in the topic, title, or description of presentations. Yet the audience chooses that session based on those. Panelists should ensure that their presentation lives up to what is promised. I hate walking away from a presentation not having learned what was in the description. For the time, see #4 above on control person.

8. Interact with each other
Have a point person on each topic and interact. Whether in agreement or disagreement, the panelists should interact. Please do not separate the program into evenly divided topics and let one head bobble for ten minutes. Have fun. If you don’t, they won’t.

9. Have questions teed up
Seems basic. Is basic. Do it.
It’s pretty disheartening to save ten minutes for questions and there are none. You can announce at the beginning that although it is a safe environment, anyone who doesn’t want to raise his/her hand can submit questions electronically (in the manner of your choice). If you don’t address the questions during the session, you will at the end.

10. Engage the audience
Yes.

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