Why being on a panel might be the best marketing move you can make

Social Media NZ today hosted a panel discussion at Social Media Marketing forum today. Since this experience is fresh in my mind, I want to share how it went, what makes up a good panel and why accepting that invite to sit on a panel might just be the best move  you make in growing your business and personal brand.

Sure, a panel looks easy. There are four or five other people on it, all of whom you think are smarter than you – and it only lasts 45 minutes which was our case today. How hard can it be to get right?

Herein lies the problem: everyone thinks a panel is easy so they don’t take it seriously. But to be honest a panel is actually a great opportunity to position yourself as a consultant, expert, guru or whatever you want to call yourself. It is better than a keynote address because you are put through your paces – its a great opportunity to sell your knowledge and shows you are much more than a blog post or tweet. But only if you’re doing it right. Here’s my top 9 (odd number, I know) list of must-do’s for the next panel discussion you join.

  1. Know the damn subject. Sounds dumb but its the most important thing. If you’re invited to a panel on the China-Taiwan relationship, and you don’t know much about the subject, then you should decline. I don’t care how wonderful the opportunity seems to be. If you can help it, never provide an audience the opportunity to know that you’re clueless.
  2. Testing, testing! Speak up. This seems like very 101 material but you should know the optimal distance between your lips and the microphone is a few centimetres. You’re sitting down. You’re hunched over. You’re not projecting. So get close to the mike and speak up. Always assume there’s a old geezer at the back with a hearing aid.
  3. Entertain, don’t just inform. Your goal is to entertain. I’d go so far as to pick a friendly fight with the moderator or another panelist. Think of a panel as friendly, though emotional, conversation in front of 500 of your closest friends.
  4. Tell the truth, even if the truth is obvious. A good moderator will try to pin you to the wall with tough, embarrassing questions. This is a good thing because it provides an opportunity to (a) be funny and (b) show that you’re a straight shooter.
  5. Answer the question, but never limit yourself to the question that’s been posed. When asked a question, answer the question and answer it as quickly as possible, but then feel free to take the conversation in a direction that you want. Let’s say that the moderator asks, “Do you think Foursquare has a place in New Zealand?” It’s okay to answer, “Yes, I think New Zealanders will eventually embrace Foursquare but the real issue is will New Zealanders embrace smart-phones?” if that’s what you really want to talk about.
  6. Plain, simple, and short. Reduce the most complex and technical issues to something plain, simple, and short, and you’ll position yourself as (a) unselfish and (b) a star.
  7. Don’t ever look bored. This may be one of the hardest aspects of a panel. Let’s say the other panelists launch into a long, boring, jargon-filled comment. The temptation is to tweet or at worst look bored. Don’t do it. The reason why you are on the panel is because you know your stuff and it’s your passion.
  8. Your moderator is not your audience. The moderator is asking the questions, but he or she is merely a messenger for the audience. When you answer, don’t look at the moderator. Look at the audience because the audience doesn’t want to see the side of your head. In saying that, a good moderator will not make eye contact with you, forcing you to look away from him or her and at the audience.
  9. The outcome. The best panel discussions are the ones that always have an outcome. Where both moderator and the panel know what the aim of the panel is and what messages to leave the audience with.

So I hope these quick top nine tips are food for thought. We’d love to hear your thoughts on what makes a kick ass panelist. Or a kick-ass panel.

Editor in Chief at here SMNZ, I have a passion for social and digital media. When not writing and managing SMNZ I am the Head of Innovation at TAG The Agency, a digital ad agency and the Head of Sales and Marketing for End-Game, a software development agency. I'm also involved with a number of startups and I am always keen to support those that are bold enough to give things a go. Start something, better to try than to live wondering what if...

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