Speaking Tips: Panel Discussions

I interviewed thousands of people during my 12-year career in television news. Because of that experience, I am often asked to moderate panel discussions. In fact, I am paid quite well to host these discussions. Additionally, my moderating and speaking engagements often lead to business opportunities for McGrath Comm.

Speaking as Marketing

Many people have figured out quite correctly that speaking at events is a good way to build up their list of contacts and develop business for their companies. Unfortunately, some people aren’t very good panelists and speakers. As a result, they wind up hurting themselves.


I recently moderated a panel discussion with two people who probably shouldn’t have been asked to be part of the panel. It was clear to me that their level of experience or expertise was not a good fit for the topics at hand.

One person was out of touch with the latest trends, so much so that a member of the audience used the word “irrelevant” in relation to that person.

The second panelist asked me (before the discussion) not to ask him a question about very basic strategy that any college student could have answered. I knew he was nervous, so I killed the question. But imagine my surprise when I saw him half-dozing through the first part of the panel discussion with his head in his hand. I actually had to tap him on the shoulder to wake him up before I asked him a question.

Another audience member commented on this person’s behavior and said, “Wow. He couldn’t stay awake, huh?”

People Notice

I am guessing that more than two people noticed that these panelists were lacking in expertise and professionalism. As such, I can’t imagine that anyone would ever hire them.

(To be fair, these panelists may have strengths in other areas that were not relevant to the panel discussion. And the person who was dozing may have taken medication that causes drowsiness. Whatever the case, it is clear that participating in this panel didn’t win either of them any business.)

My Advice

Play to your strengths. If you’re a good writer– promote your services on twitter. If you love taking pictures and/or shooting videos — promote your company on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube.

Whatever you do– do not do engage in an activity or practice that highlights your weaknesses, at least not if you’re trying to encourage people to do business with you.

More Blogs

If you would like more public speaking or presentation tips, check out our other presentation skills blogs.

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