Help! I'm on a panel. 8 ways to be a rock star panelist

I've been a panelist and moderated a ton of panels over my career and am often asked by newbies about how to get prepared and what they should expect. Here is PANEL101 a guide to being a great panelist:

  1. Start by asking the host/organizer lots of questions before you even agree to participate. What you are really trying to find out is if the panel is a good investment of your time and good exposure. I personally decline if the panel is 30 minutes (way too short), or it has more than 3 people (more than that and you won't get to talk enough), or if it is in a bad time slot (not preferable to be the last session on the last day of any conference because the topic and the audience have been worn out). So ask: 
    • How long is the panel?
    • Who else is on the panel?
    • Who is moderating?
    • Who is in the audience and how many are you expecting?
    • What time of day/part of the conference will the panel be?
  2. Once you've agreed to be on the panel ask about the stage set-up. 
    •  If you will be sitting behind a table with microphones in front of you (picture the United Nations) ask the organizers how the microphones will be controlled.  It can be a noisy free for all if they are all turned on at once and it can be frustrating if you start to talk and your microphone is muted. 
    • If you will be sitting on high bar stool style chairs, don’t wear a skirt. 
    • Also if you are miniature like me, practice your best posture because you shouldn't lean back in your seat during a panel. If you do your feet might dangle and make you look like an overgrown 5 year old. This just happened to me when I was moderating at SXSW last year and I felt like I had to climb on and off the stool. Not a good look.
    • If the panel will be living room style be prepared to literally sit at the edge of your seat. If you get yourself comfy in an arm chair you can come off as being distant or arrogant. It is hard to communicate your energy and personality like that.
  3. It is crucial to own your intro. Every moderator is grateful to get a really short, conversational bio from you so they can introduce you without sounding like they are reading your eulogy. Email it a day or two ahead of time and also hand over a printed copy on the day of the session. Also choose the best headshot to give to the organizers. Everyone should have two versions of their professional photo - one more casual and one more conservative.
  4. Know your three messages and learn how to convert any question to be able to deliver them. Imagine you want to shift the conversation - think of transitions like “Excellent question. I’ve been thinking about (thing moderator or other panelist brings up and how it influences XX (your message here)."
  5. Don’t be the only one playing nice. I’ve spent way too many panels being the “good” panelist who listened to the time limit instructions just to see other panelists hogging all of the airtime. I’m not saying to be a blowhard but make sure you are comfortable respectfully interrupting to get heard.  This is especially important if you are the only woman on a panel. You need to stop man-terupting right in its tracks. I've got to write a whole post about that one!
  6. If there will be press, speak in soundbites. I have some one liners that I’ve been using for 10+ years. Because, well, they work every, single time.
  7. If you are asked to bring slides or an ad reel promise me you won’t just re-purpose something you’ve already done. The audience knows you didn’t invest any time or energy into them and that is basically just rude.  You promise, right?
  8. Wear something with pockets so that you can have your business card in one pocket and have room in the other one to collect from people who want to follow up.