How to Be a Good Panelist

When you're speaking to an audience as part of a panel discussion, this isn't the time to check your email, post social media updates, or make small talk with a fellow panelist. Modern Manners Guy has 3 tips for how to be a great panelist.

Richie Frieman,
March 30, 2014
Episode #289

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Recently, I was watching a YouTube clip of a panelist discussion between four technology professionals. The panel took place in a large auditorium filled with eager fans waiting to hear the panelists’ opinions on mobile technology. Yes, this was a room full of tech-geeks like myself, but I found it rather distracting when each panelist was “social media-ing” during the entire talk.>

“Social media-ing” is when you ignore everyone around you so you can play with whatever app on your phone that distracts you from what you should be doing. Basically the panelists would share their thoughts, the audience would clap, and then the panelist would go back to tap-tap-tapping away on their smartphones while others talked. One guy had a laptop with him! I mean, the talk was only an hour - what is so important that it just can’t wait? After all, you’re the star of the show!

So, if you're ever invited to speak to an audience as part of a panel, consider my tops 3 Quick and Dirty Tips so you don't seem rude and disinterested:

Tip #1: You’re the Star - Enjoy it!

As I said, while watching this YouTube clip of a tech panel I was shocked how each panelist so openly busied themselves with their smartphones during the event, as if no one was watching. One guy even said, “What? I’m sorry…” before looking up from his phone when the moderator called his name. Yes, this was a tech talk so smartphones are as essential to these guys as a knight’s sword is to battle, but there comes a time when you have to lay down your weapon. Out of the few hundred people in the room, five of them (the panelists and the moderator) were the stars of the show.

As well, it’s not like these panelists were grabbed while leaving the bathroom at the venue and told they had to speak on stage - they knew about it for months. They agreed to be a part of the program and for a whopping hour all they had to do was talk to hoards of people who waited in line to listen.  All that ego-boosting and yet, the smartphone was more important.

I've talked about bad manners during a presentation and improper body language, but this was a combination of everything you would never want to do on stage.  This happens a lot in business meetings when someone is bored or not engaged, they whip out their phone to do some other work. It’s as if we can’t function without our precious smartphones for more than 30 seconds. When you are on your phone (or laptop) while something is going on, it shows that:

A) You're bored.

B) You don't want to be there.

C) You have better things to do.

D) You don't care how rude you are to everybody.

You may fancy yourself a multitasker, but now is not the time to show off those skills.  When you’re a panelist, people want to see you engaged and in the moment with them.  The second you look at your phone, it shows that you’ve checked out. Simply put, it clearly shows a lack of common courtesy to the people who came to see you.

Tip #2: Don’t Be a Wallflower

Even if you don't stare at your smartphone as if it contains the meaning of life, not engaging in the discussion is just as bad. You might as well not be on stage at all. Whenever there is a panel discussion, there will always be one person who is more outgoing, or outspoken than anyone else. This is totally fine, and you can’t blame someone for having more charisma in front of crowd than others. However, this stage is meant for more than one star.

It doesn't matter that you live the rest of your life like a hermit - if you agree to be on a panel, you've taken on a public responsibility. This is not the time to stay quiet.  Even the rejects from my example in Tip #1 at least said something relevant to the discussion before they went back to stalking their ex-girlfriends on Facebook. So in that sense, they win over the Wallflower.


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