Panels are a popular way to transmit knowledge or opinions from a small group of diverse voices to a larger audience. I don’t love the format, but it seems to persist. I have participated in many panels as a speaker and moderator, and even more in the audience. It is always a little confusing and nerve-wracking. Here I collect tips as I develop them.
Read “The Eloquent Woman’s Guide to Moderating Panels”. Even if you aren’t moderating a panel, and even if you aren’t a woman (or eloquent)! I read this book before moderating my first panel and learned so much about how to prepare well for many kinds of eventualities, how to handle classical panel conundrums, and how to make the panel-viewing experience more enjoyable. I also learned quite a bit about how to be a good panel member from this book.
Speaking tip: Plan to repeat the question in your answer, third grade essay style. “What do you think of oranges?” “When I think of oranges, I ……..” This is especially useful when the convention has emerged to poll the list of speakers for every question, and you are consistently called last, and you’ve forgotten what the actual question was… Keeping the original question in mind helps keeps your points salient.
When I’m talking, I try to pick a person (or a few) to ‘talk at’ for each question. When other panelists or the moderater is talking, I try to look at them, even if I can’t actually see them. If you watch videos of panels, the panelists who are either looking straight ahead or down or around the room look sad, even if they are just listening in a different direction.