Five Ways You Can Prepare for a Panel Discussion

When you are invited to speak at an event you can prepare and memorize a suitable talk. Panel discussions and round tables are more difficult because they are not scripted, but this doesn't mean that cannot prepare in advance. You can and you should. Here are five practical ways you can do this:

1. RESEARCH THE EVENT. First of  all read the invitation carefully and make sure that you understand the brief. Ask the organizers to clarify any details that are missing or ambiguous. Then check out all the other speakers; see who they are and the kind of messages they usually give. A few minutes googling will usually give you all the information you need because the kind of person invited to participate in a panel discussion tends to have a clear online footprint.

2. LISTEN TO THE UNDERTALK. Listen to the social media "undertalk", the general discussion of this topic on social sites.What are the current issues? What are people talking about? What questions are they asking? Other speakers might refer to this and the audience might ask questions about it. There should be no surprises.

3. PREPARE TALKING POINTS. Develop some talking points for yourself, defining your position and the points you want to make. Keep your points short and simple because your total talk time might be less than 10 minutes. If you can't summarize your main points in a few sentences you will find it hard to participate in a discussion. Make sure you have clarified this before you move on.

4. TALK TO THE MODERATOR. Every panel or round table has a moderator. If they are doing their job they will contact you before you contact them. If not, you have to make the first move. Explain how you want to be introduced and what points you would like to make. The moderator uses this information to build an interesting discussion.

5. DEVELOP A PLAN B. If you talked to the moderator you should get no surprises from them during the event. And if you listened to the undertalk there should be no surprises in the audience questions. But be prepared for a question that you cannot answer and master the art of politely declining.

At first an unscripted panel might feel frightening, but if you are well prepared it can actually be much easier than a speech.

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