Panel Discussions: How to Score BIG with Audiences

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I enjoy participating on career panels at conferences; panel discussions allow attendees to hear a variety of perspectives from experts on topics and questions of interest to them. But panels can prove to be a challenge because as a panel participant, you don’t control the flow of content – you more or less go with the flow set by the moderator (with audience input, perhaps). And you don’t have as much time to present your ideas as you would in a breakout session.

If you’re invited to participate on a panel, accept the invitation because it’s a win-win scenario: you impart your wisdom and knowledge to an audience with a need for that information, and you enhance your professional brand as an expert.

Here are a few suggestions that will help you score big with the audience.

  • Provide a very brief (3 to 5 sentences) bio/introduction to the moderator and ask the moderator to read it. Long bios will never get read and you leave it up to the moderator to select the important content.
  • If the panel is mic’d up, the microphone should be one to one-and-one- half inches away. If you’re a soft-spoken person or too far from the microphone, the audience in the back may have trouble hearing you. When that happens, one of two situations may occur: someone working the mixer will turn up the volume, likely resulting in feedback through the sound system (avoid that at all cost); or someone in the back yells out “Can’t hear you…” I’ve been on a few panels where someone asked a panelist to speak louder and all the panelist did was repeat her response without speaking louder. The audience member interrupted her with, “Excuse me…I didn’t ask you to repeat yourself…I asked you speak louder.” Ouch. Not good for the professional brand.
  • Be honest with every response; audiences can sniff out fabrication and that will affect credibility. Being honest with tough questions scores points with the audience.
  • Respond to the question posed by the moderator. Once you do that, you can always steer the direction of the remainder of your response to something YOU want the audience to walk away remembering.
  • Keep responses direct, brief, and simple. Remember, the audience is looking for information that they can use immediately, so no long-winded or complex diatribes because you will lose the audience quickly. Some moderators may interrupt if you drone on too long and that doesn’t polish your brand. You can always elaborate on a response with audience members after the panel discussion is over.
  • Watch your facial expressions when other panelists are responding to questions. Don’t be like Donald Trump who makes funny and inappropriate faces when others are speaking. Disguise your disagreement or impatience with merchants of obfuscation when they are speaking.
  • Your audience is the audience, not the moderator. Be sure you are addressing the audience with your response.
  • There’s no such thing as a one-word response in a panel discussion. Responses of “Yes”, “No”, “I agree” to a statement read by a moderator don’t add value for the audience. Score big by saying something different.
  • Make yourself available to the audience immediately after the panel discussion. You can elaborate on responses to questions at this time. Bring plenty of business cards with you.

True story: I was on a career strategy panel several years ago at an international conference in Washington, DC. The moderator of the panel was someone who once worked in the U.S. Central Command with General David Petraeus. Previously, I had helped this former high-ranking officer transition his military experience for the civilian job market, which resulted in his immediate hire in a senior-level position for a large global organization.

When he was reading the bios of the panel members, he spoke off the cuff when he got to mine about how my career advice and help with his résumé and cover letter was instrumental in him obtaining this position. He went on to praise my book (Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0, while holding up a copy up to the audience) as an important tool for developing his career strategy.

I had no idea he was going to do this during the panel introduction. I was told later that day that the conference bookstore had sold out of all the copies of my book and had to distribute “rain checks” for the discounted conference price.

That’s a nice problem to have!

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Want to receive a free copy of my Career Strategy Tip Sheets? You get 5 bundled tip sheets (PDF) for career strategy, cover letters, résumés, job interview, and salary negotiation. Just let me know your thoughts on this or any blog post–or let me know of a career topic you’d like me to discuss from the hiring manager’s perspective.


Former Fortune 500 hiring manager Donn LeVie Jr. is the author of the newly released Strategic Career Engagement (September 2015), and the book that reset the rules for successful job and career strategies:  Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0 (June 2012, Winner of the 2012 Global eBook Award and Winner of the 2012 International Book Award for Jobs/Careers). He leads career strategy seminars at conferences, business/trade schools, colleges and universities, and U.S. Military Veterans organizations.

Does your conference need a keynote speaker or a career strategies seminar for conference attendees? My 2016 engagement calendar is starting to fill up…contact me directly at


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