As a business owner, odds are you belong to one or more professional organizations. If you are like most business owners, you don't really have time to go to all of the events, webinars, workshops and conferences to which you are invited. Unless you stay active within the organization it’s likely that after a few years you won't renew your membership because you won't see the point of paying it. Or worse, you won’t even notice the recurring charge on your credit card each year for annual dues to an organization from which you aren’t extracting any value. Rather than waste the opportunities that memberships to professional organizations can provide, do something that will be worth your while; offer to moderate a panel.
Moderating a panel at an event sponsored by a professional organization accomplishes multiple goals.
- It makes you stand out. Few people have the chutzpah to stand in front of an audience of industry peers and orchestrate a meaningful discussion among experts. The sheer act of taking this responsibility on will help you build a name for yourself in the industry.
- It gives you an excuse to meet people. In order to run an effective panel discussion you need to find excellent panel candidates. You may have to go through a long list of people to find those who are able to do it, available to do it and willing to do it. In the process you could easily contact 10 or 15 industry heavy weights. They’ll take your call because you aren’t asking them to buy anything.
- It forces you to get up to speed on important industry issues. As a business owner, you constantly struggle between dealing with macro issues and micro issues. Usually the micro issues, like calling a customer who hasn't paid an invoice, win out. If you are moderating a panel, then you need to know the key trends that impact your industry and the particular issue being discussed. You have no choice but to dedicate time to it.
- It gives you a great reason to reach out to new and potential customers. When you invite people to attend the panel discussion it provides an excuse for a point of contact. After you moderate the panel you can reach out to them again to let them know how it went and summarize the key points discussed. These are two valid and interesting reasons to communicate with your audience.
- It offers credibility and prestige. There's just something about being up on stage that sends the message that you are someone with whom to do business. Most people are terrified of being on a panel, not to mention moderating one.
So how do you make it work? Here are some recommendations based on my experience.
Find complementary, not competing panelists
Make sure that the panelists you select work well with one another. Ideally each panelist can offer a different perspective on the issue being discussed. Otherwise it can get repetitive and you will lose your audience half way through the second panelist's remarks.
Select a topic that is timely, relevant and actionable
The actionable part is important. Have people on stage that have successfully executed what is being discussed. Have them talk about how they did it (or are doing it) and tie these lessons directly to the audience.
Hold a conference call before the date to coordinate
All panelists should be on the call. Walk them through the structure of the panel, the speaking order, the length of time in minutes that each panelist will have, how to handle off-beat questions and what degree of self-promotion is appropriate. Circulate the questions to be asked of the panelists at least 48 hours before the conference and stay open to their feedback. Discuss and coordinate audio visual needs well in advance and review the drafts provided for relevancy.
Summarize each panelist’s remarks after their turn
Listen carefully to each panelist’s remarks. When they are done, give the audience a 20 second summary of the key points and be sure to create a bridge to the next speaker's remarks.
Don’t be afraid to cut someone off
You are the moderator. It’s expected that you be respectful of everyone's time by making sure the event does not go past the scheduled time.
I have moderated panels on more than one occasion. These recommendations are based on experience. Try them out!