Tara Phillips has been a public speaking coach for more than 15 years now. She is also the founder of Cause & Affect Speeches. As a TEDx speaker coach since 2010, she has prepared over 50 speakers to take the stage at TEDx events in Amsterdam, CERN, and Monte Carlo, with some going on to speak at TED Global and reach millions worldwide via TED.com. She works with companies like Nikon, Heineken, and ING to name a few.

In this episode, we talk about what panel discussions are, how to be a successful panelist and how to face the challenges of panels prepared.

Online panel discussions and why join them

Tara believes that panels are great because they bring together top talent in one area so that experts can share and build upon each other’s experiences. She says that for the viewer the benefit is thought-provoking inquiry through hearing the wide range of opinions, expertise, and experience.

Many people are afraid of joining a panel, but it is an excellent opportunity to share your knowledge and expertise and be seen as an expert. Also, it is a great way to build your professional brand and increase your visibility.

How to prepare for a panel

One thing is for sure – you should leave a good amount of time to practice. Tara suggests that the more effort you put in behind the scenes the better that it is going to be when you are on the screen.

Tara shared with us that she has seen panels where the moderator gives the panelist a list of questions upfront and the discussion turns into a series of mini-talks. She thinks that it is easier for everybody like that, but that it is a missed opportunity for debate and engagement.

She advises you to do your research. See how other people are presenting their ideas, opinions, and experience. Watch at least three panels and take notes on what you notice worked and what felt flat. Do a lot of research on the topic, moderator, and fellow panelists. “Forewarned is forearmed,” Tara says citing.

The second piece of advice she gives is about getting clear on your intended outcomes and objectives. Think about how you want to position yourself or your company and what will be different for my audience once you have spoken.

Prepare notes on the questions and topics to be discussed, but do not script each answer as it can get in the way of spontaneity. Have flexibility and a few different pieces of material at hand for each of the questions to be pulled.

Biggest challenges to becoming a successful panelist

Panel discussions are not the easiest of speaking engagements. The dynamic is different because you are not alone and you need to listen, respond, and go with the flow. Make your point and give space to fellow panelists. For online panels, the biggest challenge is that you need to be energetic and enthusiastic which can be hard when you are sitting down and there is not an obvious audience.

One tip Tara gives us is to step away from the camera and turn off or hide the self-view. It helps to have your hands in view because you can use your gestures that way while the self-view can be distracting, and it could be difficult to engage the audience that way.


You can connect with Tara Phillips on her LinkedIn.

Listen to the full episode!

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