HOW TO SIT ON A PANEL
Just in time for SXSW is this blog post from Mark Suster, an “entrepreneur turned VC” who blogs at “Both Sides of the Table.” Titled “Making the Most of Sitting on Panels,” it begins like this: “Many of us in the technology, media and VC world sit on panels at lot. Many of them are painfully boring.”
I have to agree. I’m not a big fan of panels for some of the same reasons that Suster cites. Most panels are too big. By the time everyone gets a chance to talk and each answer a few questions, time is up. Another problem: too many panels are packed with too divergent a group of people. Half the panel doesn’t know much about the other half, there’s been little pre-panel discussion among all the participants, and true dialogue fails to materialize. Suster complains about the “over talker.” As a moderator, I’ve dealt with these folks and they can be tough. They are adept at endless variations of their stump speeches, and when moderating I always find myself doing a mental calculus: “Okay, I’ve heard this 1,000 times, but has the audience?”
Suster’s comments are pretty straightforward, but if you are on a panel on SXSW (as I am on Monday, March 15 at 12:30PM), they are worth reading and remembering. (He also has good tips on how to maximize your own benefit from the panel.) Here is how he begins his list:
1. Educate – Your primary role on stage is to educate the audience. People have paid good money to be at the show and often times it’s to hear people like you speak. It’s your job to know thy audience. And thy topic. Try to find out in advance the make of of the people who will be attending. Things to know: mix of entrepreneurs, big tech company execs, service providers, media people, VCs, etc. It would be good to undertand size of companies. Make sure you really try to get inside the minds of the audience so you speak about what you believe they will think is relevant. Obviously it should be closely aligned with what the topic of the panel is.
Tip: On panels I believe it is OK for you (even as a panelist and not moderator) to say, “I want to understand whom I’m speaking to. Can I get a show of hands for how many people are X? Y?”
Tip: It is always a good idea to save time on the panel for audience questions. This is the moderator’s job but it doesn’t hurt to ask (read: remind) them before hand if there will be audience Q&A at the end.
Tip: It is always a good idea to email the other participants in advance with topics of discussion and alert the moderator if you’re worried about the direction it might take.
Tip: Get the audience to respect you for your content contributions. Make sure they know your name, your company and what you do. No more. Don’t oversell or over market. It will always be viewed in the eyes of the audience as unbearable. The exception in my mind is if the topic of the panel warrants you talking about how your business operates as part of the learning experience. But try to make it a functional discussion rather than a marketing pamphlet.
Educate. I will try. My panel is entitled “Anatomy of a Release, From Conception through Exhibition.” It lasts 90 minutes. It consists of Range Life Entertainment’s Todd Sklar, Zipline’s Marian Koltai-Levine, Big Beach’s Michael Clark, Abramorama’s Richard Abramowitz, CAA’s Dina Kuperstock and myself. Say hello if you are there. And post here: what do you like or not like about panels? What would you like to hear me talk about on this one?