Public Speaking – How to ace PANEL DISCUSSIONS

This is an AI generated transcript so please forgive any errors and spelling mistakes. 

Hi, have you been asked to speak on a panel and you’re feeling a little bit afraid? I call it panel panic. Well don’t worry because in today’s video I want to share a couple of tips how you can improve your performance on your next panel.

First, let me just say a quick hi. I’m Shola Kaye, I’m a public speaking coach and a professional speaker based in London with clients around the world, typically organizations and individuals.

Have you been asked to speak on a panel? I know some people love speaking on panels and they like that group aspect to it. Others, like me, prefer to have a more conventional speaking format and just speak on my own to the entire audience. There are different reasons why we like one or the other. Typically, if you’re on a panel there are a few different things to look out for.

Public Speaking – things to look out for as a panelist

First of all, you might be blindsided by a tough question and then you experience that horrible “deer in the headlights” feeling. Or it could be that you’re worried that you’re not assertive enough when you’re speaking and one of the other panelists butts in and just grabs the conversation, grabs the topic, and you’re left in the dust. There are other things that can go wrong on panels as well but those are the two that I’m going to address today.

I’ve been on panels a few times and I remember the first time I went on the panel. As that someone who’s an introvert – typically, introverts take a couple of seconds longer, maybe not a couple of seconds, but a little bit longer – they need longer to think of what it is they’re going to say before they say it. Whereas extroverts are much faster and they speak before they need to think.

I remember being on this panel and every time I was asked a question I’d start getting into the answer and there was somebody who’s extremely confident and very extroverted. This person just cut in completely – I just call it ransack the situation – but completely just take over and then I’m there like a fish like out of water.

At this particular panel it was it happened to the extent that at the end a couple of audience members came over. They asked “are you alright dear?… are you okay?… oh, she was quite aggressive, wasn’t she?”. I laugh at it now but at the time obviously I felt a little bit crushed like “oh that was awful… I was not good enough…”.

I know that some of the clients that come to me are worried that they’ll have this experience being on panels. Actually just a couple of weeks ago one of my very good friends who’s a fantastic speaker, super extroverted, even she expressed a little bit of trepidation and anxiety at how this panel that she was about to sit on was going to go and how she’d perform on this panel.

Public Speaking – ask the moderator to send you the questions beforehand

What I want to do today is just share a couple of tips that you can try to make your panel experience a little bit more of a confident and poised one rather than one that’s panicked. One thing that you can do is approach the panel moderator beforehand. Some moderators are fantastic they will make sure that they get you the questions ahead of the actual panel discussion so that you can actually do bit of prep and you can feel well briefed and confident that you know the subject. Not necessarily inside and out but you know it enough that you can speak competently to all the questions.

If you haven’t been given the questions beforehand don’t be afraid to approach the moderator and say “would you mind letting me know what the questions are going to be just so I can prepare so that the experience is better for everybody?”. Especially if you count it in terms of the panel, the discussion being more effective, rather than because you’re worried and you need help. If you count it in terms of benefits for all rather than benefits for you, then I think the moderator is more likely to think “oh yes, I’ll get the questions to that person”. Or perhaps if they haven’t written the questions already they think “oh yeah, I’ll just get them some bullet points so that they know where things are going”.

Public Speaking – ask for a little bit of help

What you can also do is, especially if you are a quieter person and you need a bit of support on the panel or you’re afraid that someone’s just going to steal away all your opportunities to speak and that you’ll just be there like “uh?” on the panel, then you can also ask the moderator for a little bit of help. You can say to them “this is my first time on a panel” or “I love being on panels but typically it takes me a moment to think through my answer, how are you going to conduct the panel? Is it you’ll throw the question out there and people it’s just first come first served? Or do you intend to give everybody a turn with each particular question, so that you go across along the panel and ask each person so everybody has their moment to speak?”

Once you know how that’s being conducted, then that would give you a little bit of an idea as to do you need to be quick off the mark? Are you going to have your moment? Is everything going to be fine for you?. If the moderator says “I was just going to throw the questions out there and see who responded” you might say “well, looking at the questions that you’ve given me these three in particular are my strong suit. I’m really strong in those areas. Would it be okay if you address those questions to me first so that I can share what I have to say? Because I’m a bit nervous of bits xyz, and so I can perform my best and give the audience my best possible answers.

Likelihood is that the moderator will think “I haven’t thought of that but yes, if that will help you, fine”. You can even go as far as to say “I’m a bit worried that people will but in, I’m a hesitant speaker”. You can amp it up and say “I’m quite concerned, you know”. Whatever it is that you need to get what you want, right? You might say “I’m a bit concerned that someone will cut in because it takes me a while to get going, would you mind being particularly vigilant of that and if someone does, if you could just support me and just ask them to wait a moment until I finished and completed my train of thought”.

Nothing wrong with asking. They might think “okay, that person needs a bit of extra support”. Doesn’t matter. As long as you at the end of the day get to perform at your best on the panel and the audience gets the best possible experience of you and your knowledge, right? So don’t be afraid to approach the moderator beforehand.

Public Speaking – speak with the other panelists

Another thing that you can do is when you arrive at the venue chat to the other panellists. Get to know them beforehand, understand a little bit their personalities and you might even say “I’m looking forward to this but this is my first time” or “I’m looking forward to this but I’m a bit nervous about being interrupted” just raise it. You don’t have to ask them to support you or help you. If you actually say “I’m a bit nervous of being interrupted” they might say “don’t worry, we won’t interrupt you” or “don’t worry, we’ll give your opportunity to speak”.

If you don’t ask you may not get. That’s why I suggest that you take this approach. Approach the moderator, chat to the panel beforehand, and that way you’ll likely find that you have a much more pleasant experience of being on the panel than just turning up and hoping for the best.

My panel experiences have improved over time. It’s not every single time I speak that someone comes up and says “are you okay? did you make it? Thankfully I spoke on a panel just a few short weeks ago it was very very well moderated. The moderator made sure that everybody had their chance to speak. There was no cutting in, no butting in at all, and it was a very very enjoyable experience.

Public Speaking – panels can become very enjoyable experiences

From now on when people ask me if I have preference for speaking or panels versus holding the floor on my own, yes I do prefer to make a regular presentation. However, I won’t have the same… let’s see… I won’t have the same hesitation to say yes to a panel anymore because a panel experience can be a really positive one and really enjoyable. Hope that helps.

If you are a bit of a raging extrovert maybe this information isn’t so useful to you because you all used to speaking before you have to sort of process and take that moment in your mind. But if you’re an introvert, then I hope this was useful and I hope that you go ahead ask those questions beforehand and make that panel panic disappear so that it becomes panel poised.

If you want to know more about panel discussions check out this blog I wrote from my experience at a Marie Claire UK event. See the top 10 lessons I learned from that experience at

That’s it from me. Thank you so much for listening and feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or go to my website Download a freebie, connect, get in touch, and I hope to speak to you again soon.

Take care, bye!


P.S. Whenever you’re ready… here are 4 ways I can help you improve your speaking or grow your business:

1 – Get my free guide – 5 frameworks to ace a short speech.

Create a speech stress-free and fast. Make it work every time.

2 – Connect with me on LinkedIn.

3 – Do you need a speaking workshop or communication seminar for your organisation? Get in touch.

4 – Looking for an engaging speaker for your next event? Find out more.