Being a panelist is hard work, especially if you have a moderator who doesn’t show leadership and who can’t make up his mind about the agenda. Talking about subject matter areas where you don’t have any expertise can be damaging to your professional life.
Getting on the Same Page
It’s surprising how often a panel moderator doesn’t take charge of the program until the last minute. If you have this experience, take action immediately. As a speaker, you want to always maximize your impact, so offer to step up to the plate and organize a conference with the other panelists, if the moderator hasn’t done so.
Schedule the call on Skype so that you can “meet” the other speakers fact-to-face and assess how they present themselves. Take your cues from how well prepared they are for the call and how they interact with the other panelists to gauge how effective they will be as speakers. Discuss your individual roles so you’re all on the same page and are not covering the same topics.
This happened recently to a client when she discovered during the call with the other panelists that the moderator had not only changed the topic of the panel but gave her subject matter to someone else. My client was distressed and asked for my advice.
Reclaim Your Subject
I told her that the conference call was the time to speak up and reclaim her subject. She had agreed to speak on a topic that she is well known for and did not want to speak as an expert on something else.
I agreed with her and suggested she call the moderator to tell her that the agreement was for her to speak about her area of expertise, which is integral to her personal brand. She made the call to the moderator and said, “I’ll be happy to talk about what we originally discussed, but the topic you just suggested is not my specialty.”
Based on our discussion, she then suggested how she could reframe the discussion, possibly approaching the topic from a different angle. The other panelists were equally upset, so they arranged a second call to negotiate a compromise so everyone could speak about what they know.
Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
The moral of this story is don’t allow yourself to be bullied. Stand up for yourself. People who may have heard you before have certain expectations. You certainly don’t want to tarnish your brand.
As a last resort, if the moderator won’t adjust the agenda to your liking, suggest she invite someone else to fill your place. Be polite, but firm. You don’t want to burn your bridges with her or the other panelists, who may be important business connections. Explain your position telling them why it would not be in anyone’s best interest for you to speak on a topic that is not your specialty.
Panels are a bit like an orchestra. The moderator is the conductor and the participants are the musicians who each play a different instrument to make beautiful music.
It may be tempting to give in and try to accommodate the moderator’s needs. But you can’t be an expert on a topic in which you have no authenticity or ownership.
If you do drop out, then discuss how the moderator will explain your absence. It has to be handled with grace. You don’t want people to think you just walked away. A simple, “Jane Jones is unfortunately unable to join us today. Mary Brown will be speaking in her place about…” would be fine.
It’s nerve-wracking enough to prepare for a presentation in your area of expertise. Don’t ever allow yourself to be put in a position where you are setting yourself up to give a mediocre performance.
Imagine yourself on YouTube being less than impressive for the entire world to see. Every time someone Googles your name should be enough of an impetus to empower you to take charge!