How to Distinguish Yourself in a Panel Discussion

Standout Orange
Be a Standout Panelist

You’ve been invited to participate in a panel discussion. Congratulations! That automatically designates you as a subject matter expert. Serving as a panelist is good exposure for you and your company. The panel could pair you with other experts you’ve been angling to meet and will enhance your personal brand.


Some panelists just show up and wing it. They’re the ones who ramble on and on, ignore the other panelists and aren’t prepared for the inevitable questions from the audience. Those panelists damage their reputations by their arrogance and lack of preparation.

If you want to shine as a panelist then you need to be prepared. Prior to the program, learn from the panel moderator:

  • The topic of the panel and how she envisions your role.
  • The names of the other panelists and what each of the panelists will discuss.
  • If the moderator plans to convene a conference call – or perhaps a Google Hangout – so the panelists can discuss content to ensure you’re not all covering the same ground.
  • Who will publicize the panel and if the panelists are expected to do their own PR.
  • If the panelists will be seated at a table, or asked to present at a standing lectern.
  • If there will be a panel Twitter hashtag so that members of the audience and your team can tweet your comments to their Twitter accounts.
  • Whether questions will be permitted during and/or after the panelists speak.

It’s essential that the panelists have a discussion amongst themselves regarding content. If the moderator doesn’t initiate a call then you should. Describe the key messages that you want to communicate, allowing for some flexibility if another panelist wants to briefly touch on your subject area.

If that’s the case, confirm that the other panelist isn’t duplicating what you’re saying. That’s deadly to an audience. This pre-call will also establish a working relationship with the other panelists and is a good networking opportunity for you.

After the call, send the moderator an outline of the discussion and the subjects that each panelist has agreed to take on. If the moderator has convened the call, ask him to send the outline to the panelists.

Once your content is set, practice your key messages. Practice until you can deliver them with ease.

During the Seminar

You’ve done your advance preparation, so how do you distinguish yourself from the other panelists? The first answer is to wear color. Many female panelists play it safe and wear black. But you don’t want to blend in, you want to stand out.

We urge clients to wear a memorable color. Don’t be afraid of red, yellow, or bright pink or blue, if those are your colors. For women, it will better to wear pants suits if you’re seated at a table on a raised platform or seated in an arm chair on a riser.

Men should wear a tie with bright colors or a colored shirt and be sure their socks cover their calves. It’s amazing how a bare calf will make you stand out – in a bad way.  Let’s remember polished shoes no matter your gender!

Just because the other panelists sit doesn’t mean you have to. Don’t be afraid to stand when making a point, or if a lectern is available, use it even if no one else does.  This is another way to distinguish yourself.

During the panel assert yourself if you discover that one of the other participants is a “panel hog.” The moderator should interrupt if that happens. If he doesn’t, when the offending panelist takes a breath, jump in with “I’d like to elaborate on your point, John.”

While everyone wants a seamless panel some dissension is good. Panelists don’t have to be “yes” people. Differing points of view will enliven the discussion and generate questions from the audience. But never get into a shouting match or engage in name-calling.

Build your case by including statistics, anecdotes and case studies. Nothing will grab the audience more than the magic words, “For example…” You will come across as the professional that you are.


Have handouts for the audience with your bio, followupcontact information (including your social media addresses) and a resource list where the audience can find more information. We encouraged an executive who mentioned a lot of resources to recap them in a handout for the audience. As the only panelist with a handout, she was able to distinguish herself by taking that extra step and received many thank-you notes afterwards.

Be sure to respond to each thank-you. Suggest having a phone call or personal meeting if the note is from a prospective client.

Continue the discussion with your followers on social media using the panel Twitter hashtag or on your blog. Pose a question in your LinkedIn Group. Help the discussion go viral.

Finally, send thank-you notes to the other panelists and the moderator. It’s polite, and gives you an opportunity to continue to build these new relationships and that can only benefit your career.

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The Newman Group is a recognized leader in guiding business professionals, celebrities and authors to improve their communications skills in presentations and media interviews.

Our highly skilled and experienced professionals have the expertise in media and presentation training to meet any business situation — from helping an executive to prepare for the challenge of talking to a reporter during a business crisis to presenting a group of investors during an IPO or keeping a celebrity spokesperson on point.