Lessons Learned from a Ponderous Panel

As you probably know by now, I attend presentations on a more than occasional basis. My goal is sometimes to strengthen my professional development as a communications training consultant. And sometimes I’m just that fly on the wall observing the speaker’s techniques and ability to persuade, inform, or entertain (I suppose the latter also helps learning as a communicator; be that as it may…).

Statue, Garden Statue, Wolf, Dog, Grim, Sullen, Bored

I recently was in attendance for a panel discussion where the stated goal was to offer small business owners insights into securing clients (I am, after all, a small business owner responsible for developing a client base). The audience was filled with people in similar situations.

Sad to say, the program was deadly dull. What was the problem? Four of the five panelists had no idea what their audience needed from them. Here’s some of what went wrong:

  • The first speaker took credit for inventing health care exchanges. Please. That was a collaborative effort that took many minds many years to develop. Lesson: Avoid laughable braggadocio.
  • Those first four speakers spent the vast majority of their precious time talking about how great their companies are. They might as well have pointed us to the “About Us” pages on their web sites. Lesson: No one cares about your company. They are interested in what you can do for them.
  • Everyone’s slides were dense and unreadable. I was sitting toward the front of the room and couldn’t read most of the small text. I feel for the poor souls in the back of the room. Lesson: Slides should never serve as your notes. If you have a visual story to present, fine. If not, why use slides?
  • One speaker all but ignored a question from an audience member pointedly asking how the day’s remarks could help those in attendance. Lesson: Assess feedback from your audience in real time. A question like this means you are not hitting your mark and need to make some adjustments on the spot.
  • Two of the first four speakers finally got around to their headlines, but only in a rushed ending. Lesson: Make your mission clear from the very beginning.

What about that fifth speaker? Hooray. She began by asking “Why am I talking to you” about the issue at hand? She got to the heart of the matter right away, demonstrating respect for her audience and giving them confidence that she had their interests in mind. As a bonus, she avoided slides, working instead from a few notes. Thus, the audience was focused on her, not copious laundry lists of indecipherable bullet points. What’s more, she invited audience members to contact her for more details.

What’s your take on the lessons learned above? How do you try to capture audience attention?

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