top of page

Better Communication Made Easy

Subscribe to get exclusive updates

Thanks for subscribing!

  • Bruce Rule

How to Be a Successful Panelist When Public Speaking

"rule communications" "Bruce Rule"
My Blue Suit and Tie Sent the Signal I was an Expert on the Panel

Most of the advice I’ve been sharing about public speaking is appropriate whether you are on stage alone or are part of a group panel. But there are a few tips that I want to share on how to be a successful panelist if there situation ever comes up. Some of these may be familiar from previous posts, but others are more specific to being in a group setting.


I recently appeared on a panel of nine authors discussing how to be successful in self-publishing. In this post I am going to detail what I did to make my appearance as successful as possible.


1.  Find out as much as you can about the event. A week before the event, I touched base with the arranger of the panel and asked several questions to help me prepare for the appearance. I asked about the layout of the room; what was expected of me; the types of topics and questions the moderator might bring up; who else was on the panel; and whether there was a specific agenda. You may have other questions depending on the type of panel and your field, but get as clear an idea as you can what the day may be like.

2.  Dress appropriately. If you aren’t sure what is expected, you can ask the panel arranger. If he doesn’t offer any guidance and you are still unsure, lean toward being over-dressed than under-dressed. For men, a suit and tie is almost never inappropriate (unless a tuxedo is expected). For women, business casual usually is fine. In my case, because my book Heartfelt Goodbye: How to Write and Deliver the Eulogy Your Loved One Deserves is non-fiction, I wanted to present myself as an authority figure, so I went with the suit and tie.

3.  Leave plenty of time to get to the event. Even if you have been there before, add in some extra time to make sure you are early. Nothing will kill the success of a personal appearance quicker than being late. I detail more good reasons to show up early in my tip sheet “Public Speaking: Seven Reasons You Should Show Up Early.” For a free copy subscribe above. I arrived an hour early, and then drove to a nearby spot for lunch (putting a windbreaker over my shirt and tie to avoid any nasty food spillages ruining my look). After lunch, I used mouthwash before heading back to the event venue. Be Happy

4.  Smile and look happy to be there. From the moment you enter the venue, give off the appearance that you are grateful to have the opportunity to speak and that you are eager to do it. Your enthusiasm will go a long way to making others look forward to the panel and should boost your confidence. No matter how nervous you may feel inside, project as much confidence as you can. The feedback you will receive from everyone seeing you smile should help calm your nerves.

5.  Introduce yourself to the other panelists and guests as they arrive. Any personal connection you can make with the other speakers and audience members would go a long way to establishing yourself as someone who is an expert and worth listening to. The other benefit to greeting audience members ahead of time is that when you are on stage and you make eye contact with them they more likely will respond positively, boosting your confidence. After meeting the panel arranger and setting up my table at the back of the room, I introduced myself to each panelist and then went around to as many guests as time permitted, introducing myself, thanking them for coming and asking if they had any questions that they definitely wanted the panel to address. Most didn’t, but I am sure they appreciated being asked.

6.  Find where on the panel you are sitting ahead of time. Take a moment to stand there and look around. Is there anything distracting in your line of vision that can be adjusted, like a bright light? Is the chair comfortable? Does it need adjusting? Get it done before the panel begins. If water is not supplied, see if you can get a cup or bottle and put it at your place beforehand. It looks better than you carrying it on stage during the event.  Taking the Stage

7.  Take the stage with confidence. Depending on the panel, you may be called onto the stage individually or as a group. Either way, make your way to your spot with a confident walk and smile. Keep your attention on the audience, looking away only if the situation calls for you to greet others on the stage. In that case, turn your attention to the person you are greeting, keep smiling, and then look back to the audience. After sitting, scan the audience, making eye contact. Turn your attention away from the audience to greet other panelists as appropriate or when the moderator begins speaking. Whenever I am called onto stage in a group I like to be the last one to sit. That sends the subtle signal to the audience that the panel will proceed when I am ready, underlining me as an authority figure. If you are a man and you don’t want to do that, at least wait until any female panelists are seated before sitting down.


Next, we will go over what to do during the panel and afterward to help make your appearance successful.


bottom of page