Panel and Presentation Training: the one question you need to ask….

The other day I got a call from a friend. She’s someone I admire and one of those women who seems to juggle everything effortlessly. She’s a leader in her field, commands respect from her peers (without even trying) and manages her international team with grace and strength. Yet, she went into a tailspin when she was asked to be part of a panel discussion at an industry event. She knows she knows her stuff, she can talk about her area of expertise for days! But speaking to a crowd of her peers, with questions being thrown at her, was way out of her comfort zone. 

Coincidentally over cocktails a few months earlier, we’d been discussing the kind of communication training courses I’ve delivered. She’s always been keen to jump in, but putting aside the time kept slipping down the priority list.

So, she gets to the night before her appearance and calls me in a panic. I listened to her fears. I hear the same fears from most of my clients – being worried about looking like a fraud, not knowing the answer to the questions (I’ve lost count of how many times people tell me they’re terrified of looking ‘stupid’).  Concerns about being outshone by the other seemingly stronger people on the panel, and worried about boring the audience or freezing up and not being able to talk at all.

I listened for a while, then hit her with a question that changed the course of the next 12 hours for her.   

“Why are you doing this?”. She stopped talking and stopped panicking. I could almost hear her brain ticking over. Instinctively  like most people her first reaction was “because they’ve asked me to”.

Nope, why did you say yes? “Because I feel like I have to”.

Nope, you’re strong enough to say no, that’s not it. Stop thinking about all the things that worry you and think for a minute about what you want to get out of this. What do you want people to know? How will you influence, educate them?

Turns out, the next half hour was spent talking about all the things she wanted the audience to know….and remember. There were a handful of audience members she was focusing on.  She felt for various reasons, their opinions mattered more than others. In a room like that, not all audience members are equal – an important lesson to realise. The things is, she had the answers, she just hadn’t articulated them yet, not even in her own head.

If you’ve ever been to one of my training sessions, you’ve heard me say it a million times. Don’t worry about what they’re asking, worry about how you’re answering. Don’t play their game, play your own. But know what that game is before you walk in there!

For my friend, despite the nerves, she did an incredible job (and she’s finally blocked out time in her diary for a practical training session). Prioritise your preparation and avoid the panicked phone call. Promise you’ll be glad you did!

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She’s the secret weapon behind a number of highly acclaimed television broadcasts, a producer with more than 20 years’ experience.

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