15 Tips for Success as an Expert Panelist

March 31, 2011

Over the past year I’ve been involved in a number of panel discussions as a panelist, host organizer and audience member.

Expert panelists are chosen for their experience, expertise, knowledge and wisdom on a particular topic. Audience members want to gain insight and understanding. As an expert who is invited to speak on a panel, your job is to contribute meaningful input that reflects your particular area.

Here are some “best practices” for experts to shine during a panel discussion:

1. Find out the topic or questions ahead of time – and prepare your answers.

Ask the panel organizer for the questions or topic ahead of time so you can prepare your answers. Don’t go into a panel discussion cold. This is an opportunity to have your voice hard and share your knowledge and wisdom. Taking the time to prepare answers will help you be more articulate in front of a live audience.

2. Avoid saying “As so-and-so just said…”

I once listened to a discussion where one “expert panelist” was so frazzled that another presenter had “stolen all the things” she was going to say, that she just kept saying “As Bob has already said…” and then went on to repeat his findings. There’s nothing that makes a panelist sound less informed!  Instead of saying, “As so-and-so just said…” try these openers:

  • “Building on the example given by s0-and-so, I’d like to add an example from my own experience…”
  • “It seems that so-and-so and I are on the same wave length. I echo what you’re saying and I can add to it with some evidence based on my own research…”
  • “Great point, so-and-so. Your insights echo findings from my own work. Your point reminds me of a study (or an example… or a “how to” tip…)

3. Showcase your unique expertise – without showing off

You’ve been invited to speak because you are a thought leader with “deep knowledge” in a particular area. Rather than offering generalizations, take this as an opportunity to showcase your unique knowledge. Come prepared with examples from your own research and experience. Give specific, rather than general answers, sharing details and evidence based on your own work.

It’s OK to be passionate, but no one likes a know-it-all. Being an expert doesn’t mean that you have all the answers or that your way of seeing things is the only “right” way. Find a balance.

4. Use a “head, hands, heart” approach to prepare answers (and back-up answers)

For every question, prepare 3 possible answers, each of which focuses on one of these areas:

A response from the head - Provide research-based evidence, empirical data or statistics.

A response from the heart – Prepare an answer that includes a personal example, a success story or a response meant to reach the emotions of the audience by motivating them or inspiring them.

A “hands-on” response – Provide practical “how to” information or give examples of how using a particular approach has been successful in a certain context.

Vary the types of answers that you give. If four out of the last five panel members have given heartfelt answers, change it up a bit by offering practical “how to” information. This helps to keep the audience emotionally and cognitively engaged.

Having different types of answers prepared for each question also helps you to avoid a situation where your mind goes blank because the presenter before you said everything you were going to say!

5. Be provocative

Giving answers that are sure to spark debate and further conversation is not a bad thing on a panel discussion. It can keep the session lively and engaging.

Before you make a controversial claim though, be sure to back up what you are saying with some solid evidence. Provide research, statistics and examples to strengthen your position in the debate.

6. Remain professional at all times

You may be part of a panel with someone you loathe or whose views are diametrically opposed to yours. Keep your cool at all times! This will help you shine as a professional. Here are some phrases to help:

  • “I understand where you’re coming from, but I see it differently. The reason why is…”
  • “You can absolutely do it the way that So-and-so is suggesting. Another way to approach this is…”
  • “I must respectfully disagree…”
  • “You know I respect you as a professional and you’ve given a lot to this field over the years. We haven’t always seen eye-to-eye and that helps keep us both on our toes. Here’s how I see this topic…”

7. Learn about your fellow panelists

Who else is on the panel? You may know the others on the panel, and you may not. Check out their backgrounds, experience, education, credentials and previous work they’ve done. Find out what matters to them. This will help you engage actively in a discussion, rather than just give your own point of view.

8. Acknowledge others’ expertise

Let your fellow panelists know that you’ve taken the time to learn about them and their work. Find a way to show appreciation for their contribution to the field. Here are some examples:

  • “Jane, I read your article on this topic that was published in ABCDEFG magazine two months ago. I just wanted to say how insightful I found it.”
  • “By the way, did you know that Joe won the ABCDEFG award for his work in this field last month?”
  • “Don, I was reading your blog last week. I thought your article on this topic was very thoughtful and poignant.”

9. Find out how long you have to give your answers

Panel discussions rarely have enough time to go in-depth on the topics. Ask your host how long you have to answer each question. Prepare answers that will fit within the time frame. Practice your answers aloud and time yourself.

Ask if there will be a time keeper to assist you. A time keeper seated near the panelists can use different colored cards to help panelists manage their time. For example:

  • A green card when there’s 1 minute left
  • A yellow card when there are 30 seconds left
  • A red card – You’re done. Stop speaking.

Avoid running on or taking up too much time. Honour the other panelists by leaving enough time for them to answer, too.

10. Ask about the room logistics and set up

Will you be seated at a table? In arm chairs? I was once part of a panel where there was no stage for the panelists, so in order to ensure we could be viewed from the back of the room, we sat on high bar stools! For me, since I’m 5’1″, it meant that one of my pet peeves was showcased in front a room of 150 people – my feet dangled from the chair. I delicately positioned myself so my feet tucked behind one of the legs of the stool so they weren’t floating in mid-air.

Find out if you’ll be using a mic and if so, will it be hand-held or a lapel mic? Knowing these details before hand will help you to prepare for the event.

11. Ask how you should dress

Is the event business, business casual or casual? Traditionally, darker colours are seen as being more business-like or serious.  If it is, think of yourself in context of the entire panel. You may want to avoid bold patterns or colours that may visually clash with other presenters (unless it’s an aspect of cultural attire that you’re accustomed to, or expected to wear).

The issue of dress is more important is the panel is being video-taped or photographed, so you may want to ask the organizers about whether you’ll be on camera.

12. Arrive early

Ask your host when you are expected to arrive. Even if you’re told “Oh, a few minutes before will be fine,” plan to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to the start of the event. Find a good parking spot, greet the organizers and other panel members, find out where to hang your jacket, survey the room and the set up, go to the bathroom and take a few minutes to relax before you’re in front of the audience.

13. Plan to stay late

Chances are, there will be the opportunity to connect with other panelists or engage in one-to-one conversations with audience members who were particularly interested in something you said. Budget at least an hour for networking after the event eventually closes. If there are media at the event, this will also be the time they’ll want to conduct interviews. If you have to leave right away, you could miss a media opportunity.

14. Remember to thank others

Acknowledging the contributions of your fellow panel members, thanking the audience for being there, recognizing funders and showing appreciation for the organizers are all appropriate things to do at the end of a panel discussion.

Again, avoid repeating what others have said. If someone else has already thanked the other experts, add something different such as, “I echo that sentiment. As well, I’d like to thank the volunteers (or set-up crew, or administrative staff, etc…)”

15. Have fun!

Above all else, have fun and enjoy yourself! This is a great opportunity to connect with others in the field and showcase your knowledge. Enjoy your time in the spotlight!


Share this post: 15 Tips for Success as an Expert Panelist http://wp.me/pNAh3-Bi

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.

Breathtaking Impact of Volunteers’ Contribution to Non-formal and Informal Literacy Education in Alberta

March 28, 2011

At the National Metropolis 2011 conference this year in Vancouver, I was part of a panel of experts presenting on Family Literacy and the New Canadian. My paper focused on the research I’ve done on Formal, Non-Formal and Informal Learning: The Case of Literacy, Essential Skills and Language Learning in Canada. I’ll post the entire paper shortly, but for now, I wanted to highlight one bit from it that generated some significant discussion.

My point was that when informal and non-formal learning for literacy and language learning are tracked and recorded, we can better see the impact. The example I gave was that in 2009, Alberta Advanced Education and Training, produced Living Literacy: A Literacy Framework for Alberta’s Next Generation Economy. The 19-page report talks about why literacy matters and outlines priority actions for 2009-2013.

Buried on page 12 of the 19-page report is a gem of information that deserves to be highlighted and explored, which is what I did at my presentation in Vancouver. It states that in Alberta,

“In 2008, 2,000 adults were matched with a volunteer tutor who assisted them with basic reading, writing and/or math. On average, these learners received 39 hours of tutoring. “

So what does this mean?

It means that volunteers collectively spent 78,000 hours assisting adults with literacy in non-formal and informal learning contexts.

78,000 hours. In one year. In one province.

Let’s put this into perspective.

According to the Government of Alberta, the average student will receive 950 to 1000 hours of instruction per year. Let’s look at that number of 1000 hours for a minute.

A student in school gets 1000 hours per year of instruction.

That means, collectively in Alberta, volunteers contributed the equivalent of 78 years of school, in the form of non-formal and informal education, helping other adults to improve their literacy skills.

That’s over three-quarters of a century in the equivalent of school years.

Doesn’t that just take your breath away?

Often when people think of adult non-formal and informal education, they think of developing countries, where formal education is harder to access than in developed nations. But the impact of non-formal and informal education in nations like Canada is significant. The problem is that we don’t track it. At least, not very often. And not very systematically.

What would we discover if every Canadian province, every US state and every developed country tracked the contributions made to language learning and literacy in the way that the Alberta government did in 2008? We’d be blown away by the results.

There’s a big push in the non-profit and education world to capture learner stories. I completely agree with that. But it’s not the whole picture. There’s a saying in evaluation: No numbers without stories; no stories without numbers.

The equivalent of 78 years of schooling, contributed completely by volunteers in one year alone is staggering.

One call to action in my presentation in Vancouver is that we must make a concerted effort to track the number of hours contributed by our volunteers – particularly those working in rural and remote areas – in order to understand the impact of volunteer literacy tutoring programs.

Stay tuned for the whole paper. It’ll be posted on line in a few days.

Related posts:

Formal, non-formal and informal learning: The case of literacy and language learning in Canada

Formal, non-formal and informal education: What Are the Differences?

Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning: A podcast


Share this post: Breathtaking Impact of Volunteers’ Contribution to Non-formal and Informal Literacy Education in Alberta http://wp.me/pNAh3-AK

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.

5 Tips on Keeping Up with Technology

March 20, 2011

Although my formal education isn’t in ed tech, I’ve been involved with projects involving both synchronous and asynchronous technology since the turn of the millennium. I’ve come to love technology, but it wasn’t always that way. Even now, I find myself overwhelmed at times with the number of resources that seem to grow by the second. There are amazing, free resources available for teachers. How do you sort through them all? Make sense of them all? Figure out what to use? Here are some tips I’ve found helpful:

File for Later

When something comes into my e-mail box that looks interesting, but I just don’t have time to tend to it right away, I put it in a file in my e-mail called “Cool stuff to explore”.

Quick Scan of New Resources

I go to my e-mail file of “Cool Stuff to Explore” when I have 5 or 10 minute chunks. I’ve found that you can usually decide pretty quickly if a resource is worth more in-depth exploration later. I will often go through the sites in my e-mail folder when I’m on hold on the phone, when I’m waiting for a webinar to start or I have a few minutes when I can’t do work that requires me to concentrate deeply for a long period of time.

Use Online Bookmarks

I use Diigo to archive the resources I think are worth paying more attention to. I add tags to help me remember what topics the site refers to. Then I organize the pages into topics or lists. When I come across a web page that I think is good quality, I add it to my online bookmarks. I love, love, love using online bookmarks to help me organize resources I want to share or explore later. There’s even a “read later” option that allows you to bookmark something you want to spend more time on later.

In-depth Assessment

If a resource or new technology looks interesting, spend some time assessing it. Ask yourself:

  • Can I use this in my own teaching practice?
  • Is this technology permitted or authorized by my school division or institution? (No matter how cool or useful a tool is, if your jurisdiction doesn’t allow it, then it may not be worth spending significant time learning it.)
  • Would it be easy for my students to use?
  • What is the cost, if any?
  • Is it safe, secure and appropriate for my students?

Share, Collaborate and Have Conversations – Online and Offline

When you find something wonderful, share it. Ask others if they know about it – ask around at work, ask on Twitter, ask in online professional groups. Get tips on how to use it. Find out what others are doing.

Play Favorites – Really, it’s OK!

It’s easy to get overwhelmed quickly. There are too many wonderful resources out there to become an expert at them all. Pick a few that appeal to you and that are truly useful and relevant to your teaching practice. Learn those ones and leave the others in categories of “Might Explore Later” or  “Cool, but not really relevant to me right now”. Even people who are full-time technology teachers can’t possibly know every single technology that is available. When you choose a few favorites, you’ll get excited about them. Your students will sense your enthusiasm and they’ll be motivated by it.

Give Yourself Permission to Play, Explore and When you Need to, Step Back

One of the biggest barriers to learning new technology is anxiety. Remember that you don’t have to be perfect and know everything. Allow your curiosity to lead you and take a playful approach. If you get overwhelmed, take a break and step back. Come back to it later.

By taking a break when you find yourself getting frustrated or overwhelmed, you’ll be able to avoid burnout and return to it later with fresh eyes and renewed energy. Give yourself permission to set boundaries that will ultimately empower you to do your best in the long run.


If you are interested in booking me for a presentation, keynote or workshop contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,096 other followers

%d bloggers like this: