How to Get Exposure by Speaking on Panels


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Most trade shows have panel sessions that feature prominent industry persons who deliver speeches. These panels present an opportunity for your executives to gain exposure for your company and possibly your product. While you cannot pitch your product from the podium, there are many good reasons for speaking on a panel:

• Participation on a panel elevates your company in the eyes of everyone who attends the session or who reads about the session in the show guide. By sitting next to the same people who are shaping the industry, you will benefit from the association established in the minds of the audience: you and your company will be perceived to be in the same league as those prime players.

• You probably will be allowed to share your views on the future of the industry as it relates to your industry segment, your views on the topic of the panel discussion, or your company’s position on topics posed by the audience. In each scenario you will have the opportunity to shed light on your company, company plans, or possibly your product.

• You will be recognized. People remember the faces of the individuals they see on a panel.

To insure media exposure from speaking on a panel, follow these steps:

• Call or write the key press and tell them when you will speak, and on what topic.
• Confirm press attendees in advance.
• Speak to reporters before and after the panel address.
• Distribute truly newsworthy remarks to the press after the show.
• Send a complete copy of your speech to reporters after the show.

Get Invited to Speak on a Panel

Many people want to sit in those few select panel seats. Who decides on the panel speakers, and how can you get considered as a candidate?

The conference sponsor selects a board of editors and analysts to create the panel program. Often these are the same people every year, so check last year’s program guide to find out who they are.

Call these editors and analysts, tell them who you are, and explain that you would like to help them create the panel for the next show. To build credibility with the panel planners, be prepared to send the following materials:
• Biography
• Photo (needed for catalog)
• Articles and books you have written
• Articles written about you
• Testimonial letters from other speaking assignments or clients

Most panels choose a topic under the general theme of “future trends” in the industry. When you call the panel board members, ask them if they have chosen the topic for next year’s show, and if not, make suggestions. They may appreciate your ideas (as long as your suggestions are not self-serving). If they have chosen a topic, ask what it is. Based on their topic, suggest how your help can add zest and information to the panel. Make sure you have compelling reasons for them to select you. State your background, your view of the industry, and your insight into the specific topic and future events. If you are an expert, say so and act the part.

If the panel has been set (as some panels are, with old cronies and the same faces each year), you aren’t against a brick wall yet. Keep in touch with the panel planners – as the trade show panel draws nearer, your perspective may become more relevant in light of recent changes within the industry. In this case, your contribution will be highly valued. If all else fails, go to the panel chair the day of the talk and see if they need an extra speaker to replace one who has failed to show up.

Prepare for the Speaker’s Role

After you have landed the assignment to speak on a panel, find out what will be expected of you. Ask the following questions to enable you to make a better presentation (you’ll also avoid wasting energy preparing irrelevant materials).
• How much time will I have?
• Will there be questions from the moderator or attendees?
• Will there be audio visual equipment, overhead projectors? Computers?
• When should I arrive at the panel location?
• Will there be a meeting with other speakers beforehand?
• What topics are off limits?
• What topics will be covered by other speakers?
• What is the speaking order? (Important because you will know whether information you may intend to use will already have been presented.)

Prior planning ensures a successful address (and prevents disasters!).

Advance Planning for Panel Speakers

1 year before show: Identify the panel planners.
Nine months before show: Call panel planners and discuss topics, gain a seat on the panel.
Three months before show: Write an outline of remarks and submit it to the chairperson.

One month before show:
Review the outline; write about main topics to be covered.
– Practice your speech before your company executives and publicist.
– Time the speech.
– Contact the press and tell them about your participation on the panel and your topic.
– Copy your outline, prepared remarks and any transparencies you will use.
Day of the panel: Send copies of your speech to reporters via Business Wire or PR Newswire, and to your own press list.

Create Your Own Panel

After you have established a leadership position in your industry, you may be asked to create a panel. This exceptional opportunity may also come your way if you target a unique panel idea to the sponsor of a small show that does not have a formal panel of advisors. Creating your own panel is a wonderful opportunity to favorably present yourself and get indirect exposure for your company.

A good panel has one goal: it helps the audience better understand the topic under discussion. Your credibility will rise or fall on how successful you are in meeting your audience’s needs. You should not promote yourself, your company or your product directly. You will benefit from the mantel of credibility that surrounds your role as the chairperson.

In the short term, you reap benefits from chairing a panel because you are now a recognized expert on the subject. Important vendors and reporters are likely to contact you as a result of a successful panel. In the long term, you can list your service among your credits to enhance your biography, increase exposure for your company, and as leverage when talking to the press (“As I mentioned on the XXX Association panel I chaired…”).