I’ve attended hundreds of panels over the years. I’ve also watched hundreds of solo and dual presentations. In this time, I’ve made some observations. For starters, an infuriating percentage of presentation panels are all white and/or all male. If you’re white and asked to be on a panel, only do it if there’s a person if color on it too. If you’re male, demand there be a woman. If you’re a white male, demand both. Better yet, don’t join panels.
In my experience, 90% of panels offer little to no value to the audience. It’s a rare panel that really wows me and makes me glad I came. There are many reasons for this.
Individual panelists don’t have time to go deep into any topic. Panelists rarely prepare much, and when they do, there’s no guarantee the discussion goes in the directions they’ve prepared. Often one or two panelists–usually men–will dominate the conversation, answering every question first and at length, interrupting everyone else on stage. People tell tangential stories and explanations that add little value to the discussion. Many speakers see panels as a chance to promote themselves and their businesses. Some panelists even see speaking on panels as nothing more than a way to get a free conference badge and résumé builder.
Similarly, many moderators don’t practice, don’t ask good questions, and don’t do much actual moderating. Many panels have not even met in person nor discussed nor practiced the discussion questions ahead of time. Some moderators don’t even fill out the panel until the last minute. Further, the Q&A sessions at the end rarely result in coherent questions or useful answers, but that’s a whole other topic.
The alternative? Give solo or dual presentations instead. Spend time creating an in-depth presentation that provides unique perspectives and value to the audience. Create great slides and other visuals. Practice a lot, with live audiences of friends and family when you can. Record yourself, watch yourself, cringe, then practice a bunch more. Do all that, and you’ll inspire and educate your audience, build your tribe, and grow your personal brand.
Since it’s uncommon for speakers to want to put in that kind of effort, a majority of session submissions at conferences and events are panels. Panels are the lazy person’s presentation. Conference organizers, well aware of these problems, want more presentations and fewer panels. If you submit as an individual or two-person presentation, you’re far more likely to be accepted to speak at most conferences and events. You’ll also be more likely to be asked back as a keynote or featured speaker the following year. You’re also more likely to gain new followers, readers, and true fans. Thus, not only will a solo or dual presentation provide more value to the audience, it will provide more value to the speakers as well.
If you’re considering attending a panel discussion, only go if there’s some diversity in the panel. Better yet, don’t attend panels. Attend solo or dual presentations instead.
If you’d like help drafting winning conference session applications, creating remarkable presentations, and improving your public speaking skills, one of my businesses, Speaker 3000, can help. We offer presentation consulting. We help people become the expert speakers they’ve always dreamed of being.