Don’ts of Public Speaking and Panels

Over the past month, I have given four talks and have listened to many panel discussions. Here are a few suggestions to speakers:

  • Respect the time limits that have been sent. This is not as easy as it sounds. Given a microphone and the opportunity to make points, we all tend to go somewhat haywire. And it is that rare event that ends up sticking to published schedules. Speakers need to make sure upfront how much time they have – and then stick to it. This requires preparation and practice. If the time is short (5-10 minutes), I now like to prepare my remarks in advance and time myself so I know exactly how long I’ll be talking.
  • Prepare your talk in advance! Again, I have seen too many people get up and just start rambling. I used to do that myself – so I cannot blame others. The solution to this is – once again – preparation and practice. It is amazing what 30-60 minutes (at a minimum) of preparation can do to a talk and the story that comes across.
  • Don’t start by apologising. Many times, I have heard speakers starting off their talk with “I stand between you and lunch” or “It is hard to speak after lunch and I hope I will manage to keep you awake.” Speakers who do this cut into their own time with these attempts at unnecessary humour. Cut to the chase straightaway — people want to listen to you. Use humour in the context of your speech.
  • Answer the Question asked. Many a time, I find panelists answering the question they have an answer for, rather than the question asked. Again, this is just not done. If one doesn’t know, it is okay to ask someone who may know to take a stab at answering it. Give short, pithy and relevant answers.
  • A Tip for Moderators. Please lay the groundrules for the panelists clearly well in advance, and make sure they adhere to it (time and content).  Also, try and speak to all the panelists once so you know who they are and what their strengths are. Don’t be afraid to cut off ramblers — that’s what you are there for. Also, keep the panel discussion on-topic — if there are questions that are not pertinent, have them taken offline. In short, be an active presence to make sure everyone gets the most out of the discussion.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.