An engaging and passionate presenter, Cathy was working overtime in an attempt to coordinate with her fellow panelists on a high-stakes presentation at the UN. She thought it was important that everyone was on the same page, and was surprised when the other speakers didn’t feel the need to touch base prior to the event.
Baffled, and stuck in the no-progress zone, she asked my advice. Before pursuing her fellow panelists, I told Cathy that her first stop should be her client.
When you are invited to speak, it’s important to understand exactly what you are being asked to do. Understanding your client’s expectation is the first step to understanding your role and expectations. Cathy was meeting resistance from her fellow panelists, possibly because they each had differing views of the event. Such confusion could be easily cleared up by the client.
How presentation types differ:
In most cases, speakers in high-stakes situations are asked to deliver one of three types of presentations:
Keynotes deal with the big picture. They usually reinforce the overarching event theme by summarizing the core message or most important revelation of the event. Picture Steve Jobs presenting at the annual Macworld conference — that’s a keynote. As a keynote speaker, your role is to convey personal opinions, facts and experiences that reinforce the core message of the event.
Team presentations are made by a group of people speaking on the same or similar topic. Here is where a unified message is expected, requiring presenters to coordinate in advance to ensure success. One example might be a leadership conference during which several speakers have been asked to share their success stories. While each presenter would convey his or her unique experience, all would connect back to the main theme of the conference.
Panel discussions are all about diversity. They are usually assembled for the express purpose of presenting different points of view rather than consensus. Because there’s no need for panelists to be “on the same page,” participants generally don’t coordinate their remarks in advance. This could be why none of Cathy’s fellow panelists felt the need to share their thoughts with her.
In many cases (including Cathy’s) it comes down an issue of terminology. Could someone be using the phrase “panel discussion” when they really mean “team presentation”?
When someone asks you to speak, avoid misconceptions from the start by asking them about the desired outcome. “Are you looking for reinforcement of your event theme or a diversity of viewpoints?”
When it comes to coordination with fellow speakers, let the type of presentation be your guide and you’ll virtually guarantee a successful outcome for your audience.