A conference just opened its call for speakers. It will be competitive. You worry that alone, your speaker may not be accepted. But then inspiration strikes! You think, “What if I develop a panel of our customers and partners? That will be a shoo-in!”
This is typically the point in our story when I receive call or email asking me what needs to be done to pull together this amazing panel idea. When developing a panel session, there are five steps we recommend to ensure that your idea is a winner.
Step 1: Find out if the conference you are targeting will allow a panel submission! This is a critical step that so many people unfortunately miss. Most conferences are open to the idea, but some event organizers prefer to select their own panelists and do not accept already-formed panel suggestions. This information, or at least the ability to enter multiple speakers, should be on the call for speakers form. If it is not, reach out to the event organizers to ask.
Step 2: Decide what the focus of the panel discussion will be. The topic must be multi-faceted enough for each panel member to contribute a unique perspective. Otherwise, why not just have one speaker on stage? The topic also must be interesting enough that attendees will want to see the session. A panel alone does not guarantee acceptance, the topic still must be strong enough to stand on its own.
Step 3: Determine who the best panelists would be. Are there members of your network with the viewpoints or perspectives your panel idea requires? Are the participants’ experience levels similar – or does that matter? This is also the step in the process when you must consider who the moderator will be. Don’t just plug someone from your own company into this spot. Moderators typically offer a neutral position but have the experience to know which questions to ask. Often an analyst, professor or journalist is the best fit for this role. Once you have selected your first list of potential panelists, you may want to outline a list of back up speakers in case someone you invite is unavailable or uninterested in participating.
Step 4: Now that you have your list of potential candidates, it is time to reach out to them and invite them to join the panel, correct? Not so fast! First you must go back to that call for speakers form and find out exactly what information you need to enter for each panelist. Avoid sending your panelists 20 emails requesting information. How much of their contact and biographical info is needed? Does the form require a video of the speaker in action? Do you need a list of their past speaking engagements? A photo? Make a list, check it twice… now start inviting your panelists.
Step 5: Finally, it is time to submit your panel via the conference call for speakers form. Be sure you have not waited until the last minute of the last day of the deadline to do so. It is good to leave some buffer time in case a surprise speaker requirement pops up (yes, it happens) or the submission form crashes.
Well done! Now you can sit back and wait for the (inevitable) acceptance email.