Why I’m Speaking on Less Panels

Last year I was on a slight tear. I was speaking everywhere, from MARS & Next Media in Toronto to KM World in Washington, and all sorts of places in between. I even made a Speaking page on this blog, which I never formatted, updated once and have not touched since. Contrary to the dusty speaking page I did maintain speaking commitments; though I got more and more selective.

This year I’ve been a little less visible with my speaking. It iss 100% intentional and due to a new rule I’ve self-imposed to curtail my speaking engagements, speak less panels. So, why?

Panels are general

I’m not saying all panels don’t add value. But, I find the incremental value is small.  We each have about 10 minutes of airtime. It’s a difficult tempo to get in when you have a few, 3-5 minute bursts with the microphone. In that time I can provide an opinion, a basic fact and generalize a trend. I understand this type of content is not for everybody, but, let’s be honest here. Most of us web panelists are saying the same thing. That’s gotta stop.

If you are new to an industry, panels are great to get a quick catch up. Most of the faces I see at my panels I’ve seen elsewhere, they are certainly not new.

Planned, Deep Content

One of the things I try and do in a panel is provide value. Because most panels in my industry are becoming general, it’s more and more difficult to do.  I’d rather provide something deep and sustained. What I can’t do on some panels is deep dive into the why’s, hows and intricacies. I like to pull out real numbers, graphs and trends. I like to pause and ensure the audience is caught up, and keep information relevant. The problem is, this is hard to do. Hence, most of my newer engagements are solo or co-presenting.

A little more relevant

Sadly, working with me is like herding a cat. It seems many other panels are too. In response, there are generally two types:

  • Those that go completely off the rails, with speakers spending too long discussing something irrelevant, or who fail to stick within a solid topic scope. It’s hard to keep a panel relevant in these cases; and
  • Those that are overly transactional, where speakers quickly chime in an opinion, give a soundbite and move on. I appreciate what the moderator is trying to do here, namely, avoid no. 1. However, without some personality and fun the panel also becomes ineffective. It’s also important we remain responsive to audience questions.

Either way, both 1. and 2. miss the mark of audience relevance. There needs to be some degree of live changing, but we need to stick within topic.

I barely speak

Yes, this one is absolutely self-promotional, but let’s be fair here. Most panels are solid for branding and don’t necessarily generate sales leads. I love to come and speak / help people out, but if I’m there to brand myself I’m there to brand myself. After welcomes and intro’s, each panelist normally gets about 10 minutes of airtime. I’d much prefer more to drive my branding goals forwards.

We bore the audience

Arguing on panels can be great fun, but it’s rare. Audiences get bored of rapid fire questions and answers. Generally, questions have been pre-prepared for panelists, meaning we are not switching it up live to respond to their mood, or are too busy interacting with each-other to interact with the audience. Additionally, there is always that one speaker who is a distant Vogon relative, spends too long making his points or uses words nobody understand. That person loses us. That’s why I’m preferring to speak solo, where I really can interact.

Panels are not all bad

I’m not bashing all panels. I’ll continue to speak on some, but reject far more than I once did. Sadly, I think we are getting lazier and lazier with events, more names (panelists) draws more audience and nobody has to be rejected. If I feel a panel has been constructed in a way that:

  • Has a narrow enough topic to provide value;
  • Has the right speaker-set to add value;
  • Is constructed in a way to remain fluid with the audience; and
  • The speakers have a chemistry.

Then I may consider it. I’ll continue to speak at these events. The rest, sadly, I will walk away from.