Want to be a Rock-Star Panelist? Sheryl Sandberg's Media Coach Offers Up Some Tips.
In his new book Pitch Perfect: How to Say It Right the First Time, Every Time (HarperBusiness, 2014) author Bill McGowan -- the media coach to Eli Manning, Kenneth Cole, Kelly Clarkson and Sheryl Sandberg, among others -- spills his secrets on effective communication in his new book. Besides being a media coach for prominent figures, McGowan is a trusted advisor to C-level executives at Facebook, AirBnB, Dropbox, Spotify and Salesforce. McGowan addresses a number of issues entrepreneurs (and professionals face): pitching for funding, approaching your boss or investors and interviewing for jobs. Much of his insights are based on the "Seven Principles of Persuasion," which includes the ability to catch the listener's attention with an engaging lead, the need to include visual storytelling and the power of condensing a message to get the most punch.
In this edited excerpt, McGowan offers up advice on how entrepreneurs can make the best impression as a panelist – an important topic, as more and more founders are asked to speak about their areas of expertise.
Just because a panel discussion is a more casual setting, that does not lessen the importance of thorough preparation.
It’s far easier to prepare your content for a panel than a media interview for one simple reason: All moderators are willing to share their actual questions in advance, where as a journalist never does, or at least shouldn’t. Once you know the questions in advance, preparing your content is like hitting batting practice pitching -- you know exactly what’s being thrown and where they’re throwing it to, so you can put your best swing on it.
Before your panel discussion, think: What about this topic is most interesting to the average audience member? Where’s the value for them in what I have to say? Am I offering a unique perspective on a topic of interest to them? Am I providing some guidance or wisdom on something that will help them in their day-to-day life?
As you prepare your content, remember to be a storyteller. Road test your stories out loud on family or friends. The important part is to say them out loud when you practice them. That way you can tell if they’re too long or whether they’re boring even to you.
During the actual panel, use this additional advice.
Exploit the self-absorbed moderator. When most people ask a question, they often frame it in an ego-driven way, droning on and on with context and opinion that matters to them. Eventually they get around to asking a question in there somewhere, but if you’ve been listening carefully to the preamble, you can lock into the conversational topic the moderator is prepared to ask about. Once you get that verbal clue, you can start recalling your content and framing your answer. There’s rarely a reason to wait until they’ve completely finished asking the question before you start thinking about what you want to say. Starting the process of formulating your response when it’s your turn to talk puts you in the dreaded position of being 100 percent spontaneous.
Ignore Emily post. Don’t ask for permission to speak and don’t sit on your hands and wait to be called on. The audience wants to feel like they are a fly on the wall and they are watching you shooting the breeze over a beer or a cup of coffee. They don’t want to watch a rigid, formal process. It’s better to wedge yourself in and keep your content tight than to sit back and wait your turn and dominate the floor for a long time.
Embrace the notion that not all conversational traffic has to flow through the moderator. You can say to another panelists, “It’s so interesting you say that because we are dealing with something so similar on our front,” and steer the conversation where you want it to go.
Bill McGowan is the founder and CEO of Clarity Media Group. Previously he worked for ABC News’ 20/20 and CBS News’ 48 Hours and won two Emmys. As a media coach, McGowan has trained Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Eli Manning of the New York Giants, actress Katherine Heigl, chef Thomas Keller, fashion critics Tim Gunn and Nina Garcia and singer-songwriter Kelly Clarkson. He is the author of a new book, Pitch Perfect.