Connecting Quickly as a Panel Speaker

A few weeks ago, while at a conference, I had the pleasure of listening to a panel discussion entitled Women in Power. The panelists were all women in positions of relative power within their industry, and the discussion was about what it takes to achieve that kind of power - especially as a woman - and what to do with that power once it’s been earned.

Kara and I, being who we are, were interested in the topic, but also completely fascinated by how these women chose to present themselves to a large audience. We were furiously taking mental notes on how they showed up, how they came across, what they chose to say, and how they said it. Ultimately, we wanted to take all that info and marry it with our own personal responses to these women… Did we like them? Were we inspired by them? Did we want to talk with them afterwards?


For me, there was a clear front-runner among the panelists as to who was most charismatic and compelling. By the end of the discussion, she’d managed to appear extremely poised and put together and simultaneously approachable. Kara and I reviewed our notes about her, and came to the following conclusions about what she had done better than the other ladies on the panel.

1. Tell Stories

During her first response to the first question directed at her, she told a story about her beginnings. She mentioned her upbringing, some details about her childhood, and used a pithy sound byte, “If I hadn’t been fishing, I’d have been kissing,” to describe how she avoided teenage pregnancy, unlike her peers. It was funny, but more compellingly, it was authentic and real. She told the audience something about herself that was honest, and a little bit vulnerable, and within seconds we were all connected to her.

2. Use Humor

Yes, making your audience laugh can go a long way. As she answered questions, she let her natural sense of humor shine. Without fail, the audience would chuckle somewhere during her responses, and soon we were all looking forward to the next time the moderator would ask her to speak.

3. Wear something zazzy

Ok, so maybe “zazzy” isn’t the right word. She certainly had some zazz-factor going on in her outfit, but I think the important factor was that her outfit WASN’T what everyone else on the panel was wearing. She had on a bright blazer and a colorful scarf. The rest were wearing shades of gray and black and blue as standard professional garb typically is. Find a way to stand out visually, and people will notice you.

Our favorite panelist she showed up as a compelling leader. She was obviously powerful and kind and real all at the same time. By the end of the discussion, the line of people waiting to chat with her ran the length of the room while the other ladies on the panel each has small clusters of folks to contend themselves with.

What do you do to ensure people see your power and your humanity at the same time?

-- Stephanie Judd, Cofounder, wolf & heron