When applying to speak at a conference you always have options as far as the format in which your content will be delivered to the audience. The two most frequently used presentation formats that we witness at conferences today are:
- Solo presentations (with one speaker handling everything).
- Panels (with multiple participants – either just answering the attendees’ questions, or doing introductory mini-presentations on the topic after which the Q&A part takes place).
Having just returned from Affiliate Summit, the conference at which, over the years, I have been able to try myself in each of the below-described capacities, I have decided to look back and analyze the lessons I’ve learned from being placed into each of these different roles:
1. Solo Presenter
This is, by far, the most challenging of all speaking opportunities. Do not overestimate yourself here. Prepare your presentation well in advance – to allow yourself plenty of time to practice. Some of the best solo presentations out of the ones I have delivered  were practiced for twenty of more times prior to coming up on that stage.
To prepare a quality solo presentation you must mobilize all of your research skills, imagination, discipline, and fearlessness. If you’re lacking any one of these, start by participating on panels or co-presenting instead. If you’re lacking any two of these, cultivate them in yourself prior to proposing to speak in any capacity.
When a conference has more than one worthy expert apply to speak on the same topic, in reply to your speaking proposal, you may be asked to co-present with somebody. Over the past six years, I have done this once, and really enjoyed it. You get to plan together (who covers what), yet remain very flexible in how you deliver your content.
Also, co-presenting always comes with a covert but important “who will shine brighter” challenge. Turn it into an opportunity.
The best panels that I have listened to (and/or participated in) gave every panelist a chance to make their points, and only after that – went into the Q&A time. And it is the collaborative effort (on putting the content together, and making the final product coherent and digestible) that I find most useful in participating on panels.
It teaches you such important skills as listening, thinking, flexibility, and team-working.
4. Panel Moderator
I have seen moderators that introduce the panelists, and then almost immediately remove themselves from it, jumping in (with questions) only when the audience does not participate (i.e. no questions are being asked), and the panel is at risk of failing. As anything passive, I believe this approach to be detrimental to the actual quality of the final product.
As a moderator, you want to contribute both your leadership skills, and your expertise in the field. Give your panelists sufficient room to participate (ensuring that no one participant takes over), but make sure you participate as well.
5. Expert/Roundtable Discussion Leader
This type of breakout sessions can be tremendously effective, but requires significantly more patience than any one of the above-mentioned speaker roles. Ask-the-expert types of discussions are, generally, much livelier than stage presentations or panels.
As a speaker, you want to combine the above-mentioned panel moderator skills with active listening, and keeping your audience engaged at all times. Don’t just come to the these without any questions, examples or case studies of your own. Lead the discussion in a way that is beneficial to all listeners/participants.
In conclusion, regardless of the capacity in which you will present at a conference, the benefits are always tremendous. Whether you have an hour all for yourself, or have to share the time and stage with other co-speakers, it is always worth participating.
Keep in mind, too, that this comes from a speaker who strongly prefers delivering solo presentations.
Woman Speaker  Photo via Shutterstock