NCWIT Tips: Selecting and Prepping the Speakers/Panelists for Your Event

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speakers stock photoThese are some general guidelines to help you plan your event. Please feel free to adjust and tailor to fit your company environment. When preparing to prep speakers, you may want to use this tips sheet in conjunction with the Sample Panel Questions sheet.


Selecting the Speakers

1. Limit the panel to no more than 5 panelists and a moderator.

If the panel gets any larger, it is difficult for members to contribute meaningfully in the time allotted.

2. Be sure to include a diverse range of panelists.

Two female and two male panelists is probably ideal; also consider what other kinds of diversity might be important to include on the panel (age, race, sexuality, position in company). Including senior leaders is always powerful. Never select an all male panel unless the intent of the event is to provide a safe space for employees who identify as men to talk about these issues alone.

phone icon3. Schedule a call with panelists ahead of time.

If possible, do this all together or in pairs so they can hear what each other has to say and bounce ideas off each other. This will help them “riff” off each other better in the actual panel. Develop a few well-crafted questions based on the main points each speaker wants to make (see Sample Panel Questions in this toolkit for ideas).

4. Provide all speakers with the sample slide deck (or the slides the intro speaker will use) ahead of your prep call.

This will give them some initial exposure to the research grounding for the event and help guide them as they prepare their comments.

5. Highlight the setting the stage for success slides in the sample slide deck during your prep call.

It is extremely important that panelists know WHY male advocates are important and WHAT they should be advocating for. Stress that male advocacy is not so much about advocating for individual women. That can be one component, but approaches that stop there are likely to backfire or be perceived as condescending. Male advocacy is more about advocating for changing the environment so that it is more inclusive and productive. Understanding this distinction will help set the stage for speakers’ success in talking about these issues on the panel.

6. Ask your speaker(s) to be concise but specific.

Speakers should plan to make brief but clear points and use specific examples in their contributions: Diving into too many details or long tangents can be distracting.

7. Encourage the panelists to tell brief stories or anecdotes.

These kinds of stories will make the presentation more vibrant and memorable. Stories should be brief and clearly illustrate a specific point.

microphone icon8. The panel should not focus on professional development advice.

While advice about being “more confident,” “taking charge of your career,” or being more “assertive” in negotiating can be helpful for women and men, it is not the focus of this type of panel. While this kind of advice might be useful and might help a few individuals advance, research shows that it will not change systemic patterns of representation. It can also come across as condescending in this context (especially if male panelists give this advice to women). There are often good reasons women choose to be less assertive, and strategies that involve being more assertive often backfire in the current workplace. In general, women do not need “fixing” but the environment in which they work does. In a more inclusive environment, they will be able to be more assertive without fear of repercussions. Advocating for changes in the work environment should be the focus of these events.

9. Panelists can give advice related to male advocacy.

It can be very useful for panelists to talk about how they went about identifying a male advocate or sponsor and to give tips based on this experience. It can also be very useful for men to talk about their experiences as male advocates, what they learned from these, and what they think others might learn from their experiences. Talking about questions or dilemmas that panelists still struggle with also can be very useful.

10. Acknowledge that your experience and the advice you give based on it may not be directly applicable to everyone.

People in more junior places in the company or people who belong to marginalized or underrepresented groups (in terms of race, gender, sexuality, etc) may not be able to take advantage of the same strategies you’ve used. They also experience the company in different ways and you can’t always be aware of these. Acknowledging these differences is important in qualifying any advice given.

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