How can you be a great Inman Connect panelist?
I’ve been lucky enough to get the chance to moderate about 50 Connect panels over the years, interviewing agents, brokers, managers, owners, entrepreneurs and all sorts of other people who make up our “real estate industry.”
And over that time, I’ve seen a lot of excellent panelists take part in a lot of brilliant discussions. Those are wonderful.
And I’ve also had some panels that weren’t so great. Those are less wonderful.
So if you’re doing a panel next month at Inman Connect New York (ICNY), here are some tips for being a great panelist:
The first thing panelists need to realize is that they’re not giving a “presentation.” Too many industry “panels” are really just a series of individual talks: one panelist goes for five or 10 minutes, then the next panelist goes and so on.
They never talk to each other, they just give a canned presentation on their area of expertise.
A panel should be a conversation, not a presentation; one where the panelists engage with each other, rather than waiting for the moderator to ask them questions.
In fact, the best panels I have are the ones where I ask a question at the beginning, and then shut up for the next 15 or 20 minutes as the panelists go back and forth on their own.
Even though you’re not giving a presentation, you should prepare for your panel. Don’t write a script, but maybe jot down two or three bullets you want to make at some point during the conversation.
Even if you never get to all or any of them, just the act of thinking about them and writing them down gets your brain working over the topic.
You should also research your other panelists — read up on them, get to know who they are, what they do and what kind of perspective you expect them to bring to your discussion.
Certainly, being able to say something like, “yeah, I looked at your website, and you do the same thing we do” when you’re on the panel adds a lot of depth to the discussion.
If you’re not willing to share openly, then don’t get on stage. If you want to be a great panelist, you have to be willing to be open about yourself and your business.
I get that you don’t want to reveal your “secret sauce” with an audience that might contain people you compete with. And I’m not expecting you to share intimate details of, say, your compensation package or your app coding or other proprietary information.
But you have to be honest.
For example, “recruiting” panels are really tough because people too easily lapse into extolling their value package.
I’ve heard stuff like, “We don’t need to recruit, agents just come to us,” an assertion that has the rare distinction of being both unhelpful and untrue.
Similarly, retention panels suffer when people don’t want to ever admit that an agent left them: “Well, my top agent left, but that’s because I fired her!” OK, sure.
That kind of stuff isn’t helpful to us. Yes, we want to hear about your successes — that’s probably why they asked you on stage. But your failures are also really interesting. So don’t be afraid to talk about them, too.
The goal of every Connect panel is to give the people in the audience something to think about — “action items” that they can take back to their office the day after the conference and put into play.
You know what doesn’t help? Buzzwords. Generalities. Truisms. Cliches. Banalities. You need to drill down to specifics of what you do.
Don’t tell me, “Our training program is designed to get people up and productive within their first six months.”
Great! How do you do that?
Don’t tell me, “You need to be passionate about what you do to succeed in this business.”
Yes, absolutely! Passion equals good! But how do you channel that passion to be successful?
Don’t tell me, “We doubled our revenue over the last year.”
Wow! Congrats! So how exactly did you do that?
Don’t give me generalities. Give me specifics.
One challenge we always get on panels is that people are generally nice and collegial. After all, we’re all colleagues. But that doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything!
The best panels I’ve ever done involved panelists who completely disagreed with each other — and passionately (but respectfully) argued it out.
I can remember a panel on luxury marketing where a small boutique independent who specializes in the high-end criticized the “big broker approach” of “basically putting out a black version of your sign and calling it a luxury brand.”
And we had someone from a franchise brand right next to her! It was awesome. And then she actually came to me afterward and apologized for it!
But that’s exactly what we want. Authentic disagreements among smart and passionate people sharpen discussions.
Don’t fake it. Don’t manufacture it. But if you disagree, say so.
You know how they say when you do a video, you should ramp up your energy to about 150 percent of normal? You need to do the same thing on stage.
What comes across as erudite and mannered in an intimate conversation with colleagues seems like a total snooze fest when you’re on stage.
Don’t go yapping like a chihuahua on speed, but keep your energy level high. You’re only on stage for a half hour or so; feel free to crash after.
Don’t get too comfortable in your chair. Lean forward, not back. Usually, that’s pretty easy because Brad Inman perches us on these uncomfortable stools, so we’re looming over the audience like gargoyles.
But I remember one year when we had these cushy armchairs on stage to create a “living room” look, and all I wanted to do was curl up and take a nap.
The name of the conference is “Connect” for a reason. It’s not just about the concept of connection among people, forging relationships and things like that.
It’s also about connecting what you say on stage to the experiences of the people in the audience.
You’re not there to make a marketing pitch. The audience can get that in the exhibitor hall or on your website. You’re there to connect your experiences, your successes, your failures, your opinions and your ideas with the audience.
Think of it this way. Out there in the audience is someone just like you but not as accomplished.
If you’re a top agent, it’s a new agent. If you’re a big broker, it’s a small broker looking to grow. If you’re a tech entrepreneur, it’s someone with the germ of what could be a great idea.
Connect with them. Be honest, share and be specific, but even more than that connect your experiences to theirs. They’re looking to do what you’ve already done. Give them something actionable to get there.
Ultimately, forget you’re onstage. I know that’s difficult, what with all the bright lights and cameras and people watching.
But the ideal Connect panel is one where the panelists have the kind of conversation that they otherwise might have in the hallway outside the conference or at a cocktail reception later that night: open, frank, honest, authentic, intimate, engaging. That’s what people want to see onstage.
Do that, and you’ll be a great panelist.
Joseph Rand is one of the managing partners of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate – Rand Realty in New York and New Jersey and blogs about his local markets at the Rand Country Blog and about the industry at ClientOrientedRealEstate.com.