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How to be a brilliant lightning panellist

Lightning panels are a rapid-fire event format designed to introduce an audience to a topic that they may not know much about. As an expert speaker, you’re invited to sit on a panel to share your knowledge – in a short space of time.  A typical lightning panel of 3 or 4 speakers might only take 15 minutes.  Just like a regular panel event, a lightning panel has a moderator to keep the conversation flowing, and to find out more about your specialist area of expertise.  A lightning panel does not allow for the depth of opinion or discussion that a regular panel offers – instead you only have the opportunity to give your audience the key pieces of information they need to know about your subject area.

Lightning panels often take place as part of a larger event.  Event organisers love them because they’re a great way to help event attendees make the most of an event.  A lightning panel is a brilliant way to explain your subject in a short punchy format to get people’s interest. If public speaking isn’t your first love, the added bonus of a lightning panel is that it’s an easier way to explain your topic than delivering a prepared talk.  Since you’re sharing the stage with 2 or 3 other people, you’ll be speaking for less than 5 minutes in total.  Plus you have a moderator on hand to help you out if your mind goes blank or you forget what you meant to say!  Lightning panels have become popular at careers events, where students need to hear from a variety of experts to learn about how a particular industry works.

So if you’re asked to sit on a lightning panel, what should you do? Firstly, we think that you should say yes! What better way to attract students to your industry for example, than by giving them key information that you wish you knew at their age?  To prepare, connect with the panel moderator before the event so that you understand how they plan to run the session.  Usually they’ll ask you to introduce yourself, so you’ll need a short personal introduction or ‘elevator pitch’ ready to explain who you are, what you do and why your audience should be interested. After that, the moderator will ask you one or two questions to allow you to explain your job to your audience.  When you prep for this, think about the questions you’d ask about an industry you know nothing about….. Are there common misconceptions about your industry that you’d like to dispel?  What should students study to get into your industry?  What’s the thing you like best about your job?  What’s your most memorable experience?  Think about one thing you’d like your audience to take away and find the best stories from your job to illustrate that point.

Your lightning panel appearance is a great way to encourage students to consider your industry or your organisation for their next move.  It’s a light-touch way for you to inspire the next generation.  Good luck!


Three top tips that will transform your networking forever

networking TEDx Speaker Susan HayesCulleton

I had the great fortune to meet the Positive Economist, Susan Hayes, for the first time today. Susan was at DigitalDNA to help Mary McKenna launch the Irish International Business Network in Northern Ireland Apart from the convincing anecdotes she shared on the power of networking, Susan had plenty of practical takeaways to help us all to get more out of events we attend.

Number 1. It’s all about the follow up

Don’t just make space in your diary to attend the event, make sure that you allow time to follow up! After each event, Susan takes the time to think about everyone she’s met, and how she can add value to them. When she follows up after the event, she shares content, makes an introduction or tries in some way to be helpful. That’s the best example of the #giversgain approach to networking that I’ve heard in a long time. Be generous within your network without the expectation of something in return. You’ll find that it comes full circle – positivity breeds positivity! For more on the compelling power of reciprocation, read Robert Cialdini’s classic ‘Influence’, a book on the psychology of persuasion that remains relevant today, even thirty years after it was first published.

Number 2. Take control

Time out of the office is precious. Make sure every event you attend delivers value. Why not ask a prospect or client to accompany you to the next event you’re attending? That way, you get to bask in the positive glow the event creates without the need to go to the trouble of arranging your own event. You get to share your network with your contact, making the event a win-win for you both. For more on this, watch Susan’s TEDxBelfast talk (about the 15 minute mark).

Number 3. Enjoy your network!

The last word on this blog goes to the indomitable Mary McKenna, who convened today’s panel in the first place. Mary doesn’t network to sell more stuff or to find people who benefit her, but to ‘collect interesting people’. It’s back to that #giversgain thing again. Find people you like, enjoy their company, help them out and watch how it all comes back to you.

What about you? Networking, love it or hate it? We hope that this advice from two champion networkers will help you make your networking more interesting and productive.


Business networking for fun and gains

business networking

Bespoke Communications was delighted to partner with the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce and Business in the Community to host a business networking workshop at the Londonderry Chamber offices on May 5th last. We enjoyed the company of lots of local businesses, and we hope that our delegates made good connections to develop their own business networks from the event.

When we read the feedback comments, it seemed to us that the three top takeaways were:

‘Givers Gain’. Attending a networking event with a givers mindset makes it so much easier to walk into a room full of strangers and not feel like you have to push and promote yourself all the time. How can you help the person you’re talking to or how can someone else in your network help them?

Go on, push yourself out of your comfort zone. There are lots of reasons to network and bagging business is not always the sole focus. Apart from the fact that networking can be fun when you get used to it :-), some of the benefits of networking are access to information (we would never call it gossip!), access to ideas and support and the confidence you gain from meeting people who are experiencing many of the same ups and downs as you.

Develop a network event elevator pitch. Work on an intro that’s no longer than 20 seconds.  Can you manage an interesting intro in a single line?  Your goal is to open a two-way conversation, not a monologue!  As a result, the person you’e speaking to will really understand what you do. They might not be your target audience, but it’s very possible they know someone who is. If they understood what you do, then they’ll remember how to describe you properly to their network of friends and acquaintances long after the event is over.