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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!