At this point in your professional career, I’m sure that you’ve heard the old adage “your network is your net worth.” In other words, the value of your professional net worth is in the quantity and quality of the folks within your network, and the strength of those relationships. These individuals give referrals, provide recommendations, and vouch for your reputation. This is why networking is so important for your career.
For some, the actual work of networking comes naturally. I mean, who doesn’t love free wine and conversation? It can be an easy and social way to kill two birds with one stone. But for others, networking is a struggle. The idea of walking into a room full of strangers and striking up a meaningful conversation with even one person is a non-starter. Some folks are naturally introverted or shy, or don’t do small talk, or get nervous talking to perfect strangers or are self-conscious about saying the wrong thing. If you fall into the latter group, how are you going to build your network if you don’t like to network? Well, let me offer a solution: speak on a panel.
Now, I can appreciate that the idea of being the center of attention in a room full of strangers might sound overwhelming (stage fright is a real thing), but hear me out because there are some benefits to speaking on a panel, especially as a way to build your network.
Speaking on a panel provides an opportunity to get public exposure in your professional field and is a great resume-booster. It gives you the opportunity to present your own ideas/work and maybe even become a subject matter expert (i.e. the go-to person on a certain topic, which can provide a referral network of folks coming back to you in the future). It can also provide relatively low-maintenance practice with public speaking, if you are interested in boosting that skill.
More importantly, here’s why speaking on a panel is a good passive alternative to the traditional networking hustle:
If you speak on it, they will come:
In a typical panel set-up, you provide a bio for the audience and have an assigned seat in the front of the room. The audience will have the opportunity to “meet” you before you even shake hands, and you will have the opportunity to display your knowledge and personal brand without passing out your resume — all of which takes the pressure off of you searching around the room looking for someone to start a conversation with and hoping you can find common ground. Let them come to you.
It’s all about controlling the conversation:
Chances are you will be asked to speak on a topic that you are already familiar with. Worst case, you can always prepare notes (pro-tip: request the questions in advance and practice your responses). Either way, you won’t need to worry about having too many awkward conversations before/during/after your panel because you already know the topic. This may help cut down on your nerves because you can always refer to your notes. (Just be sure not to read them verbatim!) Plus, depending on the size of the panel, you may not be the only person who has the knowledge, one of your fellow panelists may be able to jump in and give you the opportunity to learn something new.
Build your reputation, one handshake at a time:
Doing good work is great, but it’s hard to build your reputation if folks don’t know what you can do! Since networks are typically built on common interests, skills, and goals, by speaking on a panel, you will give a new group of like-minded people the opportunity to be impressed by you– your knowledge, your perspective, and your ability to communicate. One by one, you will add to the growing number of people in your community who sing your praise.
If you don’t yet feel comfortable with speaking on a panel, try your hand at moderating a panel instead. Rather than answer the questions, you ask the questions instead. Either way, try putting yourself out there and see what happens!