Team Work – Preparing for a panel discussion
Step 1: Creating a Strategy
In this step we build a game plan, a process which involves two tasks: understanding the context and setting goals. To understand the context of the speech means to make sure you know the situation in which you will speak: How much time will you speak? Who will be in the audience? Are there other speakers, and if so who are they? etc.
Based on this information you should determine what can youexpect to achieve and how you expect to achieve it. For instance, if you are a college student that has to present a report you need to show command of the material and analytic skills (after you determined what the professor expects, and how long you will have). If you are going to give a sales presentation we need to decide if we can aim for closing a deal or just to get a meeting with an executive.
Team Work: In this stage two things must be done – creating and verifying a consensus, and assessing strengths and weaknesses of the team members. Consensus means that the goals of the joint presentation are shared by all team members and that if there are varying interests they are acknowledged and approved. Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the team members is crucial if this is the first time that they present together (even if they’ve known each other for years), but is always important to ensure proper allocation of the various roles.
Step 2 – Brainstorming
In this step you turn to your creative side and try to generate as many ideas for arguments and examples as you can, so that you will be able subsequently to build your speech from them. In this step it is important to let your associations run freely so that you will have as much material to work with in the next steps. Therefore, I recommend working with a pen and paper and to jot down any thought that occurs to you. This recording is necessary because when you get hit by a burst of ideas, you might forget one while you’re working on the next.
For those of us who are highly self critical I recommend to make a mental note of temporarily turning off of your criticism switch, and to write down even ideas that are clearly weak or deficient. The reason is that critical examination blocks the creative process by expecting every idea to come out fully formed. That stifles half-baked idea that might have been developed into brilliant ones.
Team Work: In this stage it is important to harness the enormous strength of cross fertilization which improves brainstorming enormously. The reason is that brain storming is a process of creative and associative thinking, and associations occur when one idea reminds you of another. When several people participate in this process each new idea will raise a different reaction in each team member, and each new reaction can be translated to a new idea which in turn will be presented to the group and help generate new associations and ideas.
However, team brainstorming is even more susceptible to stifling criticism than individual brainstorming. Therefore, it is important not to criticize and not to reject any idea. Instead, let them all be written, and which ever generates more subsequent ideas will naturally become more significant.
Step 3 – Organizing an Outline
In this stage you turn back on the ‘criticism swtich’, and you concentrate all the stray thoughts that we wrote down during brainstorm into a skeleton of a speech that will promote our strategy. We look down on the page with the ideas and perform three actions that will lead to a concise outline:
- Consolidating– In this step we look at all of our arguments and examples and see which ones of them go together. It is quite possible that two of them say the same thing and are thus redundant. Alternatively, two weak ideas can actually merge into one powerful argument. Consolidating and eliminating redundant ideas also reduces clutter.
- Filtering and prioritizing – here you need to decide which arguments should be dropped out because they are not good, period (e.g. they are not convincing, factually wrong, insulting to some in the audience or inconsistent with other arguments), and which are just not good enough (because they take too much time, or are inferior to other arguments.
- Organizing – In this step we should determine the order in which the arguments are going to be presented, in other words, we have an outline.
- Overlapping – Prevents the team from explaining new and important material and gives people in the audience the feeling that their time or their intelligence is not highly appreciated.
Overlapping happens when each member develops his own outline, and chooses to focus on the most important points. Since great minds think alike, members will probably share the sense of what is important and so each will decide to include it in his outline.
- Inconsistencies – At best, inconsistencies damage the credibility of the message and the team. At worst contradictions gives a sense of cheating and deception – of trying to fool the audience.
Inconsistencies happen when varying interests were not smoothed out in the strategy phase, or when the outline is not developed as a joint process.
- Neglecting an argument – Represent a missed opportunity and will probably lead to a blame game of ‘I thought YOU were going to say this’.
To avoid overlooking an argument it is important, before finishing this step and moving to the next one, to take another look and the scrap papers from the brainstorming and verify that each point has been accounted for as either being good and included or being bad and discarded.
Step 4 – Developing Arguments
In this stage we take the outline we have produced, and work on expanding each heading into a fully developed argument.
This process involves creating a logical explanation of the heading, and then adding factual evidence such as examples, statistics etc. In this stage it is quite useful to take advantage of scrap notes we used in the brainstorming stage – there are often useful examples or concepts there.
Team Work: this stage is the only one which should be done separately by each team member. Since each member has to work on different subjects, individual work multiplies the capacity. Joint work in this stage is probably more feels faster, because the team probably does develop argument faster than any individual member, but this is just an illusion because the team is slower than the combined speed of all of them working in parallel.
In addition, working independently enables each member to assess how well he understands his allotted points and how deeply he needs to (and whether he can) develop them. If the arguments are developed together, the weaker members will rely on the stronger ones to develop their arguments, and not realize (until they are on stage) that they don’t have much to say about them.
Team members can certainly consult with each other at this stage, and it is probably a good idea that a team leader will verify that they are all making progress – but it is crucial to let each member take responsibility of his own speech.
Step 5 – Reviewing and Revising
In this stage we take a step back and view the speech from the audience’s perspective. We present the speech to ourselves – preferably out-loud – and observe the stronger and weaker points. This is a good chance to catch mistakes and errors and fix them. If the changes are substantial it would be necessary to read the speech again. Before reviewing a speech it is important to disengage from the actual writing in order to get a fresh perspective. A good disengagement would be to take a coffee break or make a couple of phone calls, but if time is rushed it may be enough to close your eyes for a few seconds, take a deep breath and let your mind slip – and then review the speech.
Team Work: In this stage the team should take advantage of the benefits of mutual feedback, and the better perspective that each member has about his fellow member’s speech. Each member should present his speech to the team (in full if there is enough time, or in brief if there isn’t) and get their feedback. It is important to give and to get detailed feedback with constructive recommendations, and to verify that there are indeed no overlappings, inconsistencies or dropped arguments.
Another advantage of presenting the speech to each other is that it is a much better practice towards the ‘real thing’ than reviewing and revising alone.
Tips for joint presentation for a group
- Involvement – Team members should look interested and supportive when another member speaks. It is important not to gaze, pick nose or look dispirited and disappointed. In general, when you are in a panel, you should maintain body language discipline as if you are speaking.
- Shared Structure – Each team member should present the overall structure of the entire team in his introduction and conclusion. This gives a sense of shared purpose, and ensures the audience doesn’t get lost. For example a member would begin by saying “We are seeking an investment in our firm, and after David spoke about the technology, I would like to explain our marketing strategy which will include online advertising, viral marketing and billboards. After that, Ron would speak about the finances”
- Work together on stage – Even if the panel discussion has started, it is still possible to communicate and share ideas. If you heard an opponent say something important you should disseminate that information, and if you are suddenly stuck without enough content you should seek help. Just note that it looks better if such communication is done with notes than in whispering.