words on a chalk boardThe old cliché “You get one chance to make a first impression” still resonates with me, particularly when I attend a real estate conference and listen to panels and presentations

Each speaker, moderator and panelist has the opportunity to make a powerful impression with the audience, but to do that right; most people can’t just wing it.

Nearly everyone who speaks at a conference needs to take NFL Quarterback Russell Wilson’s advice: “The separation is in the preparation.”  You need to prepare, and not on the plane on the way to the conference. The hubris of so many executives thinking they can pull it off by preparing at the last minute and winging it is incredible because so few can ever pull that off.

Recently, I witness a textbook example of how to prepare and present a panel the right way at the recent Real Estate Standards Organization or RESO Spring Conference in Chicago.

Marilyn Wilson, founding partner of the WAV Group, organized for the first time a broker panel, How and Why Standards Help Brokers, to showcase that this conference was for more than just MLS geeks. It was a bold move by RESO to showcase this group, but RESO understands how vital brokers are to the success of industry standards adoptions, like the RESO Data Dictionary.

The most important thing Marilyn did was to assemble an All-Star cast: Dan Troup of RE/MAX; Michael Garner of Keller Williams; David Grumpper of Michael Saunders; Alex Paine of Pacific Union and Tei Baishiki of NextHome.

Now some people would have just let this panel take care of itself, considering the players involved. But if you’ve been doing this long enough, you realize there is a tremendous value in not winging it.

So here is Marilyn Wilson’s formula to prepare and present a panel:

  1. Corral them all on a conference call BEFORE the event begins. This accomplishes several objectives: Panelist get to know one another, you can review format, discuss topics, run through potential controversial questions and issues, gauge everyone’s style and identify and resolve issues that might present obstacles. The goal is not to rehearse: That could have negative consequences, but to decide what to talk about to make sure there is a takeaway for the audience.
  2. Do your homework. It sounds trite, but this advice is vital. The conference call helps make everyone realize the responsibility they have to the entire panel and eventually to the audience to do their share and be prepared. Marilyn, as a moderator, used the call as part of her own preparation. In the end, while the moderator can often help make or break a panel, sometimes it only takes one person to tank a panel.
  3. Have breakfast with the panel the morning of the presentation. Unless you are the breakfast presenter, this is a great idea. Getting together in this setting gives everyone a chance to often meet face-to-face for the first time. Creating chemistry is crucial for the success of any panel and a breakfast meeting the day of the presentation helps nurture chemistry.
  4. Have a little levity, even in a serious setting: The entire panel had a bit of fun with a couple of questions Marilyn posed, and that interaction caused one of the most memorable quotes of the conference (a tongue-in-cheek suggestions of “MLS jail” for Data Dictionary offenders). Humor can really work if done well and especially at a technical conference.
  5. Repeat the question. Marilyn has moderated so many panels, she understands that the best practice is to repeat, into the microphone, the question asked by the audience member if they have no microphone. Sounds simple, but it is amazing how infrequently this occurs.

In the end, this panel opened the eyes of both the audience and the participants and the action steps needed, specifically for the Data Dictionary, with the impending deadline of Jan. 1 just six months away.

The group made a great first impression and as measured by audience questions and the overall response, the panel clearly delivered many takeaways.  The other Wilson, Russell of the Seahawks, would not have been surprised by the successful results that preparation delivered.