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From The Legal Department To The Conference Stage: How To Land And Deliver As A Speaker: Nas Panwar Chief Production Officer IPMI

The Legal Department | Nas Panwar | Speaking Gig

 

Do you want to level up your profile as a legal thought leader? Gain exposure and showcase your knowledge and experience by getting a speaking gig at a conference. If this sounds like a stretch goal, Nas Panwar, Chief Production Officer of the International Performance Management Institute, offers concrete tips to get you there. Nas has produced thousands of events, conferences, and expert panels in a variety of industries, including legal, compliance, privacy, human resources, IT, and many others. In this episode, Nas offers suggestions on elevating your professional profile and landing a speaking opportunity at various conferences. She also shares tips on making your session shine by learning how to become a great panelist and moderator.

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From The Legal Department To The Conference Stage: How To Land And Deliver As A Speaker: Nas Panwar Chief Production Officer IPMI

My name is Nas Panwar. I’m the Chief Production Officer at the International Performance Management Institute. IPMI is a boutique corporate events company that hosts intimate meetings called Institutes for leaders in a variety of functional areas in multiple industries. A fun fact about me is that I’m an avid reader. While eReaders are convenient and compact, I love the weight of a book in my hands, probably stemming from the fact that my parents owned a bookstore in Nairobi, Kenya, which is where I was born and raised.

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In this episode, I have a longtime friend, someone I’ve worked with for a while, Nas Panwar, who is the Chief Production Officer for IPMI. Nas and I have worked together on a few events and conferences. I thought this was a unique opportunity to share some of the back channel information about how to get on a speaking tour, and how to participate in conferences. Nas, I’m excited to have you here.

I’m excited to be here. It’s a behind-the-scenes of the conference industry.

I think it is somewhat of a mystery to folks. People always ask me, “How did you do that? How do you get your name out there?” I thought who better to share that with our audience than you? Can you tell us a little bit about IPMI? What it is? How many events do you do? What type of events?

IPMI is a boutique corporate events company. We started out with three institutes in 2010 and in 2024 will produce and host 20 institutes. Over the years, we’ve produced about 150 institutes. The number probably would have been higher had it not been for the pandemic. We only ran three institutes in 2020 and then 2021 became a mix of in-person and virtual events. This is all we do. We specialize in putting on events for various leaders across different functional areas and multiple industries.

I know the legal industry is one of them, but you also do HR and IT, which gives you a pretty big network of folks in different roles.

We have a few fairly large portfolios. Our HR portfolio is one of our stronger ones. We run a number of different events in that space. We also have our healthcare portfolio. Within that, we specialize in events for general counsel, chief information officers, chief finance officers, and HR executives, and we’re going to be launching a chief nursing officer one as well. It’s pretty exciting. It’s a great space. I’ve been in it for a while. I love the healthcare industry.

You do great events. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to have you on. They are multi-day conferences. This isn’t just a webinar-type format. Even your virtual events, I find, are high quality. You could read the headlines and see what are the big issues of the day, but how do you get together the topics or themes for different events?

One of the things unique about us, perhaps, is that we will put our events together using an advisory committee. An advisory committee consists of executives within the industry. If we were talking about the healthcare legal program, it would be general counsel from a variety of healthcare organizations and they form the group of individuals that will advise on what key topics executives are dealing with, and what’s on everybody’s radar.

The value of having multiple individuals is that sometimes, somebody will say something that is very unique to them and their situation and if it doesn’t resonate with everyone else then you know it’s probably something that’s unique to them and their situation versus something that is being faced by the industry as a whole.

The value of having multiple individuals giving you advice is getting variable insights unique to their situation. Click To Tweet

When you get feedback consistently from the advisory committee about a particular topic area, that’s when you know that’s something that should be included on the agenda. We typically look for things that are either in the news or something that is perhaps flying under the radar a little bit, but people are working on. There could be deals happening that are not public yet, but there’s been a shift or something’s moving and it’s useful to have that information.

You mentioned that you do a number of different formats with CFOs or other HR. Do you find that you make connections between those? Let’s say the HR people are saying, “We have a problem with our time and effort reporting,” something super boring and then if you hear that from the legal folks, then do you see that that’s an issue across the industry?

For sure, and I find great value. I run a team of Institute producers. I also produce events. I find that I like the fact that I do a few of the healthcare ones because I can see the connections that come between what the general counsel is facing or dealing with or the fact that the general counsel has to deal with an issue that the IT group is facing what the CFO is facing. It’s interesting how they married.

They’re not siloed. You do have your own functional areas, but they are siloed than one would think. One of the ways that I’ve tried to parlay that into our events is by having some of those other functional areas join the general counsel, for example. I’ll have a presentation with the general counsel and the chief information officer. It’s useful for the attendees to hear the dynamic and how that relationship evolves.

I’d encourage more of that. For the last couple of years, I have spoken at a couple of non-legal conferences and I find there are not a lot of lawyers there. To the extent that you’re producing events that are non-legal, you are putting in a plug to have someone like us on those panels. Surprisingly, I don’t hear a lot of compliance or a lot of legal topics in those rooms for the back-of-the-house staff. People think, “I don’t want to deal with my lawyer unless I have to,” but I think that it’s good to have a variety of diverse perspectives.

One of the panels we did, which I thought was particularly informative for the lawyers and the audience, was the one that we did with chief strategy officers. They’re wheeling and dealing maybe and you’re looking at deals. One of the pieces of advice that they had from the general counsel that was on the panel was to get us involved right from the beginning before you’ve even started to conceptualize an agreement.

We’re not the functional area that signs contracts or reviews contracts. If we’re involved earlier on, we can perhaps either indicate there’s an opportunity or red flag something well in advance so that you can act upon it then versus two months down the line when a contract comes along and then you put your hands up because you think the lawyers are stopping the deal, but had the lawyer been involved earlier, there may have been a different outcome.

That’s such an astute observation. Let me back on how you get the advisory committee members. Hopefully, the folks reading this aspire to be advising folks about conferences and to be thought leaders and speakers. How do you source those folks?

When you do your very first event, it’s a little bit more of a reaching out into the world and industry to find individuals who would be willing to serve as advisory committee members. As you build on your events, they typically come from members of the speaker faculty or members of the audience. One of the key themes that run through a lot of the ideas behind how someone gets more involved in events is being able to attend the events and carve out some time within your schedule to attend an event. You then could be in an environment where you’re identified as somebody who would be a valuable advisory committee member.

The types of events we run are fairly intimate. They are executives. I would say anybody within that group would have the capacity to be an advisory committee member. It’s a matter of putting yourself out there. If you think about, for example, how we met, you came to the event. You are on the speaker faculty on a panel at the request of one of our sponsor partners, which was a law firm. From there, we developed a relationship and it was being on-site with one another. It was only a two-and-a-half-day event, but sometimes you gel with people and then it builds from there.

I wanted to get to this later, but it’s a good time to delve in now. I think especially after the pandemic, people aren’t as sharp with their inner personal or their networking skills. You’re in those rooms all the time. What advice would you have for people who are attending events in terms of connecting, being more visible and relating with other attendees and speakers?

It is daunting to go to an event when you don’t know many people. As organizers, we’re spoiled as we probably communicate with everybody and we know fully what’s going on. I would say one of the things we try to do is create these icebreakers or networking types of games that allow people to interact with each other. One of the main reasons we do that is because we want to foster that sense of engagement amongst the attendees.

One of the other things I would say is to be open-minded and willing to put yourself out there. It’s that saying, “Growth happens when you’re out of your comfort zone.” That certainly is one of those aspects. We run some of our sessions as more intimate conversational types of sessions. Being involved in those where you can have a chance to speak and share your ideas and then join people as they’re walking over to lunch or heading over to lunch and trying to find those connections.

Being open-minded and putting yourself out there allows you to grow and create lasting connections. Click To Tweet

Oftentimes, people will connect over something that has nothing to do with the event at all. One of the things we do is collect fun facts about our attendees and see if there are ways that we can make connections. “So and so has been to Hawaii ten times as somebody who did a marathon in Hawaii.” There are different connections you can make. Oftentimes, it’s based on more of the personal versus something related to work potentially, even like our kids play soccer. At a certain level, you can find connections through that. It’s a combination of finding the personal connection but being willing to put yourself out there when it comes to interacting in a smaller group and being able to share some of your own perspectives and ideas.

I remember the fun fact. That’s something that always stands out about your events. I know you and many conferences now use an app. I think your app lists the attendees and includes the fun facts on there. I don’t want to be like a creepy stalker, but it is a nice way to get a sense of the folks that you’re attending with. The advisory committee is folks that you’ve accumulated in your network over the years and they emerged as leaders. What about speakers? I was approached with the law firm relationship that I had, but there are other ways that folks get on the radar screen to be speakers. Can you share some of the more common ways?

With the advisory committee, they do provide feedback on potential speakers. For them, they’ve either seen them at other events. That’s the value of attending a variety of different types of events. For example, the AHLA or ABA ones because you do encounter a large number of lawyers there and people who could be potential speakers. Oftentimes, we’ll do our own research and find whether it’s posted on LinkedIn.

I find LinkedIn is a good way for people to put themselves out there. Being on LinkedIn to build your network is valuable but also engaging with that network. Sometimes what will happen is somebody will like a comment or a post of somebody in my network and I’ll come across that person and I’ll think, “That’s interesting that they’ve commented. Who are they? What do they do? What are some of that background?” That’s often a source.

The Legal Department | Nas Panwar | Speaking Gig
Speaking Gig: LinkedIn allows you to build your network and engage with them through your posts.

 

Another way is even through looking at other events, or have people speak at other events that could be related to the topic areas that we’re looking at. Another source is also sponsor partners. They have a good sense of which clients are doing what. We’ll oftentimes tap into that, and generally, try to get a sense of who’s doing innovative work. We may know an organization that’s at the forefront. We’ll do our own research to find out who is the person who could speak to this effectively. It’s a variety of different ways, but a lot of it is essentially being out there, having and building that network.

I think there could be a perception that you’ve got to be the general counsel, CLO or the deputy, to have a bigger title to be on a speaking faculty. Is that always the case?

I wouldn’t say that’s always the case. A large proportion of our attendees do tend to be at the GC or DGC level. We’ve had you know VPs of Legal Affairs and AGCs as well. A lot of times, those are the individuals that are you know elbow-deep in the particular issue. Whether it’s an employment law topic or it’s something to do with litigation or managing litigation, it’s usually the AGC that is quite heavily involved in that area. Having that perspective is very valuable.

Oftentimes, having both the GC and the AGC presenting on a particular topic area gives you both the strategic angle and the more C-suite perspective, but then also gives you on the ground, “These are the types of things you have to think about when practically you’re looking at a certain issue or a transaction.”

Back to that diversity and having different make sessions stand out. I want to get more for folks who are already speakers. This is selfish because I do a little bit of speaking. What do you find are the characteristics of the best, most engaging panelists, speakers, etc?

Confidence is a big one, humility, and the willingness to share insights and experiences. People who are fairly dynamic are able to hold the audience’s attention. What most people perhaps don’t realize is that they’ve honed that skill. By virtue of doing C-suite and board presentations, you’ve already developed that skill and the ability to speak to senior-level audiences. That’s extremely valuable. It helps to hone that skill around being able to hold an audience’s attention and speak to your experiences. A little bit of humor always helps. I find that breaks the ice sometimes as well.

The Legal Department | Nas Panwar | Speaking Gig
Speaking Gig: Most people don’t realize that they have already honed the confidence and willingness to give presentations and talk to a large audience.

 

Do you notice a difference between your lawyer speakers and in the other sessions with the CIO or the chief human resource officer? Do you notice different approaches?

With the lawyers, a demo is well-prepped. I spent a lot of time doing prep sessions and so on. There’s a lot of substance that comes through on the legal programs because oftentimes we’re talking about certain regulations and compliance issues. You’re dealing with government agencies and government bodies. I find that there’s a lot more content, a lot more rigor in the sessions tend to be longer with some of our legal conferences. They tend to be 45 minutes or one hour, versus a lot of our sessions on the HR or IT site tends to be 30 minutes. I think we spend more time getting into the substance of various issues with our legal conferences.

We were talking earlier about how I prepared for the show. One observation I have because I have a mix of non-lawyers and lawyers, although I am heavily weighted in lawyers, I sense that everyone wants to sound smart, and great and that they are the best in their field. At times, that can get a little stiff. People do want to prepare.

I’ve done other shows where we’re not as dialed in ahead of time and it feels a little wild for me as the host trying to get us on a topic, but I’m curious if you have any observations. I think your point about prep resonates with me. We want to do our homework, but do you notice anything with any of your speakers that is maybe a little too focused on holding that preparation beforehand?

The main thing that you lose is that flexibility, that ability to take perhaps what somebody said that’s not written down. When we do our prep, we will have a Zoom call and people will talk about their various ideas and perspectives, and then for a panel, the moderator will take those ideas. I find that if people are only expecting what the questions are going to be, there’s less flexibility, whereas if the moderator brings something up that is not written down in the prep notes, but has been talked about and says, “When we were speaking earlier, you mentioned X.”

Sometimes that person will be like, “You were listening. You caught me. I wasn’t expecting to say that,” but I find that it’s a combination, I always say, with the panels of you want to be prepared, but you want to look like you didn’t prepare. You want to make it seem like it’s more dynamic and conversational, as if we just bumped into each other and now we’re on stage having a conversation.

That’s a sweet spot. I always do a prep call with my guests. Some of those calls, I’m excited. It was fluid and everything, and then when we get to the conversation, it’s less fresh and not as interesting for me. I hope that doesn’t come through to the audience, but there is an art in doing all this. It’s harder than it looks, I think, for those of us who speak and moderate.

It speaks to your point about the idea that once you are live on the show, people have that sense of, “Who else is going to be listening to this? How am I presenting myself?” That perhaps ties into that sense of being more vulnerable to even putting yourself out there to do more speaking sessions, but I think for lawyers, at least in my observation, have always been the people who have to have all the answers.

Even though they’re the ones that people sometimes lament that, “We’ve got to check with legal before we do this,” there is a comfort amongst a lot of executives that, “We have a lawyer. The lawyer will have our back.” That’s a lot of pressure on lawyers. It can be challenging because you do sometimes feel like you’re alone in the job, especially if you are the CLO and feel like, “I don’t necessarily have all the answers, but I don’t know if I can tell people I don’t have all the answers.”

I find even coming to our events and being able to have that conversation and say, “I do feel like that sometimes. I can’t be the one that has all the answers,” and that they are always going to say that this is completely risk-free and we should move forward with it. There’s that sense of camaraderie that you get at attending events that bring a level of comfort that it doesn’t take away the situation or the issue, but it makes you feel like you have friends that you have to deal with it as well.

I’m glad you mentioned that because a few of the sessions that I’ve done with IPMI were those in-house roundtables where we did commiserate and share how we’re dealing with things. I don’t know if I ever shared that, but that was one of the Inspirations for me to start the show. They were unique ways to connect with people who have the same walk in your shoes. The things on your desk are also on their desk. It occurred to me that it would be nice to share with other people in a broader way. Thanks for facilitating those. I know that those sessions weren’t always in the rotation, but I enjoyed them and I know other folks have as well.

It’s interesting that the feedback is definitely validating and fulfilling because it is a session that takes a bit more time because you almost start with a blank slate and you have full people. You think you’re going to lead around the table. We don’t know what you’re going to lead it on. We’ll see what people are interested in. You could spend an entire day talking about many different facets of writing and the legal department. It’s honing in on what’s important.

Immediately, after the pandemic, a lot of it was hybrid work or return to office and nobody had any of the answers. There was that period after the pandemic when these types of sessions became so valuable because nobody had the answers, but they were able to share what they were doing. I find that a lot of times your CEO or a board chair is going to say, “What’s everybody else doing?”

They always say that.

“What’s everyone else doing and we’ll follow suit?” Having those types of sessions is valuable for individuals. Hearing what people say in terms of, “I want to be able to talk to people about creating a template for this particular initiative. I don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel. I don’t want to start with a blank piece of paper. I want to talk to people who maybe have the templates they can send me.” I’ve seen post-event and post-session people sending actual resources out and saying, “This is what we’ve used. You’ll have to modify it, but at least it’s not starting with that blank page that people often dread. It’s hard to get started.”

Back to the networking. I’m a big proponent of networking and building those connections. It’s another reason why I wanted to start this show. I’m sure you have advice as well, but I want to encourage people, once you’ve met somebody at a conference or an event, keep in touch with them. Those sessions where there is a lot of interaction give you a nice way to build more of a connection with somebody. I can’t tell you how many people have followed up with me and shared a template. One of the events I did somebody invited me to write an article. There’s such a great opportunity to meet people, connect, grow yourself and help others.

A big part of it is being able to have that shared experience. That’s what events do. They put you in a position where you had this joint experience. After the pandemic, it was all about, “How do we cope with our masks on and doing everything?” As time goes on, it’s dealing with a variety of issues, but having that shared experience of even sitting in on sessions and listening to sessions together. I would say one of the other ways to feel like you’re networking with people is even to go out and ask the speakers about a certain area that they mentioned or something that they talked about.

It’s valuable to be able to leverage what you have I often say, especially in the aftermath of an event, “It’s such a unique opportunity to have two and a half days with this group of people who you wouldn’t interact with in this way.” You certainly go to other events over the course of the year and interact with people, but there’s a certain magic that happens where you have this ideal mix of individuals who are similar reasons some can be quite different, but they’re all learning from the same people.

They’re all having a similar experience. It’s a unique opportunity that dies away very quickly. When an event is over and you go back to the office, as I’m sure you can attest to, you’re suddenly doing emails. There’s home stuff that’s happening. I find that magic gets lost. Being able to tap into it as quickly as possible is helpful.

There is a certain magic that happens in an event when you have an ideal mix of individuals with similar goals learning from the same people. That magic quickly dies once the event is over. Click To Tweet

That’s a good suggestion. I always bring my stuff back. I find that in sessions, I take a lot of notes even related or not related to the topic. I always intend to like, “Look at all these great things I’m going to do when I get home,” but as you’re saying, you get back and then you’re pummeled. Leveraging that time and focus is a good tip for folks. There are different roles and formats for sessions. I know you’ll have a single speaker and fireside chat which is like a couple of people more in a conversation and then panels. I’m curious about what makes a good moderator or panel member. Do you see that there are different skillsets for each of those roles?

For sure. Part of the beauty of putting agendas together is the option to play around with the format so that you keep things interesting so it’s not more of the same one after the other. Typically, with the solo presenter, it’s based on a case study or something that initiative. We’ll sometimes feature partnerships between the health system and a different type of organization. That typically is well done as a case study or even to present where you maybe have the GC and the DGC talking about a certain initiative.

I find fireside chats helpful when you want to have more of a conversation about the topic area and lends itself well to an interview style. I find having that other functional area. For example, the GC and a board chair or something like that is oftentimes interesting dynamics. Panels are great for broader topic areas. It’s something related to either the role of the GC or something along those lines where you can bring in people with a variety of perspectives and experiences, so they could be from different-sized organizations.

With the way healthcare is evolving rather than having your traditional hospital or health system, you might have an Amazon, Walmart, a PE firm or a Walgreens for example and put that together. With respect to the session itself, a moderator is someone who’s more big picture. I am almost like a conductor. They hear all these different ideas that the panelists have and they weave it together in a narrative that comes through in the panel discussion. An individual panelist may have expertise or knowledge in a certain area and can lend that perspective during the panel discussion, but doesn’t necessarily have almost that bigger picture view.

I thought most people could be moderators, but people have a preference. I spoke to an executive and was suggesting a moderator role and they said, “I’d much rather be a panelist than not have to be the one.” It’s a skillset because you’re listening, but you’re also thinking of your next question. You’re trying to think, “Is the audience ready to ask a question?”

I’ve moderated and I have felt like the success of this session is on me because I am taking the audience through this conversation. You’re exactly right. I’m listening and I’m trying to react in real time to what somebody’s saying, but I’m also cognizant that we have a certain topic we want to cover, so we’ve got to keep moving.

You did it very well. That was the example of having those multiple conversations with the panelists lends itself well to you getting to know them beyond, “We’re on this panel together, but I know you a little bit more as a person.” Pre-pandemic, we used to do prep calls only over the phone. Since the pandemic and Zoom came into everyone’s lives, we started to do over Zoom where you could see the people that you were talking to. Now I’ve started to do a secondary one where they meet on site at the event.

I find that it’s the final meeting that gels everyone together and ties it all up well because then you’re sitting with and seeing the person. That lends itself to perhaps your earlier point about that flexibility around the conversation. When you sit together maybe over lunch or to do a little bit of prep to get to know each other, that comes out where people don’t feel as stiff because they’re like, “I’ve met you. I’ve talked for half an hour with you. I feel comfortable having more of this conversation with you.”

The Legal Department | Nas Panwar | Speaking Gig
Speaking Gig: Spending some time together with the people who will join you in a panel discussion helps a lot in making you more comfortable and less stiff with each other.

 

I found that to be helpful as well. It helps get to that magic sweet spot where it looks like you were prepared, but you don’t look that way. As we wind up here, I’m thinking that a lot of my audience are folks who are looking for the next step in their careers and looking to position themselves as thought leaders. How would you feel about people that someone affirmatively reaches out, like they’re not with a law firm and maybe they’re posting on LinkedIn but somebody who is more out there trying to affirmatively offer themselves to you on a panel?

I’m always open to it because we don’t know fully what anybody’s ever working on in terms of their organization and what’s happening within their organization. One of the areas where we do find speakers as well is through our evaluation form. At the end of the event, we’ll send out an evaluation form. One of the questions we pose is whether they have recommendations of speakers, but then also whether they would like to speak for themselves.

I find that’s sometimes a good source because people, having been through an event, think to themselves, “I’d like to speak at this event.” They’ll put themselves out there and say, “These are some of the topics that I’d be interested in,” and so on. It’s very similar to somebody reaching out, whether it’s via LinkedIn or anything like that, it’s useful to be able to accept that request, vet it and research it to determine how best people can get involved.  Somebody who reaches out is going to be a fairly engaged speaker as well and willing to share. The challenges with some industries is competitive, but I think it’s more helpful when people are sharing and providing their experiences because it makes it better for the whole.

Raise your hand is the bottom line there. We’re winding down here. Where can people find out more about IPMI and what you do?

We have our website, which is IPMIEvents.com. On there, you’ll find the list of institutes that we’ve run. We also have recaps from previous institutes. That’s a useful source as well. We have a fairly active LinkedIn page. I’m on LinkedIn. It’s always helpful to have those connections and networks. I find that’s been a helpful way of connecting and staying connected with people as well because life gets busy. It’s one of those other social media tools where you can find out what people are doing and be able to respond in a fairly easy fashion as well.

I’m glad you mentioned your LinkedIn because I feel like every year, you post about the books you read. I haven’t seen it yet. I’m hoping that you’re going to do that. One of my goals is to read a book a month, which feels both ambitious and lame at the same time, but I do need some suggestions. I’m going to be looking out for that post.

I do love reading. I’m always interested in getting people’s recommendations. I think it’s interesting because then you almost build a brand of being somebody who enjoys reading and getting information for people. I’ve had a couple of colleagues in the New Year saying, “I read this book. If you haven’t read it, you’ve got to read it. What have you read lately?” You and I share that experience to where you told me about one book and I said, “Did I not tell you about that?” You said, “No, I just read it.” I read it this time in 2023. It was a game-changer for me. It was about the reality that time is fine, Four Thousand Weeks.

I’m rereading that. I don’t know if I count that as a book of the month. My last question, which I ask all guests and hopefully provides a glimpse into your personality, is what is your pump-up song?

One of the ones that I like and a big part of it is because of some of the musical elements at the beginning is A-ha’s Take On Me. You know that one.

The kids are all into that. They sing it all the time.

There’s something about that tune at the beginning of it. I don’t fully know what the meaning of the lyrics is, but it almost feels like it’s like, “Give me the challenge. Take on me. Fight through.”

I love it. It’s a throwback. Thanks so much for being here a lot. I hope our audience did. I’ll look forward to seeing you at an event someday soon.

Absolutely.

 

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