Moderating your first wine seminar with a panel of experts is intimidating. Yet, it is also your best opportunity to shine among the very people you want to impress the most: famous wine producers, the MW who writes for your favourite magazine, or your peers in the industry. In the following paragraphs are 6 insider tips to prepare you and your panelists in the weeks leading up to the event.
If you want to sparkle, you must prepare!
1 Do your research.
Learn everything you can about the producers, the wines, the vintages, the production methods and the region. I like to use flashcards for study. But you can use whatever methods aid you best with wine study.
2 Research the panelists.
The internet is a powerful tool, use it! Google the names of the experts on your panel. Find out from your importers what kind of person he/she is. Are they great at storytelling? Do they command the audience’s attention with intonation and authority or are they timid, have really thick accents and are hard to follow? Remember, it is your job to make these people look good and utilizing this information in well thought out ways in your seminar shows you’re a real pro . What are their areas of expertise? Do they know about the pH levels at picking time? If it’s a winemaker or grower, you can bet that they do. However, if it is the international export manager representing the wines, they probably don’t. Your job is to make the panelists look great. Don’t ask the nerdy questions about pH levels to the international export manager unless you know that they are able to field that question.
3 Prep your panelists.
Two weeks before the event, send out an email to the panelists introducing yourself, welcoming them and outlining the focus of the seminar, where it is and the time it will begin and end. If emailing the panelists through your importers, ask that they send the important document (and don’t assume that they will, follow-up!!) Provide an outline of the topics you intend to cover. This could be questions you will ask or just broader discussion points. Don’t give it all away verbatim! Allow room for challenging your panelists with unscripted answers; it will be more rewarding for your audience. Be sure to tell the panelists who the audience is. Are they the public or are they importers, buyers and tradespeople? Inform them of the level of knowledge the audience possesses. Also, let your panelists know the forum they will be presenting in. Are they at the front of the room with microphones? Or are they sitting round-table with the audience? How many people will be there? The more you prepare your panelists, the larger the platform you build for flowing, meaningful discussion. Let them know that you will be tasting all the wines beforehand. Invite the presenters to taste their wines if they would like and set a time for this to happen.
Be on top of all the material you need and make sure it is ready in advance before the day of your seminar! Make sure to receive the wines before the date of your seminar (don’t rely on your reps to get them to you on time the day of). Are pens supplied at the event for note taking? You should have a sheet for attendees to make notes that includes the wines, the vintages, and the cost. Who do they contact to find out where to buy the wine? You are here ultimately to represent both the public and the panelists by assisting wine sales. You also need a tasting mat with the wines listed in the proper order for the wines/ wine glasses to rest on. Make sure each wine has a number beside it so that you can direct the audience to it easily and without confusion. Proofread all of it.
5 Social Media.
Include social media links on your note sheet (above) or on the screen in the powerpoint presentation (if you have one). Add the twitter handle, instagram or a special hashtag for the event. Also add the social media links of your panelists. Encourage the conversation!!
Mistakes happen. I once moderated a seminar where the website advertised the wrong time. It was a sold out event. Yet, the room didn’t show it because people thought it started at a different time. This causes frustration on all sides. The first time a mistake like that happens, it is someone else’s fault. The second time, it is your fault.If you are thinking that moderating a seminar is something you aim to do in your wine career, you can practice public speaking now by joining your local chapter of Toastmasters to help you with the jitters in front of audiences. My fellow Toastmasters payed to see me present my first wine seminar. They helped me gain the confidence I needed and the tools to engage a crowd. Thanks, friends!
[a special thanks to DJ Kearney for providing the mentorship on how to prepare for and moderate a successful wine seminar!]
If you liked this article, check back for 6 tips on Moderating a Wine Seminar Part II where I’ll share tips on how to moderate the seminar with ease and success.