|Paneling at ArmadilloCon 2012|
On several occasions, the moderators of the sf/f panels didn’t realize they were the moderator, and on more than one occasion the moderator didn’t bother to show up, leaving panelists to draw straws for the task. While a panel in which none of the participants is prepared can be, and sometimes is, wildly entertaining, more often it consists of five writers saying variations of, “I don’t know why I was selected for this panel. I don’t know anything about Transsexual Taiwanese Tyrannosauruses” and one blowhard spouting variations of “Look at me! Buy my book! Look at me again! Buy my other book!”
|Gathering the masses before starting the “Make it Snappy”|
panel at Malice Domestic 2018. L-R: Me, Gretchen Archer,
Barb Goffman, Debra H. Goldstein, Gigi Pandian,
and Art Taylor.
(Photo by Eleanor Cawood Jones)
I think the panel went well, but I’m not here to tout my skills as a moderator. I’m here to share some tips for successful paneling from the perspective of someone who has attended many panels, participated in several, and moderated a few.
1. While you may be there to promote yourself and your work, the audience is there to be entertained and informed. So, entertain and inform.
2. If you have never been told by a parent, teacher, or significant other to use your “inside voice,” practice projecting. Use any provided microphones, especially if the panel is being recorded.
3. If you’re a moderator, know your panelists. At the very least, read their bios in the program.
4. If you’re a panelist, know your moderator. At the very least, read her bio in the program.
5. Asking generic questions and having each panelist answer in turn is a lazy moderator’s approach. So, prepare questions specific to each panelist and try to foster a dialog among the panelists.
6. Share the limelight. For moderators, this means ensuring every panelist has the opportunity to speak. As a panelist, this means speaking up if you’re shy, and it means curtailing your tendency to bloviate if you’re not shy.
7. Allow time for questions. If the audience is engaged, they will ask great questions. For the benefit of the rest of the audience, repeat or paraphrase questions before answering.
8. Start on time, end on time, and clear the stage for the next panel. If you are lucky enough to have fans swarming the stage afterward to ask questions and seek autographs, encourage them to follow you into the hall.
I have also participated in panels at writing conferences. The audience—primarily writers and would-be writers rather than genre fans—expect more information and less entertainment, but otherwise all the tips apply.
One writer whose paneling skills deserve emulation is Bill Crider. Every time we paneled together, he was the most knowledgeable, most experienced, and best-known writer on stage, and many of us would have sat at his feet in rapt attention while he talked for the entire 50 minutes. Yet, he never took advantage of his stature. He shared the limelight and regularly used his time to tell the audience something they might not know about one of the other panelists, or to direct a comment toward or ask a question of one of us.
That’s in direct contrast to several authors so enamored of their own voices that other panelists might as well not exist, and when moderators—either unable to unwilling to interrupt—let the blowhards take over, everyone suffers.
We’ll all be better off.
A Wink and a Smile (Smoking Pen Press), released in May.