Unfortunately, I can’t claim this blog as my own. This was written by a wonderful woman named Beth Terrell who helps out with the annual Killer Nashville writers’ conference held every August in…you guessed it, Nashville, TN. In 2012, a week before the conference, she sent along this message to all of the authors scheduled to be on one of the panels. I thought it a wonderful message and one from which authors who plan to present something at a future conference can learn a few points. Because it’s lengthy, I’m presenting it in two parts. So don’t forget to check in next week for the conclusion.
One of the most important things for a panelist to remember is that audiences love generosity. While it might seem counter-intuitive, spending the entire session talking about your books, your writing process, you, you, you is not the best way to make people want to buy your book. It’s easy to get carried away because we’re excited about our books and feel like we have a lot to share, but if you carry your share of the discussion and also help showcase your fellow panelists, the audience will respond positively to your graciousness.
Self-awareness is good. If your tendency is to be excessively shy, you’ll want to make an extra effort to make eye contact and smile. If you’re excessively assertive, you might want to remind yourself to make sure you’re giving your fellow panelists an equal share of the limelight. If you’re already perfect, keep up the good work.
Our goal is to make sure the audience comes away with a head full of information about your topic and a good feeling about you and your book.
Here are few tips to help you make the most of your panel. Start by understanding your role. Your job as panelistis to help your fellow panelists and your moderator or panel leader entertain and inform the audience. This document will teach you how.
1. Do Your Homework. You don’t have to study as if for the bar exam, but giving some thought to what you would like to say about the topic will be helpful. If you think you might forget, you might write a few notes, but don’t be tied to them.
2. Participate in Discussions with Your Fellow Panelists and Your Moderator/ Panel Leader Beforehand. You will have been connected with the rest of your panel. Please be an active participant by giving your bio as needed, suggesting questions to be asked if your moderator/panel leader seems open to it, and participating in any pre-conference discussions or meetings your group would like to have. If possible, get together before the panel, at least briefly, so everyone can get to know each other a little and the ice gets broken before you’re in front of an audience.
3. Make sure the audience can see you. Many panelists bring their books to panels and stand them up on the table for the audience to see. Most people in the audience can’t see the details of the book, and the book blocks the panelist’s face. Make sure if you bring a book or books to display, you don’t block yourself or your fellow panelists. Often, it’s enough to have the book lying on the table in front of you, and then pick it up and show the cover at appropriate times.
4. Go to Panels. See what works and what doesn’t in other sessions. What does the audience respond to? What bores them?
5. Keep Your Introduction Brief. Your moderator or panel leader will probably ask you to introduce yourself. Keep it brief by specific. Just tell the audience the minimum it needs for it to know why you’re on this panel. If your topic is bad guy heroes, you might say something like, “Hi, everyone. My name is Jane Smith, and my thriller series about a contract killer named Joe Killjoy. Killjoy certainly qualifies as a bad guy hero, because he’s a serial killer who only kills serial killers.”
I know. You’re wondering where the naked mole rats come into play. I promise, next week.