6. Depart from Your Script. You want to be prepared, but realize that the best panels take on a life of their own. Your notes and any questions you may have been sent ahead of time are only guidelines. Ideally, the initial questions will provoke you and your fellow panelists to riff on each other’s responses. This is a good thing. Forget the prepared questions and use the material that emerges during the panel. Follow the lead of your moderator/panel leader.
7. But stay on topic. If your topic is creating characters, the audience came because that’s a subject that interests them or an issue they need help with in their own work. No matter how much you love raising African violets or how passionate you are about naked mole rats—even if the information you have about those topics is fascinating—that isn’t what they came to hear. They’ll be grateful if you give them solid information related to the topic they chose to hear about, and a grateful audience member is a lot more likely to think well of you and maybe even buy your books.
8. Focus on the audience. These panels are about giving the attendees quality information they can take back and use. We want them to leave each panel as better writers, more informed readers, better promoters, etc. If we all remember to focus on the audience and be courteous to fellow panelists, every panel will be a thing of beauty. Pay attention to the audience throughout. Learn to look for glazed eyes, stupefied expressions, nodding heads, fidgety bottoms, and bodies heading for the exits. Adjust your approach if the one you’re using isn’t working.
9. If an opportunity to praise or include a fellow panelist arises, take it. You don’t want to shoehorn it in, but sometimes you’re handed an opportunity. Say the moderator asks you who uses weather well, and you happen to know that your fellow panelist, Kent, shines in that area, why not say something like, “You know, Kent is one of the best at that. His description of a Minnesota snowstorm can practically make your teeth chatter.”
10. Be funny if you can, but don’t force it if you can’t. In other words, be yourself. If you’ve been blessed with good comic timing, by all means use it. An audience enjoys nothing more than a laugh. But don’t force funny. Some of us just don’t have the gift. If humor’s not your thing, that’s fine. Audiences also appreciate sincerity and just plain good information. Also, if the rest of you non-funny authors are anything like me, you’ll be funny at some point completely by accident—usually at your own expense, but that’s okay. Audiences love that.
Remember, the goal of every session is for its attendees to leave it a little better than when they came in—better writers, better marketers, more knowledgeable about law enforcement, or, in the case of reader panels, happier and more entertained. If we focus on that and on making sure every member of every panel gets an equal chance to shine, we will have accomplished something really special.
Thanks again to Beth Terrell for providing the information.