In keeping with my marketing tips leading up to my four-hour intensive class at the Colorado Gold Conference in September, thinking outside of the box in terms of marketing involves a number of things. Moderating a panel is a great way to rub shoulders with extremely successful authors and get your name to their already established readership.
This was my first year at Denver Pop Culture Con as an author, but not a single person on the panels knew this. Here are some tips to prepare you to moderate your first (or hundredth) author panel like a pro and make a memorable impression on your new audience.
- Research the authors on your panel. This is a great opportunity to reach out and connect with the big names on your panel. Consider following them on Twitter and tag them to advertise the panel you will be on together. Chances are, they will follow you back for the same reason: to know who you are before the panel. Read their bios, past interviews, and books if you have the opportunity. (This is not required for panels with multiple authors of various titles. If you are moderating a panel of authors who write in the same series, like Star Trek or Midnight Coven, you might want to be familiar with the books as well.)
- Interpret the title and purpose of your panel. At Denver Pop Culture Con, if you didn’t pitch the original concept of the panel, you don’t receive much guidance as to who did and what their intent was. If you have those things available to you, perfect! If not, wait until you’ve researched your panelists before deciding what direction you want to take your questions.
- Prepare eight to ten questions per hour (most panels are 45 minutes to two hours). Yes, and write them before the day of the panel if you have as much notice. Ensure these questions are open-ended and allow the authors to relate their work to the question. You can have yes/no questions, but I suggest no more than two and to follow them with “Why or why not?”. An exception is if it’s the last question of the panel and your time is up.
- Write down an introduction, but don’t read it. Giving the audience an expectation of what the panel is, who you are, and who is speaking are key components to an introduction. You may ask the audience to wait until requested to ask questions, or encourage them to raise their hands at any time. On panels with multiple authors, it is a regular practice for authors to introduce themselves. If you have one huge-name author (Terry Brooks, OMG), maybe ask them what they prefer and have an intro prepared for each member so as to not make the other authors feel less important. Most of the time, they’ll have no problem introducing themselves.
- Prepare contingency phrases. Luckily I never encountered a heckler, a rambler, a crier, a stone-cold answer, a political rant, or anything otherwise inappropriate. But I sure was ready for it! I found the best advice here (scroll down to “author/crisis management”) for what to say when.
- Your input on questions is okay. If your topic is within your wheelhouse of expertise, absolutely give some answers to your own questions. Also understand that you should keep these shorter than if you were a panelist instead of the moderator.
- Be respectful when calling on audience members. No one likes to be labeled with the wrong pronoun in front of a large room of strangers. Whenever possible, start with “The person with…” and describe their shirt, hair, sparkling eyes, contagious smile, etc. Remember, the panelists are there for the audience, not just to hear themselves talk.
- Don’t be late. You are in charge. Keep an eye on the clock or clock person. Know when to wrap things up, and have a plan to do it.
There you have it! All my moderating secrets. I hope this guide helps anyone who might be nervous about moderating a panel.
I once had to come up with a song and sing it on a panel. Talk about being put on the spot! If I can find a video, I’ll post it to the RMFW Facebook page.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve encountered on an author panel, as a speaker or moderator? Let me know in the comments!