Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Workshops & Panels: Playing To The Room

Now that we're in the throes of Cons & Retreats Season, you're likely finding yourself in one (or more) of three roles: Contributor/Panelist, Audience Member, and/or Volunteer. 

Whenever possible, volunteer to help the organizers in someway. It increases your ROI and garners goodwill. If you're somewhat socially challenged like me, volunteering also eases the panic and awkwardness of the complete submersion in convention chaos. I like to volunteer to man the registration desk. Name + Face + Factoid = Easy way to start a conversation later.

Earlier this week, Jeffe & James offered suggestions for how to be an awesome moderator and panelist. My extensive experience as a panelist, moderator, lecturer, trainer, seat-spud, qualifies me to offer suggestions based on being in the audience...usually holding up a wall in the back of the room.

Moderators: Three Most Appreciated Qualities of Managing Talent:
  1. Minding the Time 
    • "Dude, I like your novels, but shut your pie-hole already!"    
  2. Making sure every panelist speaks
    • "Carpe Diem, better yet, Capre Mic 'Em, chicka. Take that mic from him and contribute!"
  3. Managing the question queue
    • "One question then back of the line, lady!" 
Panelists: How To Be Positively Memorable
  1. Brevity & Levity 
    • Seriously, I cannot emphasize this enough. While your answers shouldn't be as short as a tweet, they aren't your next novel either. If "funny" isn't in your wheelhouse, then default to "engaging with kindness."  Bored or berated is no fun for anyone.
  2. Banter
    • Light banter among your peers goes a long way to draw in your audience. Bantering with the audience? Even better ... as long as you retain control of it. Don't be shy about including the moderator; they deserve a public nod of appreciation.
  3. Share The Stage & A Story
    • Whatever you do, don't be THAT guy. The one who loves the sound of his own voice. The audience will pick up on the discomfort/resentment of your peers. The only thing you'll have gained is a reputation as a dickweed.
Workshop Leaders: Being Better Than A Webinar
  1. Interaction
    • The semantics of Workshop versus Lecture are critical here. Don't talk at me. Don't read from the slides or your script. I can download that shit. Get out from behind the podium. Walk the room. Look at me. Listen to me. Engage me.
  2. Personalization
    • Give me the value of being physically present. Be comfortable enough in your topic to be able to customize it to the people sitting before you. Thriller writers have different needs from erotica writers. A room full of biddies has different perspectives from twenty-somethings. If you succeed at interacting with your class, personalization is a natural extension of the flow of conversation.
  3. Make Me Think 
    • Please stop regurgitating crap found on the Web. I'm functionally literate and familiar with Google. I'm in your class to learn something new, even if it just how to look at a common issue from a different perspective. There's a lot to be said for the Socratic method, so if you can spark a friendly debate -- DO IT.  You'll have covered the first two points to workshop success with ease.
There you have my tips for leaders in a conference/retreat setting, dear readers. If you could give a Moderator, Panelist, or Workshop Leader one piece of advice, what would it be?


  1. And above all (to repeat just one of your excellent points) "Don't read the slides"!!! Terrific post...

    1. LOL. Thanks!

      My heart kinda breaks for the folks who are so petrified they read the slides ... but after the third slide, I'm gone.