by Allison Pang
Lots of good advice coming in from my fellow Word Whores this week, so I'm going to just touch on a few things that might be helpful for shy/introverted panelists.
I'm the first to admit I'm not the world's greatest public speaker - I tend to get pretty nervous about the panels in general, though it can depend on the crowd. The best is when I know the other panelists pretty well - it can be fun to riff off each other - and I think that when the panelists are obviously having a good time, the rest of the room tends to have a good time as well. There's nothing quite as awkward as panelists who don't like each other - obvious tension is obvious. >_<
That being said, here's a few basic suggestions:
1) Have a basic idea of what you're going to say/talk about. You know the topic beforehand, hopefully. If you're quick on your feet, then no worries. If you have a tendency to freeze up or forget your thoughts, it's totally worth it to maybe write up a few basic notes to remind you of what you want to say. With smart phones and tablets, it's plenty easy to throw up a few bullet points to keep you on track. (This is particularly important if you're doing more of a workshop panel - staying on topic is very important.)
2) Choose your seat! This isn't always possible if you've got name tags or particular seating requirements, but where you sit can make a big difference as to how you form your answers. If the moderator asks you a specific question, that's one thing, but if a question is asked to everyone on the panel and they go down the line, being the first or second person to answer can look better than always being at the end, particularly if it's a larger panel. Constantly saying "I don't have anything else to add" gets old after a while. (If a moderator is good, though - he/she will change direction throughout to make it a little more even.)
3) Make eye contact. Engage the fans by making eye contact when you are answering. Doesn't have to be the entire time, but you want to make them feel like you're all part of an extended conversation. (And on the same note, don't bury yourself by constantly checking your email either..)
4) Learn how to redirect. Technically a good moderator should be able to do this, but not all moderators are good, and I've been on some panels that had no moderators at all. In that case, it can be good to brush up on your "gentle reminders" to try to bring a panel back on topic. YMMV - some people can easily hijack a panel for their own needs and that's not fair to anyone. (Except them, of course.)
5) Get to know your fellow panelists. This isn't always possible, but often if I know ahead of time who else will be on the panel with me, I will read one of their books (if they have anything to do with the topic.) Being able to draw attention to a fellow panelist's work is a nice thing to do, and can be an easy way out if you really *don't* have anything else to say about the question. ("In Suzy Sunshine's book, which I just read, btw - she has a great example of XYZ...")
6) Speak up! If you have something to say, say it! (This is the hardest thing for me, to be honest - there have been times I wanted to interject something, but I couldn't figure out the best time to say it, and then the question changed and it was too late.) Don't be rude, obviously - but don't be afraid to let your voice be heard, either. Your experiences are just as valid as anyone else's.