Happy Friday the 13th!
A maddened, vaguely supernatural serial killer who should have died long ago will be by shortly to ruin your day. Until then, BLOG POST!
I've attended far and away more panels than I've spoken on as a panelist. And the information meted out this week has been stellar both for those attending panels and those roped into speaking on them. Because I can't gesture over my shoulder with one hand while raising my drink with the other and shouting, "What they said!" I have only a few things to add for your panel consideration.
Listen. This is multipurpose advice. Good for the audience. Better for the speakers. Honestly, if you're invited to participate in a panel, LISTEN to the person who issues the invite - he or she will usually give you a wealth of information including who will be on the panel with you, what the topic is slated to be, and even who your audience will likely be (from whence you can commence your research). But really, the best place you can exercise the listening muscle is on the panel once it's started. Your fellow speakers (probably authors) will be answering questions. Don't sit back waiting for your turn. When you aren't speaking, you are part of the audience so listen. Which, interestingly enough, means watching, too. Seriously. How do actors telegraph to an audience that they're listening to a fellow actor? They look at the speaker, leaning in slightly. Try it. Without crossing the line into having a restraining order slapped on you. Listening to your fellows allows you to skip over ground that's already been covered - you get to say clever things like 'building on the point so and such made, there's this thing...' or 'as an example of how different the publishing experience is for different people, this other thing...'
Be willing to be wrong and be schooled in public by someone with more experience. It's happened. It was fabulous (mainly because the lady who schooled me was totally gracious about disagreeing and explaining all this stuff I hadn't known). Admit it was something you didn't know and thank the other speaker for the information. What a deal - getting asked to a panel and getting to learn something valuable all in the hour! Most places you have to pay extra for that.
Which brings me to my next point. A gentle sense of humor is worth more than your weight in gold when you're contemplating public speaking. It helps you not take the whole speaking in front of others thing too seriously. Being able to poke fun at yourself and your process in a light hearted fashion invites the audience into the conversation with you.
Finally, the point of a panel is to have fun. Otherwise why do it? If you answer 'to sell books' your audience will pick up that underlying motive. Guaranteed. Agree to a panel because you enjoy the topic or you love getting to pull in an entire room full of people. If you're enjoying yourself (and giving everyone else equal time with the talking stick!) chances are really high your audience will enjoy the panel, too. Which raises the likelihood that they'll look you up in the program and take a gander at what you've written.