Sunday, June 2, 2013

Five Tips for Being a Good Panel Moderator - and Why You Should Totally Do It

Fire season has started in New Mexico. Alas.

Makes for riveting sunsets, however!

This week's topic of conversation around the bordello is "Workshops & Panels: Learning, Leading, or Volunteering."

It's timely for me because I'm off this week to two sets of writerly endeavors. Monday through Thursday, I'll be joining Word Whore Marcella Burnard and former Word Whore Laura Bickle for an internet- and phone-free retreat to a cabin in the wilderness of Ohio. (I'm assured there really is such a thing.)

After that, I'll be at the Lori Foster Reader & Author Get Together. Since that event is mainly for readers, there won't be any workshops or panels. More like games, parties and other social events.

Workshops (where a specific tool is taught) or panels (where a number of authors are clustered around a common theme and dish on it) are really within-industry events.

They're also the most fun events a writer gets to do, in my opinion.

Signings are rarely fun. For the less well-known authors, signings are about lonely tables and people darting past, trying not to meet your eye. For better-known authors, it's a marathon of person after person with little meaningful conversation possible. There seems to be little ground between these two. I blame physics.

Workshops are a kick. The drawback is that you have to get OTHER people to agree that you have something to teach. I'm really excited to be doing a workshop at the Fiction Writing in the Digital Age Conference in Las Vegas in October.

More than Wham, Bam, Thank-You M’am – Wooing the Female Reader, presented by Jeffe Kennedy
  • Over and over, statistics show that more women are reading fiction than men, particularly on e-Readers. With the overwhelming success of works like Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight, it bears examining just what female readers are looking for – and what they’re buying. This workshop will examine how romance can be used to both attract readers and illuminate characterization. Sexual attraction can both entice and ratchet up the overall tension of any plot. Jeffe Kennedy, award-winning author of numerous series of erotic romance and fantasy, will walk participants through examples from literature and movies, to illustrate what women really want from a story.
Not only does the topic amuse me - very Word-Whore worthy, yes? - but I'm really looking forward to the conversation on this one. I'm anticipating the workshop will attract a lot of writers with interesting things to say - and ideas I haven't thought of. That's one of the great side-benefits of giving a workshop - all the stuff YOU learn from it.

Which brings me to: panels.

Oh. My. God. A good panel is like intellectual sex. It's like sex with a few carefully selected people who resonate on exactly your same levels. In public. With an audience offering suggestions and tossing sex toys up on the stage.

Or, at least - what I imagine that would be like. *cough*

Seriously, panels are amazing. It's an opportunity to have a structured conversation with like minds and involve and audience. Of course, much depends on the moderator. It's up to the moderator to keep the input from the various panelists even. Nothing ruins a panel faster than that One Person who simply WILL NOT SHUT UP. They can lurk in the audience, too. You know the one - the person who "asks a question" that simply a poorly disguised monologue on everything they would have said, had they been on a panel. A good moderator watches for this behavior and has to be gently ruthless in squelching it. Think iron fist in the velvet glove.

Often it's easier, as a newer writer, to get on panels as a moderator. This is a GREAT opportunity because the audience will see you up there with the fancier authors and associate you with them. Plus it's a perfect opportunity to stalk those authors and make them be your friends. They'll be a little nervous about the panel, and so off-guard, and they'll see you Someone Official. Use this to your advantage. Do it any chance you get. But be a good moderator.

Tips for Being a Good Moderator

1. Be assertive.

Everyone in that room is counting on YOU to stop the One Person Who Will Natter On. It's not about you. Do it for the People.

2. It's not about you.

As a moderator, you are there to serve the panelists. Don't talk about your books or your work. If they come up naturally in conversation, fine, but keep your focus on showcasing the panelists and their work. Don't worry - you'll get plenty of reflected glory.

3. Do your research

Read a little bit of each of the panelist's work. This is super easy to do these days via Amazon and their online samples. Make lists of common themes. Email the panelists ahead of time and ask for input on the panel theme. Have a set of questions ready, but not too many. You'll be amazed how fast the time goes.

4. Be aware

Watch the audience and spread out whose questions you take. Note who's been waiting a long time to ask their burning question. Pay attention to the panelists and ask direct questions of the quiet ones.

5. Enjoy the conversation

As a moderator, this is your chance to get these writers to open up and talk about interesting things. Take advantage of this opportunity and have fun!


  1. I nominate you to moderate any panel I'm on LOL! Great tips...hmmm, maybe I can get to the Digital Age Conference, Las Vegas is close to home (sort of) and I LOVE slot machines...I mean, um panels and workshops.

  2. You should come! Pam and Peter will both be there. And the hotel rate is dirt cheap!

  3. Sounds like you are ready for your group panelathon! Have fun! But what really sounds great is the internet free cabin, the scent of forest and the quiet chirping of birds. That is unless you have some that hang out by the bedroom windows in the morning, in that case good luck.