I’ve been moderating and paneling for a long time and been doing a lot of panels these past few months and have a few thoughts about what makes a great panel. I thought I would follow up Mette’s excellent A Good Moderator post from a month ago with a How to Panel like a Lit Champ! post. These are just some things that I’ve learned along the years and try to strive for when I’m on a panel or when I’m moderating one and I thought I would pass these tips on to you. Enjoy!
1.If you are moderating, read the books of all the authors on the panel. This means their newest book / the one they are promoting.
2. Come up with questions. Do not wing it. Do not make them general questions. i.e. avoid things like, What’s your process? What’s your research? What are you working on next? Although of course, when peppered in with your thoughtful questions those could be great.
3.When you are moderating, have a pen and piece of paper to jot down anything interesting that you can turn into a question. Meaning, be flexible to how the panel is flowing.
4. Come up with at least one thoughtful question for each panelist that pertains to their specific book.
5. Moderators, try to contact your authors before the panel to let the panelists know what you are going to be covering / how you are going to run the panel. Sometimes you only get the publicists email. Ask the publicist to forward your email to the author. If you cannot email, make sure to get to the room early to greet your authors and let them know how you are going to run the panel.
6. Moderators, have a bio of each of the authors on your panel to introduce them.
7.Authors, do your moderator a favor and have a short bio readily available on your website. One that actually talks about the highlights of your career (and not about your dog or how much you like pie.)
8.Avoid having every single author go down the line and answer every single question. It is long and tedious and oftentimes boring for the audience. This is especially bad on panels with more than five people.
9. People like a conversation! If you are moderating, encourage cross talk! If you are on a panel, ask the other panelists a question when you are talking!
10. If you are on a panel that is being moderated by someone else, be classy and at least have googled the other authors and be aware of exactly what their new book is about. Read the flap copy or the first chapter. I know it’s hard to read. Trust me, everyone on the panel is busy and on deadline! But it makes the conversation on the panel so much nicer when people at least know each others literary flavor!
11. Bonus points if you read or have read at least one book by each author on the panel even if it’s not the one they are currently promoting. It means you can at least talk to that authors style or themes.
12. Also authors, google your moderator! They could be an author as well and it shows respect to at least know who they are / why they were selected to moderate the panel. It often also makes for a better conversation.
13. If you are an author and you are moderating a panel you should of course mention that and on occasion weigh in with your own thoughts, but your job is to moderate the panel so keep the self tooting to a minimum.
14. If it is just you and another author in conversation with no moderator, read the other authors book. Seriously. This is non negotiable.
15. If you are asked to read a short passage on a panel, read no more than three to four pages. And probably keep it on the shorter side. Remember that people look forward to the conversation and that’s the fun part of a panel and if everyone reads for a full five to seven minutes than half your panel is gone and the audience Q&A is truncated.
16. If your moderator asks you to read just one page. Really read just one page.
17. Do not be a mic hog as a panelist. This is not the “look at only me show.” Even if you are the most famous author and everyone in the room is there for you, you are on a panel. Let everyone talk.
18. Keep your answers short. You personally do not need to answer every question. Other people have things to say, too. Some people are shy and will not jump on in. Be mindful of that.
19. If you are a moderator and someone is hogging up all the time, jump in and guide the conversation to another author.
20. If you are a moderator and notice that a panelist is shy and not speaking much, try to help them to come out of their shell. They usually have great things to say when coaxed.
21. If you are a moderator and an audience member rambles on or does not ask a question, at the Q&A quickly (and kindly) move it along.
22. If you are the moderator and open it up to the audience for questions and they are a shy audience and do not have questions, make sure that you have spare questions for your panel. This is a good time to use those questions / further points that you jotted down.
23. You don’t have to be everyone’s best friend, but you do have to be friendly, polite and inclusive. If you are on a panel with your good friends, great! But avoid inside jokes. It alienates the other authors and the audience.
24. When on the panel and in the social parts / green rooms of a festival/ conference, remember that you are all peers and that the career wheels are always turning. Some are just starting out. Some are grizzled vets. Some are on the up and up. Some are having a hard time of it. It doesn’t matter if you are the most famous or the least famous in the room / on the panel, be nice. Stay classy.
25. Have fun!