When I decided to make a post about appearing on writing-related panel/Q&As, I went straight to Hildy Silverman for advice. A writer, editor, and moderator extraordinaire, Hildy kindly agreed to share her thoughts on what folks should keep in mind when they appear on a panel discussion.
10 ThingsTo Think About When Sitting On A Writing Panel
by: Hildy Silverman
The majority of writers find themselves participating in panels at some point during their careers, at either conventions or other public appearances. While some are naturals when it comes to picking up the decorum, many are at a loss when it comes to what to say, how to say it, when to say it – and whether to say it. Still others think they do just fine, when in reality their co-panelists and audiences want to run out of the room whenever they open their mouths.
With this in mind, here are 10 suggestions for how to make the most of your panel experience:
1. Introduce yourself.
Seems basic, but a surprising number of panelists skip it, assuming that everyone in attendance already knows whom they are and why they were asked to speak. Always give your name and a brief description of your relevant background/publications – whatever explains to the audience why you are qualified to speak on the topic.
2. Promote, don’t advertise.
There is a distinction. It’s perfectly reasonable to hold up your latest book or give the elevator pitch for your current effort. That’s promotion. It is not okay to take up fifteen minutes of panel time reviewing the plots of your last ten novels. That’s advertising – of the worst sort.
3. Pay attention.
The moderator is probably going to be asking panelists to answer the same question each “round.” If you zone out and miss it, or the answer's already given, you are not going to impress anyone when you stumble through a response that bears little relation to the actual question or repeat exactly what the person before you just said.
4. Don’t be a panel hog.
Of course, you are the most knowledgeable person on the panel. Doesn’t mean your fellow panelists don’t have something to say on the subject at hand. If your voice is the only one you’re hearing, it’s time to close your mouth and give someone else a turn.
5. Don’t let other panelists run roughshod over you.
Even if you aren’t the most famous person up there, you were still considered worthy of inclusion on the panel. Don’t let your co-panelists constantly interrupt you, talk over you, or keep you from getting a word in edgewise. Exert yourself with respect, but also with confidence.
6. Don’t get sucked into a vortex by another panelist.
Some panelists lose track of the fact that they’re in a public forum and start arguing with one another. While a modest amount of debate is entertaining, two or more panelists escalating to the point where they’re just shouting at one another while the rest cringe in horror does no one’s reputation any favors. If you find a debate spiraling down, disengage with an “agree to disagree” offer – preferably before chairs start flying!
7. Research on the topic before the panel.
While some events (re: cons) are known for not providing attendees with ample notice of their panels so they can prepare in advance, panelists can still do some prep work before an appearance. You most likely know which of your qualifications got you asked to be a panelist at a convention. That’s enough information to assume you’re going to be on panels related to certain subjects, so you can do at least minimal research, such as catch up on the latest publishing news.
8. Never show contempt for your audience (or other panelists).
Not everyone who comes to see you, or that was invited to sit next to you, is someone with whom you’d choose to associate in ‘real’ life. However, that does not give you carte blanche to be rude, dismissive, or otherwise a jerk. That geek who asked if you remember the combination to Kirk’s safe could leave the room recommending your work to her 10K Twitter followers – or avenge herself by posting nasty reviews of all your books on Amazon.
9. Don’t over-share.
While discussion of the shocking death of a popular character may naturally trigger a memory of the devastating loss of your puppy, Sparkles, when you were twelve, launching into a diatribe about how Sparkles’ loss drove you into a decade-long binge of booze and hookers is really much more information than the audience needs. ‘Nuff said.
10. Don’t make it all about you.
Not every point should come back to you and your work. If every response begins with, “Well, in my current work-in-progress…” or “When I won the Hugo…” you need to rein it in. Not every word out of your mouth needs to be self-promotion nor should it be, unless you really want to turn off the very audience you want to impress.
You've probably attended panels, if not participated. What would YOU like panel participants to think about?
Hildy Silverman is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Space and Time, a four-decade-old magazine of fantasy, horror and science fiction. Somehow, she also finds time to write short fiction. You can find her published work in anthologies from Baen Books, Padwolf Publishing, DarkQuest Books, and Mundania Press.
She is also the current vice-president of the GSHW and a member of the literary programming committee for the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society.
Hildy resides in New Jersey with her one dog, one daughter, and one husband.