Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Preparing for a Panel

By Elizabeth S. Craig @elizabethscraig

Tomorrow, November 14, I’m on a panel for the Get Read online conference—a conference that’s all about helping writers learn more about effective marketing.
My panel is “Publishing Your Way To Success.” The description:
The core thing that connects writers to readers is the stories you craft – be it fiction, nonfiction, memoir, poetry or any form of writing. In this session, we explore how releasing new work can grow and more deeply engage your audience.

It panel runs for about 40 minutes and starts at 1:45 p.m. ET.
I tend to enjoy panels, although as a rule, I’m not fond of public speaking.  Panels are easier for me and I get a lot from listening to the other speakers…occasionally to the point where I forget what the original question was and have to ask for it to be repeated when it’s my turn.
A good panel is the result of good moderation.  I’ve been on panels before where the moderator lost control of the panel—we veered wildly off-subject, ran out of time for audience questions, and once didn’t even have a chance for everyone on the panel to talk. 
I remember one panel I was on, years ago.  I felt good about it.  I sold my books at the end of the panel and one of the audience members came up to me and said confidentially, “I felt so, so sorry for you.”  She patted me on the hand.
I gaped at her in horror.  Had I had some sort of horrid wardrobe malfunction?  Why on earth did no one let me know?  Then she said, “You know.  Because that one person went on and on and you didn’t get a chance to speak.”
Oh.  Well, even though I assured her that the panel hog hadn’t bothered me at all and I never care if I don’t get as much of an opportunity to speak…it had certainly bothered her.  And since then I’ve noticed that folks in the audience do look uncomfortable when one person is speaking at the expense of the other panelists.  A good moderator reins in a chatty speaker.
I’ve done online interviews quite a few times before, but this online panel will be a first for me.  Dan Blank, the conference organizer, is using an application called BigMarker to run the conference. I tried it out a couple of times and found it very easy to use the interface.  You can listen in as an audience member without video or audio, or turn it on as a panelist.   There’s even a button you can press to ‘raise your hand’ to indicate to the moderator that you have a question.  And a chat box on the side of the screen.
I did warn Dan that I likely wouldn’t be able to chat, listen to the other panelists, and recognize when it was my turn to talk. :)  My multi-tasking has limits.
Here are my tips for being on in-person panels:
Find out the book selling protocol at the conference. Are we allowed to sell our books at the event, after the panel?  Is the conference buying the books through a bookseller or are we responsible for bringing our own books? If we bring our own books, we need to know that crucial fact in enough time to order some copies.
Be conscious of over-promoting while on panels.  It tends to stand out if we bring up our book title every time we answer a question or have all of our titles on the table in front of us during the panel.  I usually have one or two books, tops, on the table (if the conference even allows them).
Ask how they handle book selling.  Sometimes you sell books right after your panel in the same room, sometimes you go to a commons area outside of the room, sometimes you have a special area to report to at a specific time.
It’s also important to know if someone else handles the purchases while you sign, or if you’re signing and ringing up customers. (Which is a nightmare for me…I tend to get flustered.)  If you’re not sure, best to come with a calculator and with extra dollars to make change with.
I’ve watched panels, as an audience member, where panelists were thinking so hard about how they were going to answer the question that they didn’t appear to be listening to the other panelists as they spoke.  Definitely doesn’t look good.
Sometimes, the conference forgets to supply water. I like to have a small water bottle with me, just in case.
Online conferences/panels:
Well, your guess is as good as mine.  But I do have general tips for doing Skype and other interviews, and you can find the post here.  Mainly, I make sure the lighting is good (artificial lighting is usually better than sunlight), that the audio and the camera are working,  that I put the animals away so they won’t jump into view of the camera or bark, and find/wear my makeup...which is, as I recall, in the children’s bathroom since it was last used to help with special effects for their Halloween costumes.
Any tips for panels?  Things I missed?