On Moderating a Panel

anime yelling
Noted, I will only yell at you if your question is not in the form of a question, or lasts longer than two minutes.

Being on a panel at a convention can be a lot of fun, especially when it’s about a subject in which you hold a ridiculous amount of knowledge and fannishness.  [Not to mention that it’s a perfect time for a bit of shameless self-promotion!]  It’s also a great way to meet other people from all levels of the writing world.

But what about moderating?

This past weekend was definitely a learning experience for me, as I had to moderate not one but two panels that I’d created for BayCon.  The first one (recent music inspired by SF/F) ended up being more of a group conversation, as there was a total of six of us in the room.  When it’s that small, it’s usually better to be a little informal, and have a bit of fun with it.  The audience will enjoy being a part of the conversation as well.

The second one — regarding mentors in the Star Wars universe — needed to be a bit more strict in format.  We had about a dozen people in the audience, there were were four on the panel, and of course there would be A Lot of Opinions being shared.

One thing A and I did for this second one was to prepare ahead of time — she created a spreadsheet of possible character relationships to talk about.  The panelists were excited by this and used it as a quick reference guide on what they wanted to talk about.  Another thing was that I emailed all the panelists ahead of time — especially as a moderator — to ask if there were any issues or points they wanted to make, or if they had any personal requests.  [One of the guys wanted to bring in some of his collection of lightsabers, which he very creatively tied in with the theme of the panel.]

Another thing I kept in mind is that I had to, well… Be the Adult In the Room, for lack of a better term.  Not that everyone acted like petulant kids, mind you… this was about being the one to keep everything reined in.  The moderator has to lay down the rules, make sure that the panel doesn’t drift off topic, and also has to be the official timekeeper.   I was willing to let the audience comment now and again — especially since it was relatively small — but I also had to jump in and be the one to say “okay, moving on…”

[I should also mention here that, this is precisely where the moderator should also pay attention to who’s talking and who’s merely interrupting.  There were one or two moments where I noticed someone was about to talk over someone who was making a point, so I had to make sure that didn’t happen.  And yes, this does in fact include Those Guys who will interrupt women who are speaking.]

That doesn’t mean you have to be the teacher watching the kids at recess.  Have fun and be a part of the chatter!  But you definitely need to remember that you’re also the one in charge — you own this group and this subject for an hour and a half, so you most definitely have the right to steer the conversation where it needs to go.

Note: ALWAYS start the wrap-up about fifteen minutes before the ending. This is for last minute questioning, not to mention gathering your things for a smooth exit to your next scheduled event.  Many find that the clock feature on their cell phones is a perfect time keeper.

And in the end, if the audience enjoyed it, they will may want to come up and have a question or a comment they’d like to share.  If you’re not in a mad hurry to get to your next panel, by all means, chat away!  [And if you can, leave your books and freebies out on the table in front of you for a few moments longer, because they might want to take a peek!]  Just remember to leave enough time so your panelists and audience can leave, and the next panelists and their audience can come in.

I still have to get used to moderating, and I’m sure I made a few mistakes, but all in all, I definitely had fun with it, and would totally do it again.

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