Oops, The Conference Organizers Called My Bluff and Put Me on a Panel
First, don’t panic. You can do this! Don’t be surprised if a panel member, usually the most published, immediately withdraws. You’re still a contender! Reply energetically to the moderator if he/she requests your bio, copies of your newest book, and suggested questions or topics. It’s better to respond quickly rather than obsess over correct or brilliant comments.
Second, get to know your moderator and panel members. Check out their web page and see what books they have on Amazon. Gloat if you have more or better reviews. Think of two nice things to say about them.
Third, plan answers to frequently asked questions. Why? Because you’ll be surprised how blank your mind can go when you’re asked about your latest project, your favorite author (be careful on this!), what you’re reading, and your start as a writer.
Fourth, on the big day, bring your book, a stand for it, and promo material. If you’re giving away a copy of your book, plan the giveaway method. Before the panel starts, help other panel members relax by saying one nice thing about them or their work. Trust me on this—being nice is good for you too.
Fifth, use the microphone. It’s your friend. Don’t rely on asking the audience if they can hear you without a mike. Don’t rely on your legendry ability to scream at friends and family.
Sixth, avoid saying “I agree with him/her” and “I have nothing to add” more than once. You are on a panel, so talk and have opinions. Keep your answers concise and peppered with specifics. Compare “Yes, I think villains should be multi-dimensional” with “My bad guy eviscerates his victims but supports his aging parents and votes regularly.”
Seventh, work in the second nice thing about the moderator and other panel members. Why? You’ll sound less like a self-absorbed car salesman (buy my book!) and seem more like a real human being who connects to others.
Last, relax, and remember you’re a success if the attendees leave feeling happy or inspired.