Studying the Art of Moderation

No, not that kind of moderation. I don’t know her. (Never was Oscar Wilde more relatable than when he said “Everything in moderation, including moderation.)

I’m talking about panel moderation. Specifically, here:

Yes, my favorite Harry Potter conference is quickly approaching (I’M NOT READY!) and not only am I cosplaying solo and in a group, as well as running Madam Malkin’s Consignment Shoppe, I’m also moderating not one but two panels on the lit track!

Panel One: How Harry Potter Influenced my Writing
Many authors writing Fantasy and YA fiction now are members of the “Harry Potter Generation.” How has that affected them? Join a panel of published authors talking about how Harry inspired them, introduced them to new concepts, or got them interested in publishing.


Panel Two: Behind the Page
Just what does it take to get a book into print? What different pathways are there from idea to page? Our Lit Track pros provide a look into the process of becoming a published author, start to finish.

Exciting stuff! I can’t wait to hear what the panelists have to say.
Oh wait. I’m in charge of making sure it’s interesting.

I’ve been doing a lot of research on how to be a good moderator and, as always, there’s a lot of conflicting information. I’m collecting all the tips that I like here for my own edification–as well as yours. But mostly so I can reference them immediately before the panels, let’s be honest.

Bess’ Collated Rules for Moderation

  1. Make the panelists introduce themselves, but give them guidelines. This way you have to do less speaking and are less likely to get a name wrong. The guidelines keep your panelists from having wildly uneven intros, so one won’t list every award they got starting in third grade while their neighbor grunts hello.
  2. Read something the panelists wrote. You don’t have to know their whole backlist, but having a general idea of what they write will help you direct questions to each panelist more personally.
  3. Don’t stare at the panelists the whole time. Give them some eye contact, but then look out at the crowd. You want your panelists to speak directly to the audience.
  4. Repeat questions! If you’re taking audience questions, always, always repeat the question. No one else in the audience will know why the panelist is saying what they are in response if you don’t.
  5. Give your panelists the questions in advance. (Possibly the most controversial rule.) Most people aren’t quick-witted and brilliant without at least a day’s preparation, so give them a chance to think up clever answers.
  6. If a question arises during the panel that’s more interesting than the ones you prepared, go with it! It means being present and actually listening when your panelists talk, but can make for an even more exciting talk.
  7. Keep an eye on the time. Not only so you’re not caught by surprise when time’s up, but also so you can use it to move things along if someone gets stuck in a monologue.
  8. Thank your audience AND your panelists at the end! This makes everyone happy.
  9. It’s your job to make sure everyone gets roughly the same amount of speaking time. That means prying hermit writers out of their shell and reeling the monologuers back in.

Also, be friendly and engaging, speak clearly, and learn how to use a microphone. Simple, right?

Luckily, everyone that’s on these panels is an old hand in the field so they’re bound to be a lot more chill than I will be. Maybe they can even give me tips!

If you’re in New York in a couple weeks, come to MISTI! It’s your only chance to see me dressed as a Durmstrang student! (Except all the pictures I’m going to post.)

Have you ever moderated a panel? Do you have any tips? What makes a panel good for you as a participant, moderator, or audience member? Let me know!

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