What to know to appear on a writer’s conference panel

The following article was published on December 18 at:

I’m so pleased to have another article there.

How to Prepare to be on a Panel Discussion

By Madeline Sharples

I’ve been on many panels at local writer’s conferences. And just having finished appearing on a panel, some of the things I’ve learned have come into focus. Here’s my list:

  • Know your topic cold – make sure you know the topic you plan to speak about very thoroughly. On my recent panel we discussed writing best-selling memoirs, something I know a lot about. My goal was to convince the audience to find a way to write a memoir with a universal theme – that will appeal to readers beyond the author’s family and friends. We also discussed the differences between memoir (a small portion of a person’s life story) and an autobiography (a total life story) and the differences between memoir and fiction. A memoir is nonfiction.
  • Know who your panel mates will be and their backgrounds – usually the faculty is listed with short bios on a writer’s conference website. I took advantage of that and looked up each of my panel mates beforehand. That was interesting since none of the other panel members I was with recently were memoir writers. As an aside, be courteous to the other panel members and give each other enough time respond to the questions as well.

I’m second from the left – in my business attire.

  • Be in touch with the panel moderator in advance – I had already met the recent moderator, so I was very comfortable with her. She also sent us her list of questions in advance. I suggest all panel moderators provide us with questions well before the panel date.
  • Prepare notes to bring to the session – I wrote brief notes in answer to the moderator’s questions and went over the answers several times before the actual panel discussion. However, once I’m sitting on a panel and speaking to the audience, I don’t usually use the notes. I rely on my knowledge and experience. The notes are there as a little crutch just in case.
  • Have a stack of current business cards available – the audience usually comes up afterward to collect your business card. They carry a conference bag with them, and your cards become part of their baggage. And who knows? Maybe they’ll refer to it again and buy your book.
  • Bring your books – the audience may also want to buy books directly from you at the end of the panel discussion. I signed three books for audience members who bought my books this last time.
  • Dress in business attire – look nice and business like. I’ve actually gone so far as to wear a dress, pantyhose, and heels. Since I’m considered a faculty member, I want to look like I’m working in that role. Plus, the conference staff will take your picture as will some of the audience.As always, I’m looking forward to my next panel appearance – I’ve just gotten an invite to appear again.

I hope you get a chance to appear on one or more as well.

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