Sunday, May 02, 2010
Panels of Plenty
At different conventions I've been to over the last few years, I've developed some ideas regarding what presenters should and shouldn't do. I speak from my perspective as a teacher and as a former outreach person who would often do speaking engagements before large and diverse groups of people.
First, I think presenters should remember that attendees have smacked down some cash to be entertained and informed, and to become part of a convention culture.Therefore, I think anyone on a panel who comes unprepared is doing a disservice to those present. I think there is a danger of an author being put on a panel where he or she is ill prepared. The result? The panelist bluffs through content, tugging focus away from what was originally supposed to be discussed, and instead turning what could have been an intriguing fanfest into some sort of irrelevant ego stroke.
Second, I believe authors can be too self-serving. I understand we are there to promote our work, but sometimes displaying too much ego is a turnoff for fans. The best presenters seem to be the ones who engage the audience, asking questions of them, soliciting dialogue, developing a sense of immediacy and intimacy. In this situations, self-promotion is often made more palatable with a dose of self-deprecation.
Third, and this is painful, there are some who shouldn't do panels. Being a writer doesn't mean you have a natural ability to put yourself over. Public speaking may come naturally to a few, but good public speakers become so through experience and an understanding of the dynamic that is the speaker/audience relationship. When I go to a convention, I try and bring to a panel the committment that when a person leaves a panel discussion that they have a sense that they've been part of an unique experience. I also try and use techniques I've developed as teacher to keep people interested and to keep them surprised and guessing what might be coming next. It's more difficult to do this when you are one on a panel of four or five and different personalities are tugging at one another for the spotlight, rather than working together.