One of my author friends just emailed me with this compliment: "Last year I saw you moderate a panel (I think it was at Malice), and your panelists were very intelligent, famous, witty women. You did an incredible job moderating. You were articulate, funny, and you have each one of them an opportunity to shine." She went on to ask me for any advice I could give her, since she's been tapped to moderate a panel at a writers' conference.
So here's my best stuff...
1. Drink warm or room temp water. Cold water strains your voice and makes you screech. Sounds petty, but it helps.
2. I introduced my panelists myself--and sometimes edited the intros they gave me. Usually if you let them do their own intros, they hurry through the good parts, mumble, and/or act like a mic hog. Also, you can spice up their intros and really emphasize their accomplishments while separating out the dreck. But DO make sure you know how to pronounce their names. ALWAYS speak the intro out loud a couple of times before your panel. Mouth memory is different from sight memory.
3. Get lucky. Good panels have fun ideas to contribute...but I suggest you prod the authors and ask them for any help/thoughts/ideas they might offer.
4. I told the panelists, "The point of this is to entertain. It's not for me to be in charge. So if you have a question for each other, or whatever, go for it."
5. Google them. Look at their websites. The books are only part of the story. Listen to any previous interviews.
6. Relax. Remember, the audience sincerely WANTS you to succeed. They don't want or care if you are perfect. They just want to have fun.
7. Find out if the panelists know each other and try to get them to tell stories on each other. Interaction among them helps.
8. Don't be afraid to get involved. People are curious about you, too. As long as you don't hog the mic, you can add your insights. The trick is...can you amplify something the
they've said? Can you expand on it? If so, the crowd will usually be okay with your interjection.
9. If you are worried about Q and A afterwards, write up questions on index cards and sprinkle them through the audience. People love to help.
10. Every author has an "oh, crap" moment. A time when he/she thought, "I'm going nowhere." That usually makes for a great session commentary.
11. Have fun. Yup. If you are having fun, everyone else will have fun, too. I mean, what's the worst that can happen? You could puke. (George Bush senior did that at dinner with the Chinese.) You could faint. (Elizabeth Lyons did that at SinC into Great Writing.) You could screw up someone's name or a book title. (An announcer at Barnes and Noble said I was there to sign copies of the "Scrap and CRAP" mystery series.) You'll live through it. Besides, you're a writer (or a fan), for goodness sake. You aren't auditioning for late night TV!
12. Immediately before the panel, go through the audience and introduce yourself to the members. They'll love you for it. It's hard, so hand out bookmarks as a "crutch," but it pays HUGE dividends.
Did any of you see my panel at Malice? What do you think about my list?