Friday, August 5, 2016

Panels Anyone? - Leveraging panels to build buzz and spread knowledge

Ok, ok... we know that many authors are introverted and prefer the safe and quiet spaces of your writing hovels to speaking in front of an audience. However, speaking at conferences is one of the best ways to build buzz about your books and author persona. Keep in mind: no one ever said you had to speak in front of an audience ALONE. Try participating in a panel.

There are two types of panels at conferences:

  1. Author panels tend to be focused on specific genres or market segments. A group of authors come together to talk about what they write and their latest releases in front of an audience. Young adult (YA), erotic romance, mystery, etc. are all examples of a common trait among authors on a panel.
  2. Subject matter expert panels can be composed of authors, industry experts, or a mix of both types of speakers. Writing steampunk, mixed martial arts fighting, FBI procedures, New Orleans traditions, getting published, are all topics that could be covered in a subject matter expert panel. It is the subject that unifies the speakers on the panel.

How do I get on an author panel?

  1. Create a panel: Writing conferences need presenters....otherwise it's just a string of parties. Most conferences put out a call for training presentation and panel proposals about a year before the date of the event. Check out the conference websites for information on how to submit a proposal. BUT FIRST round up a group of authors or subject matter experts who are willing to attend the conference (and pay all of the associated registration / conference fees).
  2. Make it known that you are open to being on a panel: How will people know you are interested in being part of a panel if you don't tell them? Tell your author friends, writing organizations, local clubs, social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) followers, anyone who will listen that you are interested in speaking at conferences in a panel format.

Let's rewind to do a slightly deeper dive on creating a panel....

We've all been to great panel discussion sessions that have provided wonderful insights into a genre or specific topic. We've all also been to terrible panels where one person 'knew everything' and hogged the microphone postulating about how wonderful they are.

There is definitely an art to coordinating a panel. Here are some things to consider:
  • The personalities and professionalism of the people you approach are key. How will this person react if they disagree with another panelist? Will they be gracious and kind enough to share the stage and pass the microphone? Remember, your audience will be full of readers. You'll want to make sure that you and the panelists make a good impression and NOT spend the entire session bickering.
  • Three to five folks on the panel (including yourself) is plenty. Go too much beyond five people and it will be hard to get through the introductions, let alone have a conversation with the audience. Have less than three folks and it will feel more like a Johnny Carson styled interview. The more people you have on the panel, the less time each person will have to speak. Plus, the more people you have on the panel the more cross-marketing and promotions should occur.
  • Prepare your questions for the panel ahead of time. As the panel coordinator, you are the one who sets the tone and keeps things moving. Don't rely on the audience to provide all the questions. Prepare some questions before the day of the panel and (even better) share them with the panelists so that they can have their answers at least somewhat ready.
  • Ask the panelists to promote the panel! Everyone involved should be spreading the word about this awesome panel they'll be on at an equally awesome conference. Who knows, you each may find new readers through cross-pollination. 
  • Keep things moving! There is nothing worse than a boring panel. As the panel coordinator, you also take on the role of moderator. Which means you have to be willing to keep the discussion moving. Often audience members (readers) and some panelists (there's always one) try to take a dive down the rabbit hole and do a deep dive on some random topic that only a tiny portion of the wider audience is interested in hearing. A simple "let's continue this discussion after the panel" will suffice to move on to the next question or topic.
  • Bring your books...or at least your latest book. Have your book standing up on the table as a silent 'buy me' beacon. A tabletop plate stand or display easel is a great way to showcase your book and its cover. Remember, many people are visual and they will remember your cover better than your name.
  • Handout business cards and bookmarks. Your goal is sell more create a way for people to walk away with some means of finding your books after the panel.
Participating in an author or subject matter expert panel allows you to take the stage and share the spotlight. Yes, you will still need to talk and interact with your audience, but the burden of filling the presentation time won't be a solo effort.