Last year, I wrote about being an author on a panel at a science fiction convention, but I didn’t go into detail about what to do if you are asked to moderate that panel so I’ve decided to cover that topic.
When I'm named a panel moderator, I try to firm up what the panel is about from the usually vague description given by the con organizers. I do some reading on the subject, make some general notes about it, and make a list of author names or whatever to have on hand in case of brain freeze.
If I get the topic and the panelists before the con, I try to contact the panelists by email and ask for their impute on the topic and how they want to handle it.
If I can't do this, I talk quietly with the panelists before the panel begins to get some sense of what they want to talk about.
I usually begin with each panelist giving a brief introduction to themselves and allow them to show their newest book for a bit of promo.
Then, I will ask a general question about the topic, and the panelists will take turns answering it.
Usually, after a few questions, the panelists will loosen up enough to turn the panel into a general conversation on the subject, and I rarely have to get the subject back on track.
After the panelists loosen up, the audience begins too, as well, and they are ready to join the conversation toward the end of the panel.
As a long-time guest at a few cons, I am also not above going out in the hall to tell a bunch of raucous fans to take their noise elsewhere or bullying a con worker into getting water for the panelists.
As a panelist, I try to do the same amount of research as I do as a moderator and, again, I have general notes and examples written.
On more than one occasion, I've been put onto a panel on a subject I know almost nothing about. The panel on alternate history with Harry Turtledove comes to mind. The con organizers assumed because one of my books had the word "time" in the title I wrote it when, in fact, the novel was about reincarnation. I frankly admitted I didn't write alternate history when I was introduced but said I was more than eager to ask questions of the panel on the subject. And I did.
It's also good to remember that some panels are really about showcasing the big author, not the other, not so known authors. When I was on a panel about “The Dresden Files” with Jim Butcher and another author, I realized that the audience wanted to hear Jim Butcher talk about Harry Dresden, not me pontificating on urban fantasy, so I acted like a well-informed fangirl and asked him questions.
SPEAKING OF SCIENCE FICTION CONVENTIONS: I’ll be a guest at this year’s Stellarcon held in Greensboro, NC, on March 1-3, 2013. Be sure to say hi if you’re there. I’ll be the hobbit matron in mundane clothing. Stellarcon