Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as you think. It’s in your best interests, if you’re working in the writing/editing/publishing field, to put yourself out there and share what you know. It will have people looking to you for advice in the field – which leads to more contacts, more resources for you to access, and more “business.” All of this advances your career.
Choose a subject that a) you think may genuinely be of interest to other writers, editors, etc., because that’s your audience here; and b) that you feel confident talking to other people about. Self-doubt is normal, so don’t let Imposter Syndrome self-reject you, but at the same time, you should be able to say enough on the topic that you won’t run out of material halfway through.
Panels and presentations in a con typically last an hour, so be prepared to keep your answers brief. They might last as long as two hours, but that would be an exception made for a particularly involved or technical subject.
Panels vs. Presentations
A panel is a group of people who all have some expertise to offer on the subject you’re discussing. You can assemble the Avengers – er, I mean, your team – yourself, or you can offer up the idea if you think it’s a valuable one, and we can try to help find people to fill the other slots if we think there’s sufficient interest.
A presentation is all about you. You are the one who is putting on the show; either to talk about a subject you know about, or share something like a book launch (which is really the same thing). You’ll need different preparations for each.
What You’ll Need for a Panel:
- Notes or cue cards – Just make a list of points you’d like to cover, so that you don’t say to yourself afterwards, “Oh! Damn, I should have said…” It will also give you something to talk about if there’s a gap in the conversation. The moderator of the panel (probably the host streamer) will likely also have questions for you, and they will probably give you a heads-up on what they intend to ask before the day of the panel, so you can prepare. (There might also be audience questions, so thinking about what questions someone else might ask is also a good exercise.)
- A bio. Who are you, and why are you speaking on this topic? There should be a paragraph-length version to put on the website to advertise your panel, along with a promo headshot of you (or equivalent; if you’re only ever online under your logo, your logo will be fine.) You should also have an elevator pitch prepared; that is, only one or two sentences or so: “Hi, my name is Diane Morrison, and I’m a hybrid author” (which is why I’m on the panel “Traditional vs. Indie Publishing: Contrast & Comparison”). You get the idea.
- Willingness to speak up, but also to shut up and listen – Remember that the rules of polite conversation apply. Try not to interrupt people, but if one person is dominating the discussion, don’t be afraid to throw in your two cents. The panel moderator, if they’re doing the job right, should feel comfortable with stopping someone who is stealing the show and asking the other panelists, “What do you think about this?” – but the truth is, most of the moderators are likely to be new to the job, or new to being streamers, and you may have to take matters into your own hands. And if you’re the sort who can talk forever (like me,) keep in mind that everyone else on the panel has also been invited for their expertise, and the audience would like to hear a variety of thoughts, so give others a place to speak too.
- Any visual or audio aids you’d like to include – Maybe your topic is Personal Combat in Medieval Fantasy, and you have some illustrations from your FEMA material you’d like to show. Bring it along and make sure you know how to present it on the group call platform the streamer is using, whether that’s Discord, Google Meet, Skype, Zoom, and so forth. It’s okay to ask your host streamer what software they’re going to use for this ahead of time and to familiarize yourself with the platform in advance. Be prepared to describe your visual aids if needed; not everyone will be able to see it. As a special consideration for the Twitch format, you must also be 100% sure that you have the rights to use anything that you are bringing to the table. Audio-visual aids must all be licensed by you, created by you, or public domain/copyright free. And note: because Twitch bots can be idiotic about copyright bans, a streamer who is hosting you might choose not to let you use something, even if you’ve licensed it, due to copyright concerns. Run it all by them first.
- Make sure to see Lethann’s article on the tech you’ll require. Understand that if your kids are popping in and out and directly interrupting you, they are also interrupting the rest of the panel; and that if the moderator’s voice echoes through your speakers to be picked up by your mic because you’re not wearing headphones and aren’t using your mute function, you are making it difficult for them to concentrate and maybe confusing the audience too.
- If you’re doing an #ownvoices related panel, and you are not part of the #ownvoices group, even if that’s your anthropology specialty or you have related expertise, make sure that the rest of the panel is made up of the group in question. I can tell you that as a queer woman, I am not interested in being lectured to by straight people about the LGBTQIA+ experience, for example; and surely, that makes sense.
- A willingness to answer questions from the audience. (And it’s okay to answer, “I don’t know”; better if you can add, “but I’ll look into it” or “Maybe X panelist might know more about that than I do.”)
- Promo material – We’re doing this to get ourselves out there, right? Make sure that you have a list of links handy where people can find you on the internet, and give them to the moderator/streamer ahead of time so that they can put them in the chat for you. Do not include more than three, and having only one is better. If you have something to buy (like books) try to include a buy link, or a link to find your buy link. Include your elevator pitch bio too, and maybe the host will use their bots to share it!
What You’ll Need for a Presentation:
Much of this will be the same as above, with a few key differences.
- Notes, cue cards, or even a script – With a presentation, the onus is on you to fill up at least 45 minutes with your topic, with an allowance for about 10-15 minutes for questions from the audience. Do whatever you need to do to be comfortable with what you’ve chosen. If using a script, read it through to someone, even your spouse or kids or grandma, to check a) that it is the right length, and b) that it makes sense and what you’re trying to say is clear.
- A bio – As above, except that when it’s entirely your show, your elevator pitch can be a couple of sentences. Using the example above, “Hi, I’m Diane Morrison, and I’m a hybrid author, meaning that I am both traditionally and indie-published.”
- A statement about what you’re going to do that needs to be said right after your bio. Continuing with the above example: “Today I’m going to talk about the differences and the similarities between traditional and independent publishing, and why a writer might choose one or the other. I’m going to try to show you the pros and cons of each, and at the end, I’ll open the floor to questions.”
- Video and audio aids – You’ll likely need more of these for a presentation than you will for a panel. All the same restrictions apply.
- Tech requirements – As above, only it’s more imperative that your mic is good quality and there’s no interference on your end, but less imperative that other people will echo through your speakers.
- Do NOT do an #ownvoices presentation unless you can speak as a member of that group.
- A willingness to answer questions from the audience – As above, but the onus will be on you to answer the questions, since you don’t have a panel of other people to back you up, so try to anticipate what questions might be asked. If possible, practice your presentation with some writer friends so they can help you with that.
- Promo material – As above, except include your paragraph bio and up to five internet links (but three is better and one is best.) Ideally, if you have something to sell (like books) one will be your buy link.
Once again, I’ll urge you not to self-exclude because you’re not sure you know “enough” about the topic. If you’re an indie writer and the panel is on indie writing, you know enough. If you’ve studied style and technique, or you’re working on a degree in creative writing and the panel is about the craft of writing, you know enough. If you’ve sold a book, you’re qualified to speak on selling books. Nobody says you have to be the world expert. Let the organizers worry about vetting the panel. We invite your ideas and we want YOU to participate!
As ideas for panels come in, we might also ask you if you’d like to speak on other panels that your background tells us you might be qualified for; or you might see something you want to do and volunteer. No one says you have to do more panels, and no one says you can’t, either! Volunteer for as many or as few as you like (although we may ask you to choose between options if you’re on a lot of them and other people want a turn.) If there turns out to be a scheduling conflict, we can probably shift things around a bit.
If you have a disability that might have a bearing on your ability to participate, we might be able to help, and we will certainly try. Keep in mind, though, that we are a grassroots group of volunteers, and may lack necessary resources; though we’ll be open to your ideas and suggestions. We intend to, whenever possible, close caption the panels and save the VODs where they can be accessible. Note that this may not be possible on every stream due to the limitations of the technology.