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01 November 2011 @ 12:46 pm
Panel Moderating Styles  
1. The Ellen-Kushner Dinner Party

Ellen Kushner explained to the audience that she hopes that the audience in her panels feels like they have been sitting in on a dinner party. She wants everyone to feel equally empowered to speak, but she feels no obligation to sit back and let the other panelists do the talking. She strategizes by trying to think of fun jumping off points and sort of throws them into the mix and lets what is going to happen happen. She doesn't try to keep people from having a heated discussion. In fact, in some ways, it seemed that what she wanted was two opposing sides duking it out up on the podium. I enjoyed watching this style, but am not entirely sure that I am prepared to do it myself.

2. The Holly Black CSI

Holly actually physically moves her chair to the side of the other panelists, so that she is sitting apart from them. Visually, it looks more like she is on a game show and she is the hostess. She has a list of prepared questions, which doesn't mean she doesn't want people to veer off in interesting directions. But the overall feel I got was that she was observing everything happening, and occasionally putting a word in to tweak things in interesting ways. This was also very interesting to watch. It was like the best reality television, where there is a sense that a very creative mind is behind the scenes. It's not staged in any way, but there is a controlling power.

3. Abdicating Monarch

This is the panelist who openly admits that h/she has no idea why h/she was chosen to be moderator of the panel. This is almost the first thing that happens in the panel, the introduction and the abdication of the monarch. You can guess that what usually happens then is a free-for-all. Most often, the audience takes control, and the moderator seems relieved to have this happen. Hands are raised after the introductions, and the panel goes wherever the audience wants it to go. Sadly, unless you happen to have an extremely good audience, the questions devolved into comments by the audience about books they have read, pet hobby horses, and boring travelogues.

4. A Higher Power

The moderator in this case is a no-name author who is flanked by a big name author on the other side of the table. The moderator at first thinks that it is a huge honor to be in the presence of the other panelist, tries to do the job of moderating by asking some good questions, but in the end is overwhelmed by the sheer force of personality of the big-name panelist. If anyone asks a question, either audience or moderator, the whole panel turns to look at big name. Because big name isn't going to let anyone else answer, or if they do, woe to them because big name will make sure they regret it by laughing at their answer and humiliating them. At the end, the moderator realizes that it was not, in fact, an honor to be asked to moderate the panel. It was an initiation ceremony.

5. Shall We Dance?

The panelists have never met each other before, nor have they bothered to look up the least details on line. They don't connect in any way. Their past experiences are vastly different and even if they are trying to play nice, they are speaking at cross purposes constantly. It ends up feeling as if you are watching an awkward junior high dance where everyone stands against the wall, waiting to be asked to dance, but no one will meet anyone else's eyes, and when people think they have the courage to open their mouths, they find they are mistaken and quickly run away.

6. Comedy Central

Sometimes a panel idea is just plain stupid and the comedy central style is absolutely appropriate. Other times the moderator is simply uninterested in the actual topic of discussion and even disdainful of the other panelists. So this devolves into the moderator asking questions that are absurd and off the wall, and which no one has any idea how to answer.

7. Hijacking

When the entire panel decides that the topic or the assumptions on which the topic given is based are wrong. And they admit shortly into the discussion that they are not interested in talking about that at all. It can take some time if they haven't discussed it beforehand to settle into a related topic that interests them. Other times, the panel is up front about their nefarious plans. The panel on how to get teens to transition to adult books at World Fantasy in 2011 was like that. The panelists were all YA authors who instead wanted to get adults to start reading YA.

8. Mediation

There are two people on the panel who hate each other passionately, and they always sit on opposing sides of the panel. A reluctant moderator sits in the middle and tries, ducking head and cringing, to ask questions which won't sound like s/he is taking sides. Because then nuclear armageddon will occur.

9. Pimping Your Book

Every question asked by the moderator is, in the end, a chance for the authors to pick up the copies of their books which they have kindly brought in case the audience doesn't know who they are, and tell every detail in that book which proves a point they wish to make in response to the question. I fear that for me, this makes me think the authors are actually suffering from some extreme form of lack of self-esteem. Everyone at WFC is someone important. Carrying your book around with you like it's a blanket is rather bad form. It's trying too hard. Talk about other authors' books you love and you will seem more generous and less grasping and needy.
E Weineegatland on November 1st, 2011 08:26 pm (UTC)
the most unpleasant panel experience I ever had was when the moderator, for whatever reason, repeatedly asked everyone else on the panel except me to speak in turn and then moved on to the next question. The only way for me to express any opinion was to interrupt, which I was reluctant to do because there was one Big Name and also a Big Editor on the panel who were both comfortably holding court. I had never met the moderator before and assumed this person didn't allow me to speak not for any personal reason, but because I was unfamiliar. Both the Big Names were people I like and respect - they weren't ignoring me, they were just enjoying their own conversation. I came away with an intense dislike for the moderator which has never gone away, for no reason other than how poorly this panel was moderated.
metteharrisonmetteharrison on November 4th, 2011 03:21 pm (UTC)
I absolutely understand your reaction and really hope that I wasn't the moderator. It's hard to moderate properly and she may have thought you would just jump in if you wanted to. It's so hard to moderate properly.
E Weineegatland on November 4th, 2011 03:35 pm (UTC)
Hah! No, indeed it wasn't you (I don't think we've met!). I think there was a certain "awe factor" at play on that panel - it was a highly controversial topic, hugely attended, at a huge conference. I was certainly the lowest down the pecking order in terms of experience and name recognition. What upset me was not that I didn't get to say much, but the way the moderator asked each participant for her opinion in turn, conspicuously skipping over me. Perhaps it was an accident. It was very frustrating.

Anyway, if the moderator sets out to give everyone an equal say, he or she needs to make sure the invitation to speak goes to every panelist - thus avoiding what I call "13th Fairy Syndrome"!
(Deleted comment)
metteharrisonmetteharrison on November 4th, 2011 03:21 pm (UTC)
I think my style is somewhere between #1 and #2. With maybe some comedy thrown in and occasionally hijacking, where necessary. I think I'm not quite as likely to step in as Ellen Kushner, but less analytical than Holly Black.
massivityman on November 4th, 2011 01:30 am (UTC)
I think I've been to almost all those different kinds of panels; in the audience, of course. Should I have used a colon instead of a semi-colon? I think the only one I haven't personally witnessed was "higher power," except I sort of did but the Higher Power, Urusla K. LeGuin, was more gracious.
1strainbowrose1strainbowrose on November 4th, 2011 02:23 am (UTC)
I just wanted to pop up and say that I've seen you both sitting in on panels, and mod a couple and I don't think you're at all like 9. I've heard you talk about your own books, but everyone does, but you usually explain WHY you're using your own work (so instead of just "I did this" you also add, "and here's the logic why"). I've also seen you reference other works all the time.
metteharrisonmetteharrison on November 4th, 2011 03:22 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the reassurance. Of course, there are times when you have to talk about your own work in process because you can't talk about someone else's work in process. But this is a phobia of mine, having seen it so often.