Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Moderating Panels?

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As always, I'm on the road again.  Since I don't have the time to write anything substantial, I thought that instead I'd ask a question.

Last weekend, I was at a convention and showed up for a panel to discover that, without being told, I'd been made the moderator.  The woman assigned the role told the con committee she wouldn't do it and then printed out the email from them saying they'd shifted off the responsibility to me. 

Without telling me, of course.

Well, that's par for the course.  But when I fired up the discussion, five seconds later, I had a panel consisting of myself, two Big Name People who were self-evidently qualified to discuss the topic, and two new writers who quite understandably were reluctant to inject themselves into the conversation.

Here's the question:  Given two people who were obviously smart but of whose work I knew nothing... what ought I have done to involve them in the panel?  Half the questions I lobbed their way were useless because they presupposed knowledge they didn't have.  I was in their situation back in the day, so I know that they had contributions to make, and when they did speak up what they said was interesting and to the point.  But mostly they were silent.

So what should I have done?  What could I have done?  What might I do when I find myself in this situation in the future?

Your ideas would be welcome.

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5 comments:

Fran Wilde said...

That's a tough situation to find yourself in with no warning! It sounds like you did a great job in the situation. (One of our panel moderators didn't show up either, but it panned out well because all five panelists were or had been teachers at some point.)

My only idea (YMMV) would be to ask participants to each pose a question to the panel, and then, after discussion faded, to give them each a follow up question on the topic they opened with. That could loop in the quieter folks.

Victoria Janssen said...

I sometimes periodically "check in" with the quiet folks - "Did you any further comment on [thing being discussed], pro or con?" Sometimes they don't have anything to add, and that's okay; sometimes they do.

wayne zimmerman said...

I had a variation of this happen at a Philcon panel I participated in this week-end past - the first for sunday morning. Instead of five panelists, we ended up with two, and I sort of took over as moderator by default.

Mostly it was a matter of coming up with interesting questions as opposed to being answer man, and we somehow managed to sustain a decent round robin discussion for the hour.

Wayne Z

HANNAH'S DAD said...

Hmphh. Spam at #2 from "John".

Michael Swanwick said...

Not the first time that's happened, and I've made it go away. But, yeah, it's annoying.