How To Successfully Participate In A Panel Discussion


A successful panel discussion begins with the moderator. The moderator should be mindful of each person on the panel and remember everyone has something to contribute. The moderator of our panel contacted the panel members several weeks prior to the panel. He asked panelists to contribute questions for the discussion. As he was unfamiliar with my work, I sent him a copy of my book BETWEEN A CLUTCH AND A HARD PLACE.

What if you’re asked to moderate a panel? I suggest familiarizing yourself with the other panelists, finding out what they write, and asking them to help out with questions and what direction they anticipate the discussion going in. For example, I moderated two panels at the Southern Publishers & Writers Expo. One was on crafting nonfiction. I worked up a list of questions and, closer to the Expo, I submitted the questions to the panelists to see if they had additional areas they’d like covered during the discussion.

Be sure to leave time for questions from the audience. Some of the most probing, informative questions (and subsequent answers) were generated by audience members; and they were questions none of the writers would’ve thought to ask. For example, one of the audience members asked if any of us had been contacted by law enforcement agencies because we have accessed potentially harmful information. All the writers said “no” but I added that I’d undergone an FBI background check when I attended the forensics and biometrics fellowship at West Virginia University. I also related the story about how I’d called the FBI when I was writing the novella WHEN DARKNESS FALLS to ask how a body that had been frozen would look. The FBI referred me to a pathologist who said mine was the SECOND strangest question she’d ever received. (No, she wouldn’t tell me Number One.)


If you’re familiar with BETWEEN A CLUTCH AND A HARD PLACE, you know it’s a comedic mystery. However, the panel was on technology in mysteries. When I was introduced, the moderator mentioned the technology in my book was via the heroine’s granddaughter who helped out using computer technology. “CLUTCH” has very little technology in the plot. In fact, the story probably uses less technology than anything I’ve ever written. Upon being introduced, each author was given an opportunity to tell a little about him/herself. I explained that I also do freelance writing, that most of my technology experience is derived from researching nonfiction articles, and that my articles have appeared in LAW AND ORDER MAGAZINE and P.I. MAGAZINE.


You’ll probably find your fellow panelists fascinating. I did. Our panel included a forensic psychologist and an author who restores classic Rolls Royces (so does her protagonist). Don’t be afraid to lend them your support. This is a wonderful opportunity to network, exchange information, and learn. Whatever you do, don’t monopolize the discussion and ostracize your fellow panelists.

This is a terrific opportunity to promote your work. As a show of support, mystery-writing team Jim and Joyce Lavene attended my panel. (Jim and Joyce are lovely people. Check out their books at After the panel discussion, Joyce came up to me and told me what a good job I’d done. She said, “You’re the only one who used every answer to promote something you’ve written.”

For example, I mentioned that I have a book called DEADLY DOSES: THE WRITERS GUIDE TO POISONS (Serita Deborah Stevens with Anne Klarner, Writers Digest Books)that I used to research sarin, a poison used in WHEN DARKNESS FALLS. I did add that heaven forbid anyone I even remotely know should ever die from some kind of poisoning! My fellow panelist Judith Skillings said, “If they do, burn the book! Burn the book!” 🙂

While it can be intimidating to sit on a panel and look out upon a sea of mostly unfamiliar faces, take comfort in the fact that you aren’t alone. If you haven’t spoken before an audience very many times, this is an excellent way to learn from other professionals and to gain valuable speaking experience.