Lessons from moderating panels

Matthew Arnold Stern
4 min readDec 4, 2022
Loscon panel about finding the writer’s voice.

Loscon 48 writing panel with (L-R) Elizabeth Crowens, Steven Barnes, myself, Robert Mitchell Evans, Wendy Van Camp, and Charles Lee Jackson II

Moderating a panel discussion requires preparation, good listening skills, and engagement with the panelists and the audience. You must give all the panelists a chance to participate, let them speak freely, but also make sure discussions don’t drag on so long they lose audience interest. When the allotted time is over (which comes way too soon), everyone learns something new. That includes me as the moderator.

I recently moderated two writing panels at Loscon, a science fiction/fantasy convention in Los Angeles. I got the opportunity thanks to Wendy Van Camp, who I worked with at Indie Author Day in Anaheim. (This is the danger of doing a good job. You get asked to do more stuff.) Both panels featured accomplished writers with great insights they gained from their experience. My first, “Goal Setting for Writers,” was with Denise Dumars, David Avallone, Anne Toole, and Wendy Van Camp. Wendy was also on my second panel, “Finding Your Own Voice,” along with Charles Lee Jackson II, Steven Barnes, Robert Mitchell Evans, and Elizabeth Crowens.

We covered so many useful topics on these panels, it’s hard to describe them all. I picked a few key ones from each panel I feel are especially helpful.

Achieving goals through accountability

As I was preparing for the “Goal Setting for Writers” panel, I came across this TikTok video by Margarita Artista about her writing goals.

This video beautifully shows the goal-setting process and how it inspires. Listen to her enthusiasm grow as she spells out her goals! What will help her achieve those goals is her plan to use social media to keep herself accountable.

Our panel also emphasized the importance of accountability. This is especially important when working in a team. A writer of graphic novels said, “If I don’t write, people don’t get paid.” If we know someone depends on us to meet our goals, we are more likely to fulfill them.

We need to be careful about who we include on our team. One panelist had a partner flake out on them. That’s when we can develop contingency plans if we hit any…

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Matthew Arnold Stern

A novelist and award-winning public speaker and technical writer. My novels Amiga and The Remainders are available now.