I’ve learned from personal experience that successful workshops just don’t happen on their own. They require lots of work from the presenter. I’ve taken plenty of workshops at various conferences (and continue to do so). Also I’ve given a number of these workshops. While I may teach on similar topics at different places, I make a point to rework my handouts (revising and adding new information) plus I rework my presentation and add new bits of publishing news or current events. Each time I have the goal that my workshop will be the best presentation of the conference (whatever conference).
Admittedly it takes effort to pull off such a high goal. In the rush of life, it’s easier to dust off the old notes and teach a new crowd but in my years of putting together workshops, I don’t fall into that trap (if I can avoid it). It takes a lot of effort—and most of it the participant never sees. For example, I’ve attended a number of workshops where there are no handouts. I may or may not use all of the content of my handout—but I certainly give someone a document to take home and use to learn more material.
Several weeks ago I was asked to moderate a panel for next year’s American Society of Journalists and Authors conference in New York City. While the event will not be held until April 29, 2006 and sounds a long ways off, it’s not in terms of the publicity effort. The conference deadline for organizing the panel and getting the participants is next week. I proposed a couple of workshops for this conference—but they were not selected. It proves every idea you have as a writer or editor is not taken. I’m moderating a workshop on contracts. They gave me the title of Contracts 101 but how that hour is shaped, it mostly up to the moderator. The moderator has the opportunity to determine the content and who will be invited to speak. Every conference is different but for this particular conference, it includes a moderator (who is a member of ASJA) along with a participant who is a member of ASJA. There are usually only four speakers because if you try and do more, then no one gets to say much of anything. The math is pretty easy to figure out. The moderator introduces the topic (five minutes or less), then each speaker gets 10–12 minutes to speak. As the moderator, I’m going to ask each participant specific questions (more than they can cover in their time) but it will help them focus their time and not conflict or overlap with others on the same panel. You can see there is a bit of creating that goes into organizing and putting together an excellent panel. The remaining time for the hour is consumed fielding questions from the audience.
Because my topic for this workshop is contracts, I turned to my friend and fellow ASJA member Sallie Randolph who has a new book out called Author Law A To Z (which I haven’t seen yet but I know I can recommend). Sallie and I talked about the topic of contracts and how they are often seen from different views. Can this perspective be captured in a panel discussion? I believe it will make for interesting information and insight for the audience. While I haven’t found all four of my participants, I have issued invitations to the four members of the panel. I’m attempting to get four lawyers who are experts in contract law. I’ve got an agent lawyer. I’m trying to get an attorney who represents publishers in legal matters. Plus I’m attempting to get a high profile copyright attorney. The challenge is getting these panelists to commit to an event next spring. Yes occasionally I’ve had a panelist drop out and I needed to find a last minute replacement. If the panel is done well, the audience will never think about this behind-the-scenes work that transpires. Yet it does and it’s part of the writing life.
Later this month, I’ll be leading a few workshops at the Glorieta Christian Writers Conference including one on understanding and negotiating contracts. I’ll be without my four lawyers for the hour but hopefully will give some solid help. I take the responsibility of teaching these workshops with great seriousness. I’ve been in workshops as a participant/ listener when it feels like the presenter just walked in totally unprepared and rambled for the hour. It’s definitely not the way I will be doing it later this month.