This weekend, for the first time in years, I made it to both days of the Texas Book Festival. And I attended with a very specific goal: to observe what worked (and what didn’t) for authors with an opportunity to connect in person with their audience during readings, presentations, and panel discussions.

In other words, how did authors seem to help their cause — getting readers and book buyers to want to spend more time with them — and what might they have done differently?

In brief, here’s what I’ve culled from my notes, all of which I will certainly memorize and faultlessly execute (or avoid) when my time on stage comes:

What Worked:

  • Being gracious to the person that introduced you.
  • Speaking plainly, even bluntly, but also thoughtfully and enthusiastically.
  • Giving the audience an opportunity to feel smart by asking questions that someone in the crowd is going to have an answer to.
  • Being willing to risk appearing ridiculous.
  • Smiling, laughing, and generally appearing animated, engaged, and self-effacing.
  • Making eye contact with the audience — especially with the specific audience member whose question you’re answering.
  • Using less than your allotted time.
  • Being attentive to your co-panelists while they’re speaking.
  • Having interesting anecdotes and turns of phrase at the ready.
  • Sharing something with the audience that they didn’t already know.
  • Being playful and self-aware when plugging your book.
  • Addressing both the audience and your moderator/co-panelists when answering a question.
  • Explaining without condescending.
  • Allying yourself with your audience.
  • When given the opportunity to talk about your own work, starting off by promoting someone else’s.

What Didn’t:

  • Fighting a long, losing battle with a slide presentation that has decided to advance of its own accord, rather than handing the remote off to someone else and staying focused on your audience.
  • Reading your own author credit (“by My Name Here“) aloud.
  • Dropping a well-known name — and then emphasizing your intimacy with that person (and the audience’s lack of it).
  • Commandeering a panel by taking up more than your share of the session’s time or the audience’s attention.
  • Having a side conversation while another panelist or the moderator is speaking.
  • Answering a question other than the one that was asked — without acknowledging that you aren’t answering the actual question.
  • Making a speech during a panel discussion.
  • Popping the top of a soda can while a co-panelist is responding to a question — especially when your microphone is on.