Thursday, January 19, 2012

Preparing for Convention Panels

So hey! I'm going to CapriCon next month; it'll be February 9th through the 12th. As of today the program is not up on the website, but I've received my preliminary schedule and it is AWESOME. And also a doozy. I'm not going to post my schedule until it's finalized, but it's an exciting one that includes a turn at moderating, appearing on several other panels, and doing a reading.

I like to be really prepared for panels. Not only do I hate not knowing what to say, I also do not want to be boring. The truth is that I've sat in the audience for many disappointing panels at conventions. I've seen ones where no one knew who the moderator was supposed to be, and that meant not much thought had gone into the questions asked by the insta-moderator brave enough to step in. I've seen ones where the people on the panel didn't have much to say about the topic, or what they did have to say didn't come out in a particularly animated manner. Most people I know who go on panels are anywhere from perfectly fine to absolutely brilliant, because, well, I'm not drawn to dull people. But there's always room to grow, right? Since I'm probably not the only writer in the world who's deathly afraid of room-wide silences, I'm posting some of the pre-panel things I do in the hope that they'll be useful for y'all.

So! What do I do to get myself ready to speak on a topic in public with other people who may know anywhere from nothing about it to practically everything about it? Here's a list.

1. First of all, I assess what I know about the topic. I don't tend to offer up my public-opinionating services for topics about which I know absolutely nothing, but sometimes I don't know as much as I'd like to know, and that means it's time to do some homework.

2. I do some basic internet research to find out more about the people who will be on the panel with me and what they might know about the topic. I also try to familiarize myself with the main concerns within the topic and look for things I can read about it that I haven't read before.

3. I look at how much time I have before the panel and choose which things I have time to read before it's showtime, and take lots of notes as I read them.

4. I think like a moderator and make a list of questions about the topic that I may or may not need to use, as well as thinking about my opinions on those, so that: a) I'll have things to say, and b) I could act as a moderator in case of an emergency. This is not so that I can try to dominate the panel and make it all about me; seriously, I just don't want to sit up there going, "Ummm, I don't really have an opinion about that..." while the audience stares and fidgets.

The great thing about doing this kind of preparation is that is cuts way back on my nervousness and allows me to be relatively comfortable and creative while I'm up there on display. I do a bigger version of this preparation when I'm the official moderator, since I want to be absolutely certain that there will be many questions for me to ask the panelists.

I would love to hear your opinions about convention panels, and anything you've done to prepare for them if you've been on them! Have I been missing something? I mean, other than having a beer before it starts.


  1. Try again:

    I agree on the preparation. I put together questions, and a brief intro targeted to the topic of the panel - the 'why me specifically' version.

    The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is fabulous for panel prep:

    As is TV Tropes, but make sure you have back-up to pull you out after a predetermined time.

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