I recently realized I dropped the ball and forgot to put in to speak at a local convention. Since a lot of my friends would be there, I decided to bar-con for a night to at least say hello. (For those who don’t know the term, bar-con refers to going to a convention hotel and hanging out in the bar because your sole purpose in attending is to visit with people.) Because my girlfriend and I are rebels, we snuck into a couple panels anyway. (I know…I know… but it was for science! Er….for here at least.)
Speaking at panels is part of the things-one-should-do-as-an-author, and I don’t get the chance to attend many as an audience member. And generally the ones I do attend are really solidly run, so there isn’t a lot of advice to give.
This time, however, there was a doozy. It was similar in nature to a panel my friend and I wanted to run at a previous con (hence our interest). Now, there were a lot of things that we would have just straight up done differently in an effort to be more entertaining, but as entertainment isn’t always the point of a panel, I’m just going to shoot with straight stuff that fits everything. (I don’t want to throw panelists under the bus, so panel content and such will be avoided.)
- Be ready to go. I don’t care if the preparation takes place in the fifteen minutes between panels, but be ready to speak on the topic you’re presenting. The first 5-10 minutes of this panel was the speakers trying to sort out their shit. Not cool.
- If you (assuming a small panel or that “you” are the moderator) aren’t good at winging it, have a damn plan. You have roughly a 1 hour block for a panel. While there are usually some questions and such, know what to talk about for the entire time. (I will admit, I once did a solo panel where I thought I had material for the hour and I only had material for about 20 minutes. Don’t do that.)
- If it’s a discussion panel (where you’re talking to the audience), expect them to throw you. In this particular case, an audience member asked a question specific to their situation, but that would apply to a lot of people. The panelists had no clue what to do with it. It stalled the panel for another ten to fifteen minutes.
- If you are not good at speaking clearly so a large room can hear you (ie–a mumbler, very quiet, etc — I’m not even talking about discomfort, just your presentation voice) either request a microphone (or bring one of your own) or plan to handle some other part of the presentation while your partner (or other panelists) does most of the talking. There were other delays because people in the front two rows couldn’t hear one of the speakers.
- Lastly, make sure your panel description matches your panel. The one we attended wasn’t the only example of this problem within the few hours I was “at” the con. We met a very flustered guy at the bar who thought he was going to a “how to advance your career” panel when it was, in fact, about BDSM–because the title of the panel could have gone either way (or other ways.)
In short, when planning and presenting a panel at a convention, be prepared. In every single way that you can be.
Or just be an amazing speaker who can step up in front of anywhere from 5 to 100 people and just start providing content while simultaneously being interesting and entertaining enough to keep all of them in their seats for an hour.
Hint: Option 2 doesn’t work for most people.