VODKA O’CLOCK 1533
PROBLEMS WITH PANELS!
AMBER LOVE 03-AUG-2015 This is a video episode of Vodka O’Clock and it’s a solo show. Please enjoy my 13 TIPS FOR RUNNING PANELS at conventions. I used several specific cases to point out things to bear in mind when you are the convention organizer (program director), panel moderator, panelist, or member of the audience.
1. Inappropriate moderator or panelists.
Examples: all-male panels for feminist issues; discussing characters who are minorities and not having representative panels; moderator or panelist(s) who are known to be a concern for the topic.
2. Too many panelists.
Having too many panelists causes a few problems. Not everyone will get sufficient opportunities to speak. There may not be enough microphones, chairs, or space at the table.
3. People hog the microphone.
Some people don’t realize they are taking up much more time than other speakers. Also, the moderators need to keep themselves in check and not derail from hearing the panelists. The moderator has a tough job and it needs to be someone carefully selected to do it.
4. Moderator kills the mood.
As was the case at GenCon (as several eyewitnesses reported to The Mary Sue), the moderator immediately set an unwelcoming and unfriendly mood. It’s a convention. People need to feel welcome and safe.
5. Derailing the topic.
It’s easy and quite common for speakers to derail the conversation. It can be the moderator, the panelists, and even the fans in the audience. Part of this could be caused by poor descriptions or explanations about what it’s supposed to be. More likely, it’s just someone taking the topic off course and capitalizing on the opportunity to be at a mic.
6. No time for questions.
Time management is one of the hardest jobs for moderators. Some panels are actually planned to be mostly questions like at “Creator Spotlight” panels. It’s a rare chance for fans to get to ask something to someone in the industry. But more often, panels are several people on the panel and one moderator. Time can easily be chewed up by long personal anecdotes or even angry tirades.
7. Fans are impolite.
If you’re a fan in the audience, this might be the only chance you have to talk to these people in the industry. Do you want to use that opportunity to complain about how some creator (on a temporary run) ruined your childhood or do you want to use the time for something productive? Also, even when you have the best intentions, the way a question is worded can come out like you have people on trial. Plus, there are fans at every show that get to the mic and have two-part (or more) questions which prohibits the rest of the line from having their chance to ask something.
If what you really want to discuss is a problem with the panel or the content – nothing can be done anyway. That’s a big huge issue you need to point out to the convention program director or the manager. It’s great to have the time to say something was inappropriate or disappointing. I’m not saying don’t give your opinion at all; but, consider thinking of ways to word your commentÂ so that you aren’t automatically making the moderator and panelists equally as defensive and angry. Instead of, “Why is this an all-male panel talking about women?” maybe some other wording would keep the peace and also get you an answer, like, “When you agreed to be on this panel, did you know no women were on it?”
8. Moderator can’t do their job.
If the moderator was chosen appropriately for the theme, then they deserve respect from the panelists and the audience. It’s not an easy job. I’ve seen panels where the moderator opened the room with introductions and then panelists were the ones to basically take over like it was all about them. Let the moderator keep things going for the topic and watch their queuesÂ for when they need to cut you off so other people have time. That goes for panelists and audience members.
9. Blindsiding the guests.
At GenCon, the guest creators had agreed to be on a certain number of panels as part of their deal to be hired as featured guests. They weren’t necessarily told what the panels were. This is a terrible practice! Not only should they know the topics, but they should also be informed of who else was contacted to be on that panel in case people have issues with each other. Your moderators also need to know the topic well beforehand, otherwise, how are they supposed to come up with questions or introductions?
10. Room problems.
I’m sure the list of examples I came up with regarding room problems could be expanded. Some of the things I’ve seen are:
- People can’t find the rooms because the room was changed or the map is unclear.
- No air conditioning or heat.
- The room is too small and not everyone is allowed in because of occupancy requirements. Also, when the room is large, there should be volunteers to show people to the random empty seats so they don’t feel as though they have to standing in the back. This would also help with the many cases where I saw audience members being assholes and putting their bags on seats when people were standing and could’ve really used the chairs.
- Bad audio setups. Rooms next to each other aren’t balanced so one room drowns out another. Also, not having enough mics for all the panelists or having a mic for the Q&A at the end.
- Not enough space at the table because you invited too many panelists.
11. Handicap accessibility.
Despite ADA laws, crowded spaces are still quite challenging for people with disabilities who use wheelchairs or scooters. Do as much as you can to make their stay at the con the best it can be. Make sure the panel rooms are accessible and that elevators and restrooms are easy to find. Make sure everything like accessible entry/exit points are marked on your map (at FlameCon, this was a problem). Old buildings may have great atmosphere, but chances are, they will create problems for some of your guests. Besides mobility issues, if the panel is in a large room, have video projection so people can see. I saw several tweets about GenCon having mobility access issues. There has to be a way to make this easier.
12. Panel titles need to make sense.
Too many panels are victims of bad titles. The title needs to be appropriate, clear for its own theme, and not sound like another panel. “Women in ___” needs to die. Not only is it a problem if women/NBs aren’t included in regular panels with men, but the title is misleading. Do you mean “Current Female Creators” or “the Women who Pioneered the Industry” or “Female Characters“? Using the generic “women in whatever” is an awful practice. I also went into detail about a NYCC panel where the title made no sense whatsoever and it ended up being about feminism, but you’d never know it by the name of it. You’re not being clever or mysterious. You’re making it confusing by using unclear titles.
13. Deciding beforehand the age appropriateness.
There are a lot of kids’ panels at big shows. There are also panels on bullying, harassment, sexual violence, or other sensitive subjects. Some of those could be taught to kids at their level; but if it’s for adults, make sure it’s specified to the panelists before they agree and that the program guide explains the audience maturity suggestion.
I’m sure you can come up with another dozen things that you’ve seen go wrong with convention panels. If you chime in at the comments section and there’s enough ideas, maybe I can make a Part Two for this topic.