Thoughts on Convention Panels

Before I get into this, I want to say up front that I truly appreciate the people who volunteer their time and energy putting conventions together. A con takes a tremendous amount of work, pretty much all of which is done entirely for the love. While I sometimes gripe about disorganization or other issues, I want to recognize and thank everyone who commits huge chunks of their lives to making these events happen.

And now, on to Jim’s random thoughts…

Authors have egos. Big egos. I mean, we expect people to pay money for the privilege of reading our awesome words! Now, some authors are better at managing the ego than others. In a perfect world, we would be able to measure this and create ego-balanced panels. (“Please place your hand on the pad, Mister Hines. Hm … looks like you have an ego score of 108 milli-Sheens.”)

In the real world, you’re going to get the occasional ego clash. While these can be exciting in a “Look at the shiny exploding train wreck” kind of way, it’s not a lot of fun for those on the train. So if the experienced con staff says not to put Person A on a panel with Person B, please listen.

8 people is too many. 7 people is also too many. In general, so is 6, if you’re talking about a one-hour panel. Personally, I think 5 should be the limit in most cases. Anything more and someone ends up getting shut out, or everyone’s competing to try to be heard, and it just becomes a lot less fun for the panelists. Probably for the audience too.

Pay attention to balance. Look, if I do three panels in a weekend, I will notice that you only put a single female panelists on two of my panels, and none on the third. Sure, maybe this was yet another statistical fluke, but maybe not. (Also, the first person to cry “Quotas!” gets a goblin kick to the giblets.)

Don’t be sexist. On a related note, if there’s only one woman on a panel, then maybe you shouldn’t be constantly interrupting or talking over her. Especially when she’s better qualified than you are to talk about the topic at hand. I’m sure this is rarely a deliberate or conscious attempt to silence women, but it still comes off as dickish. (And yes, interrupting and talking over people in general is also rather dickish. Only doing it to women? Sexist and dickish.)

Moderators are important. Please designate them beforehand.

If you’re moderating a panel:

  • Please make sure everyone on the panel gets the chance to speak. Authors have egos, but many of us are also rather introverted and hesitant to jump in.
  • Please do not check in with your two friends, then ignore the other panelists.
  • Please be willing to shut down the audience member who spends five minutes telling stories about the story he’s writing about a steampunk elf/puma warrior that was rejected by Publisher X after three years, thus proving that all publishers are corrupt thieves.

A quick self-promotional bit is fine at the start of the panel and maybe at the end. But unless the name of the panel is “[YOUR NAME] And His/Her Awesome Book of Awesomeness!” please don’t spend the entire time talking about your book. Also, hold on a sec … I have to go send a panel suggestion in to ConFusion.

But I want to SELL ALL THE BOOKS! As opposed to the rest of the panelists, who are only doing this for the groupies? Well, in my experience, being interesting, being funny, and contributing to the discussion results in far more audience members remembering your name and seeking out your work than obnoxiously working your stuff into every single thing you say during the panel.

Watch the time. If you’re on a panel, please try to finish on time. Better yet, wrap up a few minutes early so there’s time to chat with folks afterward and the next panel can move in and set up.

Guests of Honor should generally have more than one panel. I’m just saying…