Con Panels: What Are They All About?

Chris (on right) on con panelMy convention season has started, and I’ve been busy prepping for the panels I’ll be participating in. You con newbies might be wondering “What in the Nine Hells is a panel, and what kind of prep work is required?” Let me elaborate.

The cons I attend are multi-faceted—books, gaming, media, cosplay—a little bit of everything, though each con has its own particular emphasis. One thing most have in common is a literary/writing track. The guest of honor is often a big-name writer. At Balticon this past weekend, it was Brandon Sanderson, and I have no doubt that the presence of George R.R. Martin at Con Carolinas this weekend is the reason that the con is sold out.

My panels are hour-long (usually) get-togethers of writers and readers. Though the panelists sit at a table in the front of the room, a truly successful panel depends on audience participation. Panel subjects are as diverse as titles on a library shelf. Some involve a discussion among the panelists on some aspect of writing/books/whatever, then audience questions. Others rely on a close interaction between panelists and audience to achieve the panel goal, such as creation of an alien or story plot.

The focus of the panel and my role on the panel determine how much and what kind of prep I have to do. If the focus is a discussion of a certain author’s works, then I’d better be up to date on my reading. For a science panel, I’ll do extensive internet research to ensure that I’ve got the latest info. And if I’ve been designated moderator, then I’ve got to think of interesting questions to pose to the panelists, and keep my whip close by to maintain order (just joking on that last one).

The best part of sitting on a panel is interacting with my fellow professionals and, especially, the audience. The ideas flow and the hour just flies by when you’ve got good give and take. It makes all the effort worth it.

I’ll be blogging about some of the panels I participate in this summer, and how they relate to my writing. Let’s make this like a panel itself, and everyone chime in!


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