Everything You Need To Know About Convention Panels

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you probably know that I share a lot of notes from “panels”.

If you’ve never been to a convention, you may be unfamiliar with panels. If you’ve only been to corporate/work conventions, you might look at them as torturous boredom. Or, at the very least, strictly educational.

At their most basic: panels are simply several people, sitting at table, facing an audience, sharing their thoughts on a subject.

Typically, these individuals are what’s referred to in the DC metro area at least as “SMEs” – subject-matter experts.

And, quite often, these panels have one of the panelists acting as a moderator. A good moderator asks the panel questions, makes sure everyone on the panel is heard, tries to keep any debate lively without getting too personal, accepts the questions from the audience, and does their best to help with crowd control.

A typical con panel is 50 minutes, with the first 30-40 minutes being for the panelists to talk amongst themselves about the subject, and the last 10-20 minutes being for Q&A. With a brief introduction at the beginning, and a minute or so for closing thoughts and self-promotion at the end.

Now, panels aren’t the only things to attend at a convention, there are workshops, dances, book-readings, concerts, parties, and more. In fact, before I got so involved in my writing journey, I had attended a bunch of conventions and maybe 2 panels. These days? It’s a weird weekend if I attend fewer than 20.

Never fear, you can be a writer or a fan without ever attending a convention. Although, that’s partially why I like to share my notes, so that those who can’t, or don’t attend panels still have access to the nuggets of information I try to glean from the experts.

But, should you ever attend a convention, I want to set you up for success — so you’re seen as an excellent audience member and not someone to avoid.

4 Things Not To Do During The Q&A Period

  1. “This is more of a statement than a question…”

    If you attend panels, if you’re on panels, you will hear this phrase. A LOT.

    I know that there are plenty of bright, intelligent people in the audience, I know many of them would have made excellent panelists themselves, and many ARE actually on other panels. BUT. Unless you are on this panel, this is neither the time, nor the place to insert your own opinion on the subject.

    Save it for twitter. Or facebook. Or your friends — after the panel. You will not impress the panelists, you will not impress the audience. You will, however, trigger a massive eye roll, and a lot of tuning out.
  2. Providing tons of background for your question

    Especially in writing panels and gaming panels, audience members will want to provide background for precisely why they’re asking this question, in the hopes that they will get a tailormade answer. And because they’re just plain excited about their world and their story and… everything.

    It’s fine to give a little context, but no more than 20 seconds. I’ve listened to audience members who took up to 5 minutes to get to the question portion of their statement. Most moderators aren’t going to let you get that far.

    When you take that long, you’re taking time away from the panelists answers, and keeping other people from asking their questions. (And sometimes? It comes across like you’re stealing the time to market your own stuff, which is exceedingly rude.) If you know you have trouble getting to your question within 30 seconds, work with a friend in advance to rephrase until you can. Or, take it off-line, talk to them after the panel or at their table.

    Caveat: People at merchandise tables are NOT your audience, they are trying to sell their own merchandise and it is incredibly rude to scare away potential sales by dominating their attention.
  3. Off-topic Questions

    The panelists are prepared to speak on the subject described in the program. The other audience members are there to hear the panelists talk about the subject described in the program.

    If you have a specific question, that is unrelated to the panel, ask it after the panel.
  4. Asking tons of questions

    If no one else is asking, feel free, but don’t monopolize the Q&A period. Ask one, then give other people a chance to ask theirs — they’re paying as much to attend as you are and deserve the chance just as much. Only, if no one else has questions, should you go for a second question.

All that said, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask for recommendations, or a panelist to speak more on something they hinted at.

For some shameless name dropping here, I once attended a panel with the ever-famous George RR Martin on it, and, once the panel opened to questions, I asked a question addressing what I *thought* the panel had said it was going to be on in the first place. (Martin complimented my question, but the moderator actually answered my question the best…)

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, if the Corona-virus permits, I’m actually signed up to be a panelist at three cons this spring and summer. Hopefully, I’ll be as good behind the table and I try to be in the audience.


Have you attended con panels? Are there any tips or tricks I missed?

3 thoughts on “Everything You Need To Know About Convention Panels

    • Attending cons is definitely something not all writers do. And I think I fill my time with panels so I don’t feel all awkward not knowing so many people, so I can feel productive at least. 🙂

      And I’m sure you wouldn’t have been one of the listed questioners in the first place.

      Like

  1. Pingback: Writing In The Time of Covid-19 | Morgan Hazelwood: Writer In Progress

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