6 Steps To Prep As A Convention Panelist

If you’ve ever attended a convention, being on panels can be a completely different experience. While I’ve talked before about what a convention panel is, what cons are looking for in a panelist, and how to be a good moderator, I realized, I’ve skipped a stage! Here’s what I do to get ready.

Note: This is aimed at fandom conventions, rather than professional conferences, but many of these tips work for both.

1. Ask to be on panels

If there is a convention you’re interested in paneling at, you can often fill out a form or email programming and offer your services! They usually look 6-9 months out, but some start looking a year out, and some, just a few weeks. It depends on the size and the level of guests.

Asking is never a guarantee, but it’s a great way to get your foot in the door.

Some conventions expect panelists to pay to attend, some give you a discount, and some will waive your admission fee. Guests of Honor get more expenses covered, but not always all of them.

2. Fill out the survey

Be open about the sorts of panels or workshops you’d like to run. Sure, there are plenty of panels you may have seen before that you know you’d be a good fit for — but conventions are always looking for fresh panel ideas to mix in with the evergreen content.

3. Emails!

You should get a confirmation email at least a month out from the con. Schedules are always in flux, but most have draft schedules out 2-6 weeks in advance.

Many conventions will let you know in advance who will be the moderator. If so, they will often share (with permission) the emails of your fellow panelists. Most moderators will email with an introduction, a few bullet points they plan to cover, and ask if there are any points the other panelists wish to include or avoid.

If you’re not the moderator, be ready for this email and respond promptly, even if it’s just with a ‘looks good. Looking forward to meeting you.’

4. Prep Content

There are a few different approaches to prepping content for a panel. I find the approaches map pretty well to the 3 styles of writers.

  • Planner – Writes out pages of talking points, authors to recommend, and any technical details they want to suggest.
  • Plantser – Tosses a few bullet points and maybe a book title or 2 onto a page.
  • Pantser – Flies by the seat of their pants and wings it! No notes, just smiles.

5. Bring Supplies

Obviously, your prep style influences which of these you need. But here are a few suggestions.

  • Notebook – useful for jotting down clever suggestions from the other panelists, or any comments you think of that you don’t want to forget while waiting for your turn to speak.
  • Water – some cons have pitchers and cups for presenters, others cons, you should bring your own water bottle
  • Clothing – remember people will be sitting, facing you. Make sure whatever you wear when sitting down only shows what you want to be seen.
  • Business cards – self-explanatory
  • Books – Not all cons do this, but many let authors put 1-3 of their books in front of them
  • Name Card – Most conventions give you a name card to prop in front of you, so the audience members know who is who
  • Masks – some cons require them. Some, you can take these off while on a panel. Or, you can get/bring a clear mask for better access for lipreaders.

6. Be on time

When you get to the convention, there is often a different line for panelists to get their badges, but don’t expect it to instantaneous. Leave plenty of time before your first panel to get your badge and scope out where your panel(s) are.

Most conventions provide a name card for you to prop in front of you at panels. Remember to bring it with you from panel to panel. If you lose it, you can usually swing by Operations — Ops — to get a new one printed. You may also get a printout of your schedule, but more and more are going paperless.

Try to get to your panel at least 10 minutes early, although accessibility or back-to-back panels can make that challenging. Select your chair, get your water, and introduce yourself to your fellow panelists (getting pronunciation and pronouns out of the way)

If the panel is online, the same rules apply. Make sure you can access the convention login space ahead of time. Arrive 10 minutes early to test your video and audio, (and, so the staff knows you have the correct links).

Then it’s go time!

Are you interested in becoming a panelist?
Are you an experienced panelist? Tell me about your favorite panel — and any prep steps you take that I missed!

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