Okay, this is the second part of the basics’ ‘mini series’ of sorts. This article will go over the more finer points of paneling.
Solo vs. Group Presentation
You can do a panel either by yourself or with a group of people, don’t let people tell you have to do it one way or the other. You don’t have to present in a group unless you want to, & you don’t have to present by yourself if you’re more comfortable having someone else help you with your presentation, it all depends on what you want. I prefer to present by myself, but that doesn’t mean anyone else has to, and it doesn’t necessarily make your panel submission seem anymore viable of an idea than having a group of ppl. presenting. Ultimately, some ideas may work out better one way or the other, but that’s on you to decide whether this is the case.
Take Copious Notes
During the whole research phase of your panel, take copious notes of all the research you do. In addition to this, also have it in a Microsoft Word document or equivalent so you can always refer back to them. You may also want to use your notes to read off for your presentation, either way, have notes for every panel you do. If nothing else, this can be what you post online for ppl. to look back to if they want to see the information you go over in your panel. Lastly, this makes it easier to populate your presentation with text because you can simply copy & paste from your notes to your visual aide (PowerPoint, etc.) & edit it to look nice later.
Besides keeping copious notes about any topic, also have records of everything you do during the panel process. Some examples for things I keep records on:
- Panel ideas
- Cons you’ve submitted panels to/what panel you submitted to which con
- List dedicated to accepted panels & what cons hosted them (also, what day it was held & what room you were in)
- Feedback for individual panels/list of future improvements
- Reference list/bibliography
This way, you have records of everything you’re doing, and you can easily look up what cons you’ve presented at & what panels you’ve presented.
Always keep a list of references you used during the course of researching for your panel (here’s an example of mine). If so inclined, you can even do a full-fledged bibliography using MLA format, but really the point is to have a list of things you used for your research so if anybody challenges you, you can literally refer back to your references and make the statement that, essentially, ‘if you have a problem with what I’m saying, take it up with the experts who said exactly what I’m saying now.’ Also, this way people can have access to the info. covered in your panel without having to post your actual presentation.
Having Panel Info. Available Online
Usually people are going to ask you if you have the info. covered in your panel available outside of the panel presentation, so prepare for this. Whether you make your notes available online, post the entire presentation on your blog, or e-mail your presentation to those that ask, or have handouts, make sure you have a way to deal with this. Just saying, nothing like sitting through an info. heavy panel & there’s no way to access the info. outside the panel ‘cause the panelist neglected to mention that they aren’t posting the presentation online anywhere nor will they post any tidbit of info. covered anywhere online either. Lastly, tell your audience from the get-go whether or not you’ll have your presentation available online or not. This way, you don’t have people trying to hurriedly take notes as you go through your panel, when in fact you’ll be posting it on your blog. Likewise, tell your audience if you aren’t so they can prepare to take notes, & go slow enough so they can take notes. Honestly, it’s easier to have your info. available in some format online because you may not have the time to go slow enough for ppl. to take notes.
RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH
Always do a lot of research for whatever panel topic you’re presenting on! When I say a lot of research, I mean almost on the level on the amount of research you would do for a college Senior thesis. The less you know about the topic the more you will have to do. Wikipedia isn’t good enough. Although it’s a great starting point & can point you in the right direction, it shouldn’t be the only source you have. It may be a case-by-case thing as to how acceptable it is from topic to topic, but a good Wikipedia article will have links to its resources, which you can use for your resources. Similarly, TvTropes.org is not the only resource out there but can point you in the right direction. You need to be prepared to do Academic level research for any panel topic, even if it’s a personal opinion piece like my ‘Obscure J-RPGs You Should Play’ panel, just so you have that safety net of knowing everything there is to know about the topic & to further familiarize yourself. Besides, it can never hurt to know too much about a topic >.>
Having Personas/Stage Names for Panels
If you decide to do this, I strongly suggest doing so by your first panel & committing to it. This makes it easier to do things like develop business cards, create blogs, Facebook pages, e-mail addresses, etc., & have them all have the same identity. If you’re switching up names/personas for every other con you present at, it makes it harder to develop anything since you may be changing it by the next con. For example, it makes it harder to create professional level business cards since it’s kind of pointless to invest any money in something that’s only going to be used once, and is pretty much the case for everything else: can’t really develop an e-mail address specific to your persona, Facebook pg., blog/web site, etc. It’s just better to commit to an identity & stick with it, since it also makes it easier for ppl. to keep track of you from con to con. If you’re using the same stage name for every con, ppl. can tell it’s you from con-to-con & can follow your progression to super stardom as a panelist (slight exaggeration ~.~). Even if you use a hotch-potch of other online personas to create your panelist identity, as long as you stick with it for every con, it’s fine. This isn’t to say you need one, but if you go this route, here’s some pointers.
Lastly, you can argue that it isn’t impossible to change your stage name from con-to-con, but it’s better just to commit & avoid the trouble of trying to re-brand for every convention. Heck, if you decide to go this route or you’re already doing this, it’s also a good idea to put your stage name in the description for all your panels so ppl. know it’s you they are going to see; however, some cons automatically do this, it depends on the convention. Once you’ve paneled for a few cons/times, you’d be surprised how many ppl. you can get to show up to your panel simply b/c you’re hosting it; granted, the reverse is also true; ppl. will avoid any panel you’re doing b/c they don’t like you. Either way, do so at your own risk. Also remeber to mention your stage name/persona at the beginning of every panel. If you want, you could also give a quick intro. to who you are, what you’ve done, online personality, etc., if nothing else to let others know who you are. Of course, not everyone’s going to be familiar with you/your persona.
Always have your contact info. available to those who attend your panels. Whether it be a slide with your contact info. on it, business cards, handouts, whatever, have it available. You should also mention that you have these things both before & after your panel, & you should have it readily available at all points; i.e., if you have business cards, have them on the table throughout the presentation & don’t just pull them out at the end. Also, you may want to consider having an e-mail address solely for any communication regarding panels & such so you don’t bog down your personal e-mail address with con related things. You can create a new e-mail address easily via Gmail or any of the other hundreds of free e-mail services, or you can use an old e-mail address that you don’t use all that often.
The easiest way to disseminate information to ppl. after the panel as well as give your contact info., etc. is with a business card. You can make your own using Microsoft Word using any of a variety of label formats, print some out at Staples, or (my personal fav.) using Vistaprint. Both Vistaprint and Staples are great ways to produce business cards of a professional quality, but they are not the only online & physical retail stores you can go to to do such, a quick Google search of ‘custom made business cards’ will give you hundreds of results of different businesses with various offers and special deals, so definitely try shopping around for the best one.
General Age of People for Panels
Well, of course, if it’s 18+ programming, you have to be 18 by the time of the convention to be able to give it. However, as far as regular programming, it depends on the con. A decent amount don’t list the age requirements on the site, either way if they don’t mention anything just e-mail the panels department with this question or post your question to the forums. Every con has different policies & such, so really the best all encompassing advice I could give is to always check the con’s panel policies & ask questions when you have them. Personally, I recommend being 18+ by the time of the con in general, but that’s just my prerogative.
If you have a panel that has gratuitous nudity, sexual content, violence, and/or profanity, it is 18+ & don’t try to push it. Cons are deftly serious when they say they’ll cancel your panel in-progress if any 18+ content pops up in your non-18+ panel, so don’t try it. However, sometimes you may want to classify a presentation as 18+ just because you don’t want to deal with any tweenagers or because of the academic nature of the panel. Be warned, when a panel is 18+, it generally means it will be scheduled later on in the day & could potentially result in your panel being really late at night/early in the morning. So, if you’re not the night owl, then you may want to avoid doing this to escape this dilemma. Also, there generally isn’t a lot of space for 18+ programming, so be warned that you may just be better off strapping the “18+” content of your panel (if it’s not necessary) & go with the more available non-18+ programming space. Sometimes cons even allow the chance to classify it as ‘13+’ & other classifications besides 18+ and not 18+, like Katsucon, so you’re not just limited to making a panel 18+ when really it’s only 13+. Ultimately, unless it’s a panel about an 18+ topic (hentai, an 18+ movie, etc.) you may be better off with the regular programming track since more people will be able to attend your panel & you’ll most likely have a better time slot. However, to emphasize that some topics are doomed to be 18+, I would never submit my ‘Yaoi Tropes & Trends’ panel as anything but 18+ because there is no way I could ever do something like that the way I want without it being 18+, like other panel topics of a similar nature >.>
No Limit on Panel Submissions
If you want to submit 1 idea, fine; 10 ideas, no problem; 80+ ideas, that’s a lot, but there’s nothing preventing you from doing so. As long as you’re ready & willing to present any number of the panels you submit, it’s fine. I wouldn’t submit anything I wasn’t ready to present on as far as being ready & willing to do the research necessary to do the panel, interested in the topic, & have outlined some ideas for the presentation. Also, don’t just submit anything because you feel like it would be accepted but you don’t necessarily care about presenting it, that’s going to put you in an awkward position that can be hard to remedy. Now, with cons like Otakon where there’s around %75 rejection rate, you can honestly use the logic that you can submit a lot because you may get only one, if anything, accepted. In that case, as long as you’re realistic that submitting a lot doesn’t guarantee you’ll get anything accepted at all, then no harm no foul; granted, you should always have that logic whenever you submit more than 1. Incidentally, this is the method I like to call “playing the lottery”, where you submit a lot of panel ideas in hopes of getting at least one thing accepted. Not really necessary & I’m not recommending it one way or the other, but totally an option <.<
Beware of Doing Panels On Super Popular Trends
For example, have fun getting a Hetalia or Homestuck panel accepted at a con (save the cons dedicated to these subjects) & you’re a noob panelist. You are among a lot of others that had the same idea, some of which who have experience doing a panel on that topic multiple times at multiple cons. Not saying it’s impossible, but unless you’re giving a spin on the topic that has never been done before, chances are there are far better panels out there given by panelists with way more experience & have a great deal of popularity vs. you. Additionally, if it’s a good con staff, they are trying to avoid having 20+ panels on the same topic, so you being most likely one of 30+ that submitted panels on the same topic (like Hetalia or Homestuck), have somewhat slim chances of getting your version of the same topic accepted. However, one way to get around this is to go to the forums and try to network & join in on others also trying to do a panel on the same topic. In my opinion, this way it reduces the amount of submissions on the same idea, & every panel submission can be merged in one super awesome panel vs. a bunch of splinter panels that all overlap each other (at least that’s my prerogative). Again, this doesn’t mean it’s impossible for you to have your panel submission on a popular topic accepted regardless of your experience as a panelist, but you could be setting yourself up for failure by doing this. It’s up to you to submit what you want, but this is my opinion on it. Lastly, panels on popular topics are more likely to attract “anime experts”, & other annoying “that guy” types, who will interrupt you as much as possible to show how much they know about the topic as well (at your expense) & may even insult you while at it. I’m not saying this is the only time “that guy” types will appear at panels, but they occur more frequently with popular, trendy topics. With all this said, I’m not saying you should avoid doing panels on popular/trendy topics altogether, but that it’s something you should consider before sinking a lot of time on a panel idea that has a high chance of not being accepted/being more trouble than what it’s worth.
Respect Panelists’ Ideas
Besides respecting panelists in general while presenting, also respect their ideas. Please don’t steal another panelists panel idea (or worse, their entire presentation if posted online), for your own. Work on your own ideas. There may be some overlap with pre-existing ideas, bound to happen, but as long as it’s not exactly the same & it’s something you came up with on your own in a virtual cell, then nobody can really take that away from you, but don’t copy someone else’s idea!
Research Other Con Venues
Namely at the cons you’re interested in presenting at. This will let you see what other panels are happening at other cons & will help you stay clear of coming up with ideas that are identical to other panels already in existence, & can even help you come up with even better ideas. This will also let you know your local competition, & what types of events cons have. In general, I would look at the last 3 years of previous venues for any con I’m interested in submitting to, so I can make sure I don’t submit things that are usually done by other panelists.
Should Have Some Sort of Visual Aide
Most, but not all, panels can be enhanced by some sort of visual aide. I mean, panels that are pure Q & A’s don’t necessarily need one due to the nature of having a majority of its content generated by audience participation, but even then you can still have some sort of visual to keep people focused. Visual aides can be anything from a slide show to a fancy, smancy PowerPoint presentation. Let’s face it, most people can’t sit there for an hour or 2 & listen to you talk, you’re going to need something to keep your audience engaged while you’re talking, hence visual aides. Some common types:
- Google PowerPoint
- Open office
- Picture slide show
- Flash animation
- Collection of video clips
- The list goes on!
There’s a variety of ways to create visual aides & a variety of ways to use them, the key thing is having one. I really recommend Prezi if you like dynamic presentations with a lot of pictures, but you can do some awesome things with PowerPoint if you have the skill-set (or the internet).
PowerPoint vs. Prezi
Most people know PowerPoint, but Prezi is something relatively new. You can check out the above link to see what it’s all about. However, when it comes to deciding which one to use, this general advice: if it’s a more dynamic presentation with lots of pictures, use Prezi. If it’s more txt heavy & less bells ‘n whistles, PowerPoint. Prezi can be super tedious to use, so don’t use it if PowerPoint can do the same thing more efficiently. In essence, Prezi is like the Hippie cousin to PowerPoint’s more professional & business like appearance, but you can have fun with both. I also highly recommend PowerPoint when you’re running short on time to create the visual aide.
Self-explanatory. If you do have a visual aide, always proofread the entire presentation multiple times beginning to end & reverse to root out any & all typos & other errors. Granted, this can only really be accomplished when you leave enough time to create the presentation to go over everything you did, but still do it. Nothing like giving a presentation only to realize throughout all the errors you made ~.~
Don’t Wait Till the Last Minute
Start work on your panel(s) as early as possible. I generally would wait until I know what panel has been accepted or not, but others would recommend starting on it the minute you submit the idea. I prefer waiting to do anything until I know one way or the other because there’s no way in heck I’m going to devote any amount of time to any panel only to find out it wasn’t accepted. I have other things in life to do besides work on panels: jobs to work, applications to turn in, errands to run, etc. I’m not going to sit around all day working on panels until I know I have to do one. Additionally, if nothing else you can begin taking notes & outlining how you want your panel to go before you know for sure either way, but again, I wouldn’t work on the physical presentation until I knew for sure. In either case, waiting until the last minute to start working on a panel puts a lot of stress on you, can effect the overall quality of the presentation (i.e., it being generally sucky), & you don’t have much wiggle room if you realize that however you’re doing things doesn’t work & you need to strap that format for something completely different. Think of it this way, you wouldn’t want to wait ’til the night before to start work on your 10+ research paper that also needs to be accompanied by a presentation for you class in which combined they’re worth 40% of your grade? No, right? The only difference with panels is that you replace grades with street cred/self-esteem. In general, your audience can usually tell when you waited ’til the night before to do the presentation, so don’t.
You may hate them (I know I sure do), but they can be a good source for attaining info. & attaining it relatively quickly. Sometimes, con staff will reply to something posted on the forums way sooner than e-mailing them. Heck, sometimes you’ll actually get a response at all if you post to the forums vs. e-mail. They are also a good place to ask for general advice or seek out other panelists to help you with a panel. Just be warned, people can be total d*cks online, especially in forums, so be prepared to potentially have to deal with some d*uchy people -_-
Types of Panels: Topical vs. Specific Anime/Videogame/Etc.
Topical panels can be a lot of fun because you can talk about things in anime/videogame culture but not about any specific thing, like with my Yaoi Tropes & Trends or Guide to Buying ALL THE THINGS panels. You can talk about whatever you like and, my fav, no one can really play “anime expert” because it’s a topical piece & for them to do that is basically like saying “I know more about your opinion than you do”, so no real worries there. However, presenting on actual series, etc., like my Bleach & Fate Universe panels, mean you can talk about a series really near & dear to you, but then it opens you up to more “that guy”/”anime expert” encounters. Not saying it guarantees you’ll have to deal with “that guy” types when presenting on a specific series, etc., but I personally encounter it more-so here than with topical pieces. Either way, it’s something to consider when brainstorming panel ideas.
Types of Panels: Subjectivity vs. Objectivity
Is your panel an opinion piece or is it going over actual, indisputable facts? Are you going over your feels or are you trying to educate people about a topic? Try to tell what type of panel it is beforehand so you can avoid mistakes like stating a personal opinion like it’s a fact & vice-versa. Trust me, people will call you out on it, especially when it’s a panel on a popular series, & you should always differentiate between the 2.
Types of Panels: Presentation Style
Are you giving a panel where you lecture the audience with some chances to ask questions/make comments? Are you giving a workshop where you will be instructing your audience how to make something and have the materials to do so? Is it purely a Q & A where all the content in generated by the audience & you’ll just answer questions? Or maybe a game show where prizes are to be had from a game of some sort? You need to know what type of presentation it is because: a) most cons’ panel submission forms will ask you this upfront; b) It will determine how you structure & present your panel. So you must know this even before you start to brainstorm anything else for the panel idea, less you wind up developing something that’s a panel but submit it as a workshop. This is also to avoid false advertising, like when a program is listed as a workshop, which implies something will be made during the course of the presentation, when in actuality it was a panel and nothing was produced. It’s really annoying for con goers & is also unfair because they’re expecting one thing only to be bait-&-switched once they get there.
Panel Times vs. What Else is Happening
Some panel submission forms actually ask what times are good for you, what events you don’t want to be scheduled against, what time of day is good for you, what day is good for you, how long you want the panel to be, etc. However, in the end you may get scheduled against some major event, like Cosplay Burlesque or the Masquerade, & you just have to deal with it. Don’t fret, you can still pull in people to your panel because not everyone will be interested in the big events, but this can & will take away people from your panel. Don’t worry though, it is what it is & don’t let that negatively affect your mood during your panel.
Q & A
Always allow for questions during your panel, whether during or after. Especially for info. heavy panels, you will have some questions, so be prepared to answer them. Just don’t let people steal your limelight by asking overly long questions, having frequent questions, or commenting on everything you have to say. You should take questions and comments, but remember it’s your panel not anyone else’s.
You need to be patient when waiting to hear back the results of panel acceptances/rejections. Typically, the longer it takes to hear back, the better (but not always), in either case, you need to be patient.
Everything Must Be Backed Up
USB drives, laptop, Dropbox, online, portable hard drive; have your presentation backed up in multiple places. Nothing like getting to the con & your laptop just fails for whatever reason, you can use another laptop, but the presentation only exists on your now defunct laptop. Honestly, have your presentation on a USB/flash drive &, in the case of Prezi & Flash ActionScript, have the file exported to the appropriate ‘portable’ file so that in case you have to present it on another laptop you can. The same also applies for having something only available online, not all cons will have internet access in the panel rooms, so don’t rely on methods contingent upon internet access.
Videos For Presentations
If you plan on showing YouTube video footage during your panel, go ahead a find a way to download the video. There’s no guarantee you’ll have internet access in the panel room at the con, or if it’s reliable, so you’re better off just downloading the video so you can show it with or without internet service.
PC vs. Mac: Legit, Doesn’t Matter
Whether you want to present on a PC or Mac, it doesn’t freakin’ matter. If you have an old PC/Mac, you may have problems. It doesn’t matter which OS you’re using, that doesn’t set you up for failure. Sometimes that particular panel room has been giving ppl. issues all day, but never just assume “It’s b/c you’re using a PC!” is the reason, you dumba$$ -_- (clearly anti-Mac >.>) For panels, it can actually be a little more tedious to use Macs vs. PCs because the VG cable you need to connect to the projector is usually for PCs. I’m not saying go buy a PC or it’s hopeless if you have a Mac, just something you will soon learn from filling out submission forms for other cons. Emphasis: it can be slightly more annoying with Mac but NOT infeasible.
Just F.Y.I.: the only reason why Mac doesn’t ‘get viruses’ is because no one really writes viruses for Mac, they write them for PCs, because overall PCs are more popular than Mac. If people wrote viruses for Mac more often, Mac would be in the same boat as PC, so STFU already X/
Panels & Cosplay
If you’re going to a con primarily for giving panels, now may not be the best time to work on the most complicated & intricate cosplay ever. Doing work for your cosplay will take away time that could have been spent on your panel, which is the reason you’re at the con in the first place. If you have to cosplay (like I do), do simple cosplays that aren’t too cumbersome, the point of my panel series cosplays, so you won’t lose a lot of time preparing them over your panel. This way, you’re cosplaying without devoting a lot time to it & still can focus on your panel.
Going on tours is an easy way to acquire experience as a panelist & develop your panel more. Whether it just be 2 cons or 6, it exposes you to different cons, it gains you experience, helps to make you more confident in your presentation style & topic matter, & is a great way to meet new people & develop those lifelong con buddies. The obvious downside to this is that it can get really expensive. You should only do cons that are financially feasible & not just because you want to and you don’t care about the finances involved. You d*mn well need to care, going to cons is a luxury at best, & is only something you should do when you have the time & money for it. So, try it if you have both the time & money, but if you don’t, don’t worry about it.
Never Say You Hate Your Panel!
Period. Don’t say it! It’s insulting to your audience when you say you hate any aspect of your panel topic. It’s one thing to say you hate a character from the show, or it was super tedious to work on the presentation (but you still like your topic), or some other acceptable thing to hate, but never your topic. People will complain about this on the forums/give negative feedback & you are jeopardizing your reputation as a panelist. Even if you feel this way, never tell anyone ‘cause it really is info. you need to keep hush hush.
Don’t Be Hurt When People Leave Your Panel
People will leave during your panel, it’s fate. Don’t let this derail you during your presentation, just keep going. There’s a variety of reasons why people may leave, some of which are them simply going to the restroom or to answer a call & they’re coming right back, but it’s pointless to worry over them. Just continue to present. Even the most successful panelists/panels will have people that leave during the course of the presentation, so don’t let it bother you.
Don’t Let “That Guy” Scare You Away From Panels
During the course of presenting your panels, you may have people come to your panel that heckle you, ask you a near infinite amount of questions, constantly have comments, or are generally just challenging you a lot on everything you say. It’s a fact of panel life. There’s a variety of ways to deal with them, although in some cases you need to deal with them swiftly before they disrupt your panel too much & completely steal the limelight, & you shouldn’t let it bother you. At the end of the day it’s your panel, you set the limitations, you’re the one presenting, you put in all the blood, sweat, & tears to make it happen, you’re at the front of the room, not bumblef*ck random dude no. 2. Also, you have the mic & with that you have the power to easily out-talk & overpower whoever decides that it’s their panel & not yours. Sometimes it’s just a matter of establishing limitations, like not asking overly long questions, & you can simply cut people off, apologize for doing such but reminding the person you have a lot of material to cover & not a lot of time. Or, in the case of the infinite questions dude, there are other people with questions & not just them. Either way, there are ways to deal with these people & you should never let it discourage you from paneling.
Talk to Other Panelists
Always talk to other panelists! It’s great for networking & you can build long-lasting friendships for cons to come. They also can give you great advice, tips, & tricks for any panel you may be working on & can give you an awesome insight as to things behind the scenes at cons with con staff and/or what went into making their panels.
You should always be open to feedback. Whether you take it or not is ultimately up to you, but you should always at least seem appreciative to receive the advice. Sometimes cons themselves will have feedback forum threads or actual physical feedback forms at the panel, & it helps to stalk the forums and/or ask to receive the results post-con upfront. In the case of active con forums, you can even be so bold as to start a forum thread post-con asking for any & all feedback on the panel(s) you presented. Just be warned, people can be total d*cks when giving feedback & you’re just going to have to grin & bare it. Doesn’t mean you have to sit there & let them belittle you, you can defend yourself & explain the logic behind things you’ve done, but never get pissy back. It’s a pissing contest that isn’t worth your time nor is it winnable, so just be as polite as possible with everything you say. Kill ‘em with kindness can apply in other places besides customer service.
Panels & Blogging
In my opinion, you should always blog about your panel experience & your overall experience at whatever con you go to. This way, people can use your blog as a gateway into the panelist life if they are also trying to get into doing panels, and it makes it easier to track your panel career for all your adoring fans (& haterz >.>). It also helps you remember your best (& worst) moments as a panelist & can provide a roadmap for you to reference for years to come. This also makes it easy to network other panelists & can help build up awesome friendships or help you net potential future co-panelists for other panel ideas you may be bouncing around.