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Convention Attention: All About Panels

Michael deLuca, Alastair Reynolds, Howard Andrew Jones, Brian McClellan, Saladin Ahmed at Immortal ConFusion
(Click to embiggen.)

In my opinion, one of the best ways you can spend your time at a Convention is by attending panels. You can hear your favorite authors and other industry professionals talk on a subject you’re interested in, hear authors and industry professionals you’ve never heard of talk on a topic you’re interested in, hear scientists discuss how to get to Mars and other scientific endeavors and discoveries, hear media professionals talk about movies and comics and tv shows…the options truly are endless. Panels aren’t just the panelists talking at each other, and they aren’t just a Q&A session. This is an unscripted conversation between people who are passionate about the panel topic, are experts in it, or have shown interest in being part of this conversation. Panels are just one part of the Convention’s programming schedule, but you’ll find that it’s easy to fill your day with panels, panels, and more panels.

The Convention has taken over every available meeting room at the conference center or hotel, so chances are there will be multiple panels running at the same time. Figuring out what panels to attend always reminds me a little of when I had to schedule my college classes:

I want to go to the Space Opera panel at 11am, the Patrick Rothfuss reading at 1pm, there’s a Doctor Who Fandom panel at 2pm, the Urban Fantasy panel at 3pm, the Mass autograph session is at 5pm, and there’s a Costuming and Prop making panel at 6pm. So I can cram in something at 10am, and something at 4pm! There’s also the Elizabeth Bear reading at 3pm, and this biotechnology panel at 11am looks really cool too…

Part of the programming schedule for Bubonicon45
(Click to embiggen.)

The wonderful and terrible truth is that there will be more panels than you can possibly attend. And since panels are just one part of all of the programming offered, you’ll want to be in two places at once. Partner up with a friend if you can, you each attend different panels, and compare notes later. Remember to schedule meal breaks. Trust me on this.

Many Cons organize their panels and programming by “track”, such as science, fandom, authors/writing, writing workshops, publishing and marketing, media, and single author readings, just to name a few. The idea being that if you want to focus on just one track, the panels and other activities in that track won’t have overlapping times. Also helps the panelists, as the Science Guest of Honor has probably been invited to sit on a half dozen science track panels, it wouldn’t work out so well if all of the Science panels were at 1pm.

The type of Con you attend will of course affect the panel offerings. The panel offerings at a ComiCon will probably have a focus towards comics, artwork, gaming and media; panel offerings at an Anime con will have a focus towards Japanese culture, anime and manga genres and artists, and cosplay; panel offerings at Science Fiction conventions that focus on authors and the written word will trend towards authors and their currently published works, popular genres and subgenres, epic fantasy, long running series, how science fiction and fantasy has changed over the years, outer space exploration, cover art, characterization, and world building, just to name a few.

Elizabeth Bear, Emma Bull, Lynne Thomas, Kelly McCullough and Paul Cornell at CONvergence
(Photo credit: Paul Weimer. Click to embiggen.)

Most panels will be anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours. The moderator will introduce the topic, and have the panelists introduce themselves. Hopefully the moderator will also mention if questions should be held until the end, or if questions will be answered whenever raised hands are seen. One of the moderator’s jobs is to keep the panelists on topic, but sometimes tangents are more interesting than the original panel topic.

As time permits, there should be a question and answer period at the end of the panel. But what if your question doesn’t get answered? What if you think of something afterwards? What if those three loud people in the front row dominate the Q&A time (that’s another one of the moderator’s jobs – to keep that from happening.), what if you just want to thank the panelists for bringing up interesting ideas? You’ll probably have a chance to catch one of the panelists later, perhaps at the bar, or in the elevator, or at the mass autograph session. And if not there’s always e-mail and twitter.

Gregory A. Wilson, L.E. Modesitt Jr., Tim Powers, Patrick Rothfuss and Jo Walton at WorldCon in Reno.
(Photo credit: Patrick Hester. Click to embiggen.)

You’ll of course get a programming schedule at the registration desk for the Con, but sometimes the Con will post a tentative programming schedule on their website ahead of time. I’m a “planner”, so I like to review as much Con info as possible ahead of time so I can plan my weekend and not feel as frazzled when I arrive at the Convention. There’s a 5pm Friday panel I want to attend and it’s a three hour drive? That means I should start driving at Noon, giving me plenty of time to get to the hotel, dump my stuff in the hotel room, get my badge, and get my bearings. There’s a Saturday 10am panel I want to attend? Better set the alarm for 9am.

Do you have a great idea for a panel, or maybe you’d like to be on one? Check the website for Cons you’re planning to attend and look for their programming page. Until their programming schedule is finalized they’ll most likely be looking for ideas and panelists and will give you instructions on how to contact them.

Want more information on panels at recent Cons? Bloggers who attend Cons will often post write-ups afterwards, talking about specific panels they attended. Here’s just a few to whet your appetite:

Did you do a Convention wrap up blog post that focuses on panels? Post your link in the comments so everyone can learn more about the different panels.

Upcoming Conventions:

About Andrea Johnson (99 Articles)
Andrea Johnson also blogs over at where she reviews science fiction and fantasy novels and talks about other nerdy stuff. She's also an interviewer at Apex Magazine. Her apartment looks like a library exploded, and that is how it should be.
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