If you’ve ever been to a convention, you may have gone to a panel. Panels are, as their name suggests, collections of individuals lecturing an audience on a topic. What the panel entails typically relates to what the conference is about. For instance, you are far more likely to hear a panel discussing the life of Arnold Schwarzenegger at a Conan-Con than an expo on marine biology.
This past July, I was fortunate enough to have the chance to lead my own panel at G-Fest, a three-day event centered around the king of the monsters himself, Godzilla. While G-Fest isn’t for everyone, it’s probably my favorite convention among the limited few that I have been to. Events like PAX East and E3 are a little crowded for my taste, even if they do offer the ability to network with some cool people. And, in my opinion, the Montreal Comic-Con was better when it was smaller.
G-Fest is a small, targeted convention focusing on Godzilla’s films, messages, and the kaiju (giant monster) culture at large. Yeah I didn’t have an audience of thousands but that didn’t matter – it was still a blast to put on. As with everything in life, it was a learning experience. So, here is what I learned as I prepared to (then did) host my panel: “Objectively the Best Godzilla Movie EVER. Period.”
For any out there considering hosting a panel, you will need to do work. Whether it’s interview prep or a slideshow presentation, preparing for a panel starts before the event.
In my case, this meant accomplishing a few tasks. First, I had to assemble my fellow panelists. I had no desire for it to just be me sitting up there pontificating about how great my opinion is. Luckily, G-Fest has an event coordinator who helped me get in touch with everyone else who had expressed interest in hosting/speaking on a panel. I didn’t have to do much to gain my three fantastic panel co-hosts.
My second task was communication. Since my panel was going to proceed along a very guided conversation, my fellow panelists and I needed to know how the event was going to go before it began. What was the greatest Godzilla movie? To start, I made this:
Just kidding. I made something a lot uglier and simpler. Getting to work was the most important thing in my mind, so I created a working bracket and emailed my fellow panelists.
Over the next few weeks/months, I would reach out to all of them periodically. Since this was democratic panel, we had to go collectively one round at a time. Some responded right away, others…well, life is full and people can get busy. Let me say this: If you’re going to host a panel, you have to be okay with bugging people.
I don’t mean “be a jerk” (don’t be a jerk) but just be prepared to firmly and consistently remind your fellow panelists to help you out. It can be easy to put con prep on the backburner several months away from the event but, as it draws closer, people tend to get busy.
Anyway – while my fellow panelists were hard at work voting on their favorite Godzilla movies, I had to design a PowerPoint. A visual aid can be essential to help generate interesting discussion and I wanted my team engaged, not just with ourselves but with our audience members.
The PowerPoint didn’t take too long – maybe six hours altogether. I think it helped that I spread out its creation. Since I began so far before the event, I had plenty of time to sketch out an initial layout and flush everything out with the right photos and fonts.
Here is my PowerPoint for any who are interested:
Before I knew it, the month was July and I was Chicago-bound for my third G-Fest. The work was done, my panelists were assembled. Now all that I had to do was wait my turn. As a first timer, my panel was on the last day. This was a mixed blessing as it allowed me to focus on the con and gave me a smaller day (Sunday typically has less attendees than Saturday) but, well – I had three days to think about it and imagine all the things that could go wrong.
And there was a complication! No sooner had I stepped up onto that stage than it was discovered the HDMI cable had broken. Luckily, G-Fest also has an IT guy and we were able to solve the problem. I had brought my laptop and a USB key (both with the presentation on them) so we were good to go.
I may be biased but I thought it was a blast. I felt we had the right mix of prepared remarks and impromptu discussion. I was able to poll the audience after several scenarios and – best of all – we didn’t run out of time! After the panel had ended, several audience members came forward to tell me how great they had found everything to be.
As far as learning experiences went, this one definitely ranks in the positive category. I can’t wait to host another panel next year!
If you’re out there thinking, “I could do this,” then please give it a try! Doesn’t have to be at G-Fest – with geek culture in the spotlight there is no shortage of panels and conventions where you can nerd out about your passion. But if you are going to host a panel, I do have some parting suggestions:
- Plan ahead
- Involve the audience
- Expect a problem
- Just relax
And there you have it. Panels aren’t major life events like marriages or moving days, so you don’t need to revolve your life around them. The most important thing in any convention is to have fun – otherwise, what’s the point?