A trio of shorts showcasing what NOT to do on panels.
1.) THE EXCITED NEWBIE
If you are a newbie to panels and if, OMG, public speaking makes you nervous, well SNAP here's something important to remember. Make a valid point then S.T.O.P. talking. (BTW that stands for: Shut Thy Open Piehole.)
On a number of panels that I was allowed to participate on, I've encountered people who get their turn at the mic and blather on saying nothing for MUCH TOO LONG seemingly unable (or unwilling) to shut off the monotone talky machine in their throat.
I understand. I get nervous too. (I know what you're thinking, "Hey you're in a rock band, how can you get nervous?" But as primarily a guitarist there are few words for me to say. And, ok, admittedly, I don't get so nervous anymore. Having been a bartender you either acquire some skills of the 'hey I'm in front of strangers and I should talk to them a bit' variety or you find another job. Sink or swim, yanno?)
But seriously, if its your first time out, don't be the first on the mic. Get to know your fellow panelists. Think about the question. Listen to their responses. Before you get your turn at the mic, have an idea in your noggin about what you want to start with and END with. Remember to S.T.O.P.
2.) THE USELESS NON-AUTHOR MODERATOR
Here's my bitch. If the panel has a witchy title, the description indicates that it is about witchcraft in Urban Fantasy books as part of a UF track of panels...for the love of all things mystical don't turn the conversation into an encyclopedic dissertation on witchcraft, even if you did write an encyclopedia about witchcraft. Sure, if that's your thing and that's why you're on the panel you have the right to speak up and get your info out there. I'm totally cool with that. But it should not take over the entire hour. If that's not what the description was, and the moderator becomes your doormat, I'm probably not prepared to talk about witchcraft in the 1200s, and probably won't have anything of value to add to the conversation. I 'm just gonna shut up...daydream for a spell, and when folks come up to me afterward, frowning, and say they wanted to hear about witchcraft in /Urban Fantasy books/, how modern witchcraft may have influenced it, or not, how they are similar and different...and that if they had wanted the annotated encyclopedia information they would have just read the friggin' encyclopedia....well I'm gonna turn that into a nice little sit-down conversation, with a meal and a brew involved if the goddess be good, and have that conversation with those friendly like-minded folks anyway.
As Jeffe said, the moderator better moderate. And if you're not going to talk about the topic associated with the documentation in the con documents, people are going to get frustrated. Panelists and audience alike.
Carol Malcolm is the very best non-author moderator I've ever had the pleasure of being on panels with. She is savvy and courteous and well spoken. She is always prepared, knowing the authors, their material, and has relevant questions to keep the conversation moving and interesting. She should give a tutorial. For reals.
3.) THE DRUNKEN GUEST OF HONOR MODERATOR
When I arrived, the convention's filk guest of honor, who had written a thing or two a decade or two ago...is bitching to the audience about smoking laws. One other panels was already there as well. I checked the schedule. Yup, Tipsy was noted as our moderator. The two others panelists arrived. We all kind of passed around looks like hot potatoes. Fifteen minutes into the panel time, Tipsy got around to asking us to introduce ourselves. Yay! We were getting on topic! Until it got back to Tipsy. She blathered on about her historic publishing credits for MUCH TOO LONG (see #1) and found a way to twist that back into griping about smoking.
People walked out. Then more people walked out. I got up from the dais and walked out too. Not in a huff, mind you, just in a 'wow, there's a few wasted minutes of my life I won't get back' way.
4.) CREEPY DUDE ON THE PANEL
Everyone wants to feel important. I'm cool with folks taking their shot at being in the spotlight via panels. My only expectation is having a good, engaging conversation. Sometimes...that simple expectation is aiming way too damn high because...sometimes, especially at smaller cons, knowing someone on the board of people who are running the con is all you need to get your happy ass on a panel.
If this is you, you should know this:
A> Do not make lewd, sexist comments period, and especially not to the female(s) on the panel like you're spewing compliments.
B> If the topic is music and writing, and the other three panelists happen to be musicians, the fact that you have actually heard some music before does NOT qualify you to get up in front of others and talk about it. (i.e. know when you are out of your league and S.T.O.P. see #1)
C> When one of your co-panelists comments about the precision of artistry and musical prowess it takes to evoke a visceral reaction from sound alone...like a song making the hair on your arms stand up, you should NOT immediately interject a snicker and say, "Hey, one time, I heard Marilyn Manson say he could play a chord that would make you shit your pants and I'm like, dude, please don't play that chord right now." And you should definitely not follow that with a laugh, and if you realize you're the only one in the whole room laughing...S.T.O.P. (see #1)
BONUS: Just because it bears repeating: A> as Jeffe said (cause she's awesome like that): research the folks on the panel with you. B> James said (cause he too is awesome):research the topic of the panel and be prepared to talk professionally and knowledgably about it. What time it takes to do these two thing is WELL worth it. ALWAYS.