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Tales from FanExpo: How to Attend a Convention Panel

My favourite part of any comic convention is going to panels. With the age of Amazon and local comic shops making titles available for order, I find that going to cons for books is becoming increasingly redundant. Panels tend to be great sources of information, and offer a lot for attendees to learn for essentially the price of their ticket. They’re also a great place to sit down and rest some weary feet.

As with anything else, however, there’s a right way to go about attending a panel, and there’s a wrong way. Here’s a couple things you can do to make sure that your experience is a good one.

For the love of god(s), shut up.

Alright, maybe that was a bit harsh. Panels exist with differing levels of interactivity, and the “library” approach might not apply to every one. However, until you know, it might be best to just play it safe. No one wants to be “that guy” who talks like he’s part of the conversation, even though he clearly isn’t. This dude monopolizes the conversation, throws out snarky comments, and generally tries to bring attention to himself. This isn’t cool.

The thing is, these professionals are usually taking the time to do a panel for your benefit, not theirs. If they have to deal with a loudmouth who won’t stop interrupting, they’re not only losing time to speak, but everyone else is getting their time wasted, as well. You don’t want to be that guy.

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Close the door behind you. Be on time.

This is just basic etiquette; opening the door because you were late disrupts the whole flow of the panel, and unfortunately, unlike high school, there’s usually a couple hundred people outside the door trying to haggle for back issues.

Obviously there’s exceptions, and sometimes nerds can have trouble being on time. If you have to come in late, consider entering with a group (or waiting for a leaver) to minimize the amount of disruption you cause. It’ll be greatly appreciated, instead of having to put up with three or four openings and closings. Also, remember to pull the door shut (but don’t slam it!). Common courtesy!

Wait your turn. Ask good questions.

If there’s a question period on your panel, keep in mind that these are people, not gods. They are not omnipotent, and they don’t know everything that goes on at a company/operation just because they worked at/with it. This is primarily thrown towards people who ask comic creators questions about series’ that they never touched, or only worked on a short time.

This also extends to people fishing for drama: in most situations, professionals are not going to bad-mouth colleagues or competition in public unless it’s tongue-in-cheek. Avoid wasting question time with “How do you feel about X on a personal level?”, because unless they’ve gotten into a scrap or worked on a series together, you’re probably going to get a “They’re nice.” or “I have no opinion.”

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Another thing to remember is that questions to the effect of “Any advice to make it in this business?” are usually wasted; most professionals have either risen up through opportunities that are rarer now (or were flukes!), networked like hell, or just plain worked their butt off. This also ties into trying to hawk your book/product/web site to a room full of people – this isn’t advertising hour.

If the panel’s a bust, leave quietly.

We’ve all been there: the guest is rambling about something completely off-topic, and shows no sign of slowing down. The moderator has gone off on his own and shut the guests out. The aforementioned loud audience member is asking the female voice actress to read dirty things in cartoon voices. It’s generally uncomfortable for everyone.

Sometimes, if it isn’t salvageable, and you will want to leave. This is valid, but keep in mind that as weird as it may seem, there are people who still want to stay. Treat them with respect and leave as stealthily as you can (bonus points for Metal Gear Solid box maneuvering), never to return again. If you’re unsure of whether you’re going to like a panel, or stick around for long, choose a seat near the back, or the aisle; no one likes to be that guy who needs everyone to move for him and his legion of bags.

Better yet: if it’s a bust, help it not be.

This ties into the third point: if you can ask a good question, you can sometimes turn a stinker panel into a good one. These are generally open-ended, and rely on the expertise of the guest or panelist. As everyone, at heart, likes to talk about themselves, it’s usually nice to play into that. Some I’ve found to work are:

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  • What’s your process like? How do you produce X?
  • What roadblocks did you come across getting to where you are?
  • How did character X form in your brain? What inspired him?
  • What was your influences when you drew X in Y way?
  • What do you use to create? What tools?

You get the idea. Things that are quantifiable, yet open-ended enough that the guest doesn’t have to think too hard about it. Or, you can listen to Sean Connery, and ask him a “soup question”, perhaps with a twist: get something answered that is valuable to you, and try to make it so that everyone else gets value of it, as well.

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You can follow Matt Demers, who wrote this post, on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook. He writes nerdy columns like this one, and shoutcasts League of Legends in his free time.

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