Being Yourself Out Loud - 5 Tips for Convention Panelists
Being Yourself Out Loud
Being Yourself Out loud: 5 Tips to Running Discussion Panels at Conventions
For the past few years, I have volunteered my time to hosting panels at an anime convention in Toronto. With a background in marketing and hospitality management, I have had varying instances in my life where I have had to stand up in front of a crowd and speak. So far, no experience has been nearly as rewarding as talking on panels. The feeling I get is one that is simply euphoric.
I have been asked by a few individuals how exactly I run a successful panel. I haven’t exactly gotten it down to an exact science; however I’ve compiled a list of 5 tips that I believe are essential in running a successful panel, not just at conventions but in other environments as well.
1. Know Your Voice
It sounds like such a simple concept. However you’d be surprised how many people forget, or feel as if they have no need to practise. Do you know how to speak from your diaphragm? Do you have a few words you have trouble pronouncing? (Alu-men-um-en-um?) I’m not suggesting you suddenly cure yourself if you have a permanent speech impediment, but for those who don’t, you’d be surprised just what a little practise can do for you. Speaking precisely, loudly, and clearly, will help to keep your crowd attentive.
2. Know Your Material
It should go without saying, but if you’re running a panel on …say…Pokemon, then you’re expected to know quite a bit. We’re not talking ‘super-nerd’ skills – the type of person who can tell you what the Best-Boy had for lunch during the first day of production. However, people might expect you to know who your voice actors are, and to know of easter eggs that might be hiding in individual episodes. Generally people go to panels to learn something new about a subject they may already know so much about.
From a speaker’s point of view – not knowing what you’re going to say, and how you’re going to say it is crucial. Imagine, having a room full of people in front of you, and suddenly you have no idea how you’re going to begin! Yikes! Even if you’re someone who is good at improvising -having an ice-breaker to get the ball rolling is important. It helps get the Pokeball rolling.
3. Know Your Crowd
Presumably, you’re talking to a room full of people who all have something in common with you. So in retrospect, you should be able to breeze through this panel! Right…Right? ….Bueller?
Well – no, not entirely. Depending on the rating of your topic, you can expect varying age groups to be in your audience. This means that you may have to censor your material. While self-censoring isn’t necessarily fun, it is rather necessary. All it takes is for one or more concerned parent or guardian to make their issues known to the convention ‘powers that be’ and you could potentially be prohibited from speaking at that convention ever again.
4. Be Flexible
I won’t back down in what I stated earlier – that having prepared material is crucial. However panels are expected to be interactive. Depending on your audience, you may have a room where everyone has a question, or no one has a question. In case you have a room with the former, you may have to lean away from your carefully prepared material in order to appease the masses. Completely ignoring your crowd is a no-go. If not being given a chance to interact a good portion of your crowd may leave within the first half an hour! While a few of your audience members may be content with sitting in silence and enjoying the panel, you WILL get the enthusiastic audience members who will have something to say about all of your points. Depending on your material – this could be a blessing or a curse. It’s up to you to know when to grin and bear, or when to be assertive and kindly move on to your next point.
5. Connect with Other Panelists
Normally a panel consists of 2-4 speakers, so even with all of your knowledge, and all of your carefully prepared material, you still have to share the floor (sorry). Generally before the convention, you’ll be given the contact information of the panellists you’ll be speaking with if you don’t already know them. It’s a good idea to; email, skype, or even call your fellow panellists beforehand. It’s good to go over the main topic, highlight points you want to go over, and determine who is covering what. The last thing you want is for the topic to be crossed between panelists. Not to mention knowing where everyone will stand come the moment of truth, will keep a power struggle at bay. Also if you’re having trouble agreeing with another panelist, it’s good to confront them early instead of in front of an audience.
All in all, conventions are busy, crowded, fun, and exhausting. People come from far and wide all for a sole purpose. However, for a brief period of time, a good percentage of the convention’s guests are going to be coming to you – to listen to you, because they’re genuinely interested in what you have to say. It’s your job to be ready, be approachable, and be patient. There is no such thing as a stupid question.
Conventions are a place where you’re not pressured to act a certain way based on social standards. In fact, you’re expected to be a little weird – or quirky. It’s as if conventions are a place where you’re encouraged to be yourself out loud.*