Monday, May 25, 2009

I spent a ton of time this weekend at Baycon, the local science fiction convention.

I've posted before about Baycon. I'm not involved in the local fan scene, so I don't really know any of the people, so most of my con experience is about the panels. There were no real stand out panels I saw this year but I think I've refined my "panel triage" skills, since I enjoyed the panels I did attend more this year.

Here are some of my thoughts on the important items to consider in "panel triage".

Panel Topic
  • Aside from being interested in the topic, is the topic something that will be able to be talked about for an hour, usually by non-experts? If it's not, expect a panel that will digress and wander a lot.
  • is the panel intended to be a panel + audience or a more free form discussion? Both can work, depending on your taste.In the first case, the moderator becomes key. In the second, the quality of the audience is paramount.

  • are they experts (or at least knowledgeable on the topic)? A rough rule - if more than one panelist opens by saying "I'm not sure why I'm on this panel", check out a different panel.
  • how are their presentation/humour skills? For example, there are a few presenters at Baycon that are consistently amusing, no matter what the topic (Seanan McGuire comes to mind).
  • are there any blowhards on the panel? These can derail almost any panel, even with a good moderator.
  • how strong/experienced is the moderator? This is particularly important relative to the next category
  • if the panel is intended to be more of a "panel + audience", are there members of the audience who don't understand this and try to have a back and forth conversation with the panelists, even if they aren't talking to this attendee directly?
  • are there attendees who don't seem to understand that the panel isn't about them, and that there may be more than one person who has questions or comments? This can also be a problem with some panelists (see "blowhard" comment above).

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