How to do a Panel at a Con
I’ve been going to conventions for ten years now. I’ve seen many good panels, some bad ones, and I’ve given more than a few of my own over the years. So I thought perhaps it’s time I give some advice on how to have a successful panel at a convention. When it comes to giving a panel at a con, the entire process can be divided into three main steps:
A- Application process
The application process is important, because you can’t hold your panel if it doesn’t get accepted in the first place. The actual application process will vary slightly between conventions, but the important parts are the same:
4- Why it should be included in the convention programming
The first thing you need to do when considering to do a panel at a convention is decide on the topic. Anime is a broad medium, so there is a cornucopia of topics to choose from. This can range from discussing the history, culture, music, art style, and/or science of a particular show. You could also look at old anime, new anime, popular anime, or other types of animation and how it relates to anime. The sky is the limit.
Charles Dunbar is known for giving panels on the history and culture of Japan and how it influences anime.
Doomtastic often does panels involving mecha, including different types of anime science fiction and books you might like based on different mecha anime.
Manlybattleships covers a little bit of everything, from game shows to comedy, and many other topics.
Eva Monkey covers all things Neongenesis Evangelion.
And so on….
As you can see, there are a variety of topics to choose from, and really the sky is the limit. What I can say is that you should pick a topic that you are knowledgeable and passionate about, as this will make creating and giving the panel much easier. It also helps when answering any questions that you might be asked during your panel. The second thing is to pick a topic that you think a wide range of people might be interested in. A panel with a very narrow focus with a limited audience might not be selected. For example, I do a panel on teaching with anime whic is not always selected for conventions because there are not that many teachers who like anime and want to use it in a classroom setting. Don’t let that stop you from submitting it because you never know what might be chosen in a particular year. The third thing is to try and match your panel to the theme of the convention for that year. This is why I submitted my Science of Mecha panel to Otakon this year, because the theme of the con is mecha.
The title of your panel is important. It needs to be catchy and give the reader an idea of what your panel is going to be about. For example:
Gravity in Anime
The title is short and to the point; the panel will be about gravity in anime, but it makes it sound very technical, like the name of an academic class. However, with a little expansion it can be improved:
Gravity in Anime- Why too much or too little of it can kill you
By adding the line “Why too much or too little of it can kill you,” I am letting the reader know that I will be focusing on how gravity affects the body, which means I will not be doing a lot of physics during the panel.
When you submit a panel to a convention, your panel does not actually have to be completed. What you do need is a good description of what your panel is going to be. Often this is the blurb that the convention will be putting into the guide book. Just like with the title the goal is to get the reader interested in your panel and entice the individual to come. For example, here is the blurb for my Gravity in Anime panel:
Anime loves to play with gravity, whether it is training in high gravity or living in zero gravity for long periods of time. However, is this really possible, can humans survive the extremes of gravity? Come and learn the truth about gravity and humanity.
Again you want to be short and to the point. The blurb expands on what you already read in the title, talking about how I will be discussing gravity in anime. I give two examples of topics, training in high gravity and living in zero gravity. Now I could have mentioned specific shows like Dragon Ball, and Gundam, but I wanted to keep it open ended so that I could mention a few shows. How specific you get really depends on the topic and the panel you are presenting. Now because this is a science panel I connected it back to the real world, so now people know I will be discussing real world science and technology and not items specific to a particular anime. Finally, I ended the blurb with an invitation to come and check out the panel. It might not seem like much, but an invitation to come sends the message that, hey, you don’t need to know anything about the topics I’ll be talking about to enjoy the panel, which means people may be more likely to come.
4- Why should it be included in the convention programing
It is a simple question that can be difficult to answer and it depends on the topic your panel is covering. You might say that your panel should be accepted because you are going to be talking about a show that is very popular or had a profound impact on the anime industry/community. With my panels I tend to talk about how my panel is educational and fun, so that the con attendees can learn something and be entertained at the same time. It also helps to mention how it relates to the convention theme. For example:
I think that my panel Gravity in Anime- Why too much or too little of it can kill you, should be included in the convention programing because it is both educational and fun. I will be discussing how gravity is portrayed in anime, which will appeal to the older con goers, and anyone looking for a more cerebral panel. It also dovetails with the convention theme of mecha in anime as I will be talking about the effects of zero gravity on the human body and many mecha anime take place in outer space.
I explained how my panel fits the theme of the convention, its target audience, and why my panel should be included. Now sometimes the con might ask you why you think you can present the panel that you submitted, so I might mention my being a science teacher is in sync with my anime science themed panels.
Your panel was selected, now what do you do? I understand that creating a panel can be a daunting process, and there are a number of ways to go about it. My process might not work for everyone, but here is my way of creating a panel. I like Microsoft PowerPoint and use that to create all of my panels, but there are other options, like Google Slides. Unless you selected for a longer time, your panel is most likely 55minutes with 5 minutes to clear the room. This means that you should plan on speaking for 50 minutes and giving 5 minutes for questions. I typically plan around 1 slide per minute or 50 slides give or take a few. While it is always a good idea to over plan and have some extra material, in case you talk too fast, try not to overload you panel and rush through everything. An example of this is my science of mecha panel, which covers the following topics:
What is a mecha?
What is a mecha made of?
How is the mecha powered?
How does a mecha fly?
You have probably noticed that I did not cover mecha weapons, and if you saw my panel at Zenkaicon 2018 I only gave examples of how mecha are piloted and gave no details on the subject. The reason was two-fold: 1- a lack of knowledge in those areas, and 2- a lack of time to give the topics their due diligence. It is ok to leave things out to give more time to other topics.
Your first two slides should introduce the panel, and who you are. It’s up to you on how much information to give. I tend to give a brief bio because I run academic panels, and I like to use that time to mention my blog. By the third slide you should be diving into your panel. If your panel is going to focus on one or two anime/manga this would be a good time to give a brief explanation of the anime/manga in question. I do this before my Monster Girl, and My Hero Academia panels as they focus on specific anime/manga and not everyone at the panel may have seen or heard of them, shocking as that may be. At this point dive into the meat and potatoes of your panel and have fun. I do recommend giving a wrap-up at the end and if you have a blog/YouTube channel/social media presence, this another time to mention it. Whether you leave time for questions or not is up to you, but I like to leave about 5 minutes or so.
Now that you have the basics here are a few more pointers. Limit yourself to only one topic per slide and keep the text to a minimum. Everyone is there to hear you speak, not read the screen or listen to you read the screen to them.
Here the pictures dominate the slide, which I use as visuals to give a basic explanation of nuclear fission and fusion. I’ve only labeled the pictures and listed whether or not they are a viable energy source, which is the most important part of what I am trying to cover at this point. A basic rule of thumb is that if you have more than three lines/bullet points, then you should break it into two slides. This leads into my second point, that pictures help, and make sure that they are big enough for everyone to see. Videos are also nice, but keep them short, 2-3 minutes max, and not one after another. Additionally, download your clips and insert them into your presentation, along with making sure that they work. Nothing is worse than seeing a presenter search the internet or their computer for the correct clip. It wastes time and takes away from the panel. I’ll leave the types of slide transitions and animations up to you as that is more of a personal preference, but I would use them sparingly. Less is more, as they say.
C- Presenting your Panel
The first step in presenting your panel is to make sure that your presentation and everything else you need works ahead of time. The second is to practice, especially if you are not comfortable with public speaking. The practice will make you more comfortable when you present and it lets you know if your panel is too long or too short. Make sure that you arrive ahead of time so you can set up and not feel rushed. Also try to have something to show or talk about if there is no panel before you and you have 5-10 minutes to go before your panel is supposed to start and people are coming in. I typically talk about my experiences overseas or ask how their con is going.
Remember not to talk too fast and speak into the microphone so that everyone can hear and understand you while you are talking. One of the reasons that I like PowerPoint is that it has a present mode that will put your slide on the projected screen, while giving you a small version of your slide, any notes you put below the slide, and the next slide.
This way you can see your slides and where you are in your panel while speaking. The added benefit is that you don’t have to use notecards because it is all on the screen for you. That being said, don’t forget to look at your audience and make eye contact.
Now for the audience. I have never seen a completely empty panel, so don’t despair if only a few people come. Also, don’t freak out if people leave during your panel, because it will happen to you at some point, and why they left might not have anything to do with you or your panel. I tend to hold all questions until the end, but some people allow questions during their panel. If you do take questions during your panel, do not let anyone try and hijack your panel with long or frequent comments or questions. In many panels there is usually at least one audience member like this who will try and one up the presenter in some way. There are many ways to handle these situations. In one case I was talking about how mecha could fly and he pressed me on the fact that mecha can hover, and the next slide was about hovering so all I had to do was flip ahead one slide, problem solved. Another method is to say that their comment or question is something that you hadn’t considered or is beyond the scope of your panel. The last method is to just not give the person a chance to speak if you see them becoming a problem. Really there is no one single way to handle them as every situation is a little different. At the end of your panel I would thank everyone for coming.
I hope my advice helped and remember if your panel didn’t get picked try again, and try at multiple conventions. Also, if your panel didn’t go the way you wanted, don’t give up and keep at it. If you have any questions, please leave them below.