Dear Convention organizers and volunteers,
You are the beating heart and wise soul of the science fiction convention circuit. Your involvement, planning, enthusiasm, and just plain super-hero energy are what makes the con world go ’round. I can’t even run my own life — I don’t think I could run a con. And you guys do it every year. You have to deal with hotels that forget to tell you they have a 110-decibel Christian rock praise service at the same time you are running panels, and you have to organize guests, fans, meeting rooms, con suites, and logistics that would make any mortal a gibbering idiot.
I salute you.
But. And you knew there would be a but. Because I’m a butt. But I digress.
Here are a few ideas to keep in mind for programming.
Not every panel idea is a good idea. If the programming committee can’t think of three good areas of discussion for a panel topic, it’s probably not a good panel topic. Don’t necessarily rely on the guests or the moderator to salvage a vague panel thesis. If there’s no clear idea of what the panel is about, it’s probably not going to be an interesting panel. Floundering Panelists may be a good name for a band, but it makes for a lousy panel.
Know your guests. We all fill out the questionnaires, but they don’t go that in depth. However, at a regional convention, we all know the usual suspects. So for example in Texas, for outrageous enthusiasm, you have the Four Redheads of the Apocalypse. For the curmudgeonly contrarian, there’s A. Lee Martinez. For Strong Opinions on Feminism, there’s Stina Leicht. Etc. Use your superpowers for good, and put the opinionated people on the opinionated panels. If you are running a con in Texas, you know who is likely to be there, and what their strengths are. Play to those strengths and even, dare I say it, reach out to these people outside of the questionnaire.
And that brings me to:
Don’t play it safe. Safe panel topics are boring. Con panels should be thought provoking and even provocative. They should be loud, with lots of debate. Maybe even raucous. After all, we — panelists, guests, fans — go to cons to have these conversations. We want to get into meaty discussions.
There’s a lot of competition now from media cons. I happen to believe cross-pollination is a great thing, but it means that traditional cons have to bring their A game. ConDFW was faced with a difficult situation this year as Dallas ComiCon was programmed against it. One way to get fans excited about traditional conventions is to have stellar programming. We have, what, a 75-year history or more of science fiction conventions? Let’s bring back the excitement for fans.
Dear Authors, Editors, Artists, and other Panelists,
Come on, guys. Being a pro means working a bit harder on panels. Yes, many of us have done this for a while, and it’s hard to gin up excitement about some panel ideas. But being a creator isn’t a right, it’s a privilege, and going to cons is how we give back to the community. So please, a little more enthusiasm. Engage with the audience. Be a performer. Yes, we are all a bunch of introverts, yeah yeah. In your heart of hearts, though, you know you want to steal the show.
Have you been tapped to moderate? Well, come up with questions about the panel topic and try to make them provocative and challenging. Don’t know some of the people on the panel? Look them up. Tailor questions. Make it interesting for everyone.
Panelists, remember the first part of this letter? There’s excitement, and then there’s hogging the airtime. Don’t be that panelist. Let everyone have a turn in the spotlight. We are all guilty of this one, but it’s just basic courtesy.
Have you ever been assigned to a panel that isn’t your area or you find dull as dirt? Tell the programming committee. Don’t suffer through a panel you aren’t interested in, because you sure won’t be an interesting panelist.
We’re all in this together. The pressure from media cons and the aging of fandom means that cons are threatened as never before. We need to bring in the anime fans, the cosplayers, and the media fans and show them that they can have as much fun here — and for far less money — than at a big ComiCon or Comicpalooza. For most of us, we were fans first. Let’s remember the excitement of our first cons and try to recreate that. It’s not always easy, and I will be the first to admit I didn’t exactly bring my game this weekend. But let’s try to get our mojo back, hmm?
Because the alternative is not that much fun — boring conventions with a dwindling fan base.