Badges, Panels, Questions

As I mentioned last week, Bubonicon (New Mexico’s SF convention) was held over the first weekend in August.  I was a bit tired right after – not only was the convention a busy time, but we’d had to take one of our cats to the vet the night before the con started.  (He’s okay.)  This meant I started the weekend short of sleep.

Panelists

Panelists

Despite that, it was a good convention.  I had a great turnout for my reading, during which I debuted Artemis Invaded.  No matter what anyone tells you, I did not intentionally end on a cliffhanger.  <grin>

The panels I was on were fun and lively.  Catching up with old friends is always fun and making new acquaintances who might turn into friends down the line is also fun.

It was one of these latter encounters that got me thinking about the interaction between authors and fans.  One of this year’s Bubonicon first-timers was a newly-published author named Livia Blackburne.  Since she’d volunteered to help out with the Afternoon Tea on Sunday, I’d seen her name, but I didn’t know much more than that she had a YA novel published very recently.

After my reading, I darted off so as not to miss the Opening Ceremonies.  Imagine my surprise when a young woman I’d spoken with briefly out near Registration turned out to be Livia Blackburne.  How could I have missed the connection?  Why hadn’t I seen her name on her badge?  Maybe she hadn’t registered then?

At the end of Opening Ceremonies, I glanced over at Ms. Blackburne.  No badge.  That seemed strange.  Then I realized she had it pinned to the hem of her top, so that it rested somewhere above her knee.  Impulsively – I can be impulsive – I darted over to her.  Already a little embarrassed by my forwardness, I quickly explained that she should wear her badge where people could easily read it.

“Honestly, people really do want to know who you are!”

That had been a tough lesson for me to learn.  Although it may be hard for people who’ve seen me at conventions or book signings to realize, I’m naturally shy. The first couple of times I went to a convention, wearing a badge seemed almost cheeky.  Why would anyone care?  Wasn’t it enough that people be able to see it on me somewhere as proof I’d registered?

Fact is, badges are incredibly useful – and not just for authors, but for fans as well.  At conventions, you often encounter people you meet only once or twice a year.  Badges provide a reminder of who is who.  This really came home in 2013 when Bubonicon experimented with exchanging badges for wrist bands.  The wrist bands provided proof of registration, but they didn’t provide names – and names are one of the best memory joggers.  I’ve been at conventions where people not only write their names on the badges, but also the tag by which they’re commonly known on-line.  Again, it’s a link.

There’s a lovely lady who attends Bubonicon’s Afternoon Tea every year.  I know her only as “Turtle Bear.”  But that doesn’t matter.  It’s a name she answers to…  When I see the name Turtle Bear and all the associations flow back: our chat about her grandbaby, the hat she wore last year, and all the rest.  Without the badge and the name, it might take me a little longer to pull up the right mental files.

Don’t want to pin something to your shirt?  That’s understandable.  More and more conventions provide badge clips and/or lanyards.  However, there’s a fun alternative.  Bring your own!  A few years ago, Jim and I picked up sparkly lanyards.  Mine is varied shades of blue; his is black.  A good quality lanyard can become an accent to your attire and also help eliminate the problem of your badge flipping over to show the wrong side.  I noticed that by the second day of the convention, Ms. Blackburne had gotten a good quality lanyard and wore her badge without damaging her pretty tops.

Another place that authors and fans interact is through panel discussions.  Since I’m in giving advice mode, I’m going to offer a little regarding this as well.  If you’re on a panel, for goodness sake, prepare in advance!  Most conventions give you at least a week or two of warning.  Some conventions (Bubonicon among them) supply sample questions.

Think about the questions.   Even better, think about interesting replies – something beyond the self-promotional “In my book I…”   Reach for the roots of why you did this.  It’s likely at least some of the audience knows what you did.  However, until you tell them, they won’t know why.

If you’ve been tapped to moderate a panel, your role is slightly different.  I’ve been on panels where the moderator apparently thinks that this means he or she is the star of the panel and should keep the microphone as tightly held in his or her hand as possible.  In fact, the moderator should try to speak last, if at all.  The moderator’s job is to facilitate discussion, not to hog it.

A moderator should prepare extra questions or consider a more interesting arrangement of those suggested.  The moderator should try to keep the panel on topic.  Many years ago, a long-time pro said wearily, “Every panel turns into the same panel.”  I assure you, this is not the case when I moderate!

Moderators should familiarize themselves with their panelists before climbing up on stage.  At the very least, read the bio in the program book.  If you have time in advance of the convention, go on-line and take a quick look at the other panelists’ websites.  This will enable you to ask questions that are more tailored to the various panelist’s works and interests.  Instead of asking over and over again, “Have you ever…” you can ask, “In your book, Navel Gate you address the question of…”

Yes, it’s work, but that’s what you’re there for!

Another thing a moderator should do is keep track of who is doing all the talking.  Some panelists are naturally garrulous.  Others are shy or diffident.  The audience will notice if you let some panelists ride roughshod over others – and it won’t reflect well on you at all.  You don’t need to push the shy ones to talk, but a polite, “Mr. Seagull, let’s give you first shot on this question,” will give quieter panelists a chance when the material is fresh.

I spoke of panels as “interaction” between authors and fans.  This comes in the question-and-answer phase.  A moderator should always leave five to ten minutes for questions on any panel.  Often you’ll see hands going up early in the panel.  Acknowledge these with a nod or a quick “Hold onto that.  We’re going to take questions in a bit.”

As for those of you in audience, burning up with what you’d like to say, remember – you’re not on the panel.  If you have a question, write it down and save it for the end.  If you have a statement you want to make, keep it short.  If you have more than one question, ask only one, then give someone else a turn.

Finally, when the panel is over, don’t rush the platform hoping to continue the discussion.  The panelists need to move out to let the next event start.  Wait until the panelists have moved into the hallway before buttonholing someone.  Be sure to check if this person has time to talk.  He or she may have another commitment not listed in the program book.

Whew…  I’ve gotten a bit carried away, so I’ll stop there…  Thoughts?  Questions?

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7 Responses to “Badges, Panels, Questions”

  1. Heteromeles Says:

    Well, my pet peeve, since I tend to get shut up a lot, is the 10 second timer that runs in the moderator’s head. If someone speaks for more than a short time, they’re shut up so that other people can answer, in the interest of fairness.

    Trouble is, if you’re trying to answer a question that takes more than 10 seconds to answer, all that means is that you’re shut up before you can answer the question thoughtfully or fully.

    This promotes sound bites.

    I had something like that happen yesterday. The guy in charge of a conference call asked a complicated question. I replied, “There’s a two part answer. The first part is…” I managed to get through that in about three sentences when he cut me off and said, “Yes, but what about…?” And I had to answer “That’s the second part of the the answer, which is…” And I had another three sentences in which to answer that question before he got impatient again.

    In this case, we were talking about conservation in an era of climate change. Most of the people on the conference call were just starting to grapple with the issue, and I’ve spent most of a year working on a book that deals in part with this topic. I was trying to get them up to speed, not because I wanted the ego stroke, but because it’s a difficult, painful issue, and they were in a blind alley I’d finally broken out of a few months ago.

    So if I have one plea to moderators, it’s to figure out whether your goal is to make sure everyone gets their turn in the spotlight, whether it’s to get answers to questions, or whether it’s to have a fun session where everyone learns something new. Sometimes these goals conflict with each other.

    Fairness is always important, but sometimes, forcing equal time isn’t the most fair thing one can do. For example, if Jim and I were on a panel and the topic was Southwest archeology, I’d be perfectly happy to talk for three minutes about how populations of plants the natives used show up around archeological sites, and Jim could talk for the rest of the hour while I happily took notes. That’s fair, because Jim’s the archeologist and I’m not. Forcing us each to talk for thirty minutes wastes about 27 minutes of everyone’s time (since I only have three minutes of material, I’d have to babble for 27 minutes and bore everyone silly), and it cuts back on master class that Jim could deliver if he was given the 57 minutes to speak instead of 30 minutes. While it seems grossly unfair to give me three minutes and give Jim 57 minutes, I suspect it would lead to a far better session. What’s fair here?

    • janelindskold Says:

      Two elements here… First, I never set a ten second timer. However, I do keep a watch in front of me and use it to make sure one person isn’t going overboard.

      Two… Your example of you and Jim is a really good one. However, it doesn’t precisely apply to SF/F conventions because at a good convention (like Bubonicon) the convention staff has tried to put people on the panel who have some relationship to the topic.

      Therefore, everyone has something to offer and everyone should have a chance to offer it!

  2. CBI Says:

    Well said, Jane.

    Anecdote time. I first attended a Bubonicon about a dozen years ago, and mainly attended panels, not readings and the like. Most panels were OK, but I was impressed by the moderator of one panel — someone whom I’d never heard of before (or so I thought, but that’s another anecdote) — who kept things on track, elicited a variety of viewpoints, and kept it both interesting and educational the whole time.

    The moderator’s name was Jane Lindskold. Yes, her preparation for panels shows, and, as an attendee, I appreciate it a lot.

    I also appreciate the advice on how attendees should behave. I tend to become over-enthusiastic at times, and sometimes have to remind myself that the panelists have just put in a straight hour of *work*, and probably could use a breather at least.

    You asked for questions. Is it OK to “rush the platform” just to say a quick “thank-you” to a panelist you benefitted from, and to say “I really appreciated (or have to think about) that comment you made about ocelot hairballs [or whatever]”? Or do most panelists simply want to get away and prefer a comment in the hallway or later at the convention?

    • janelindskold Says:

      Well, James…

      It’s okay to rush the platform if you can keep it brief. Panelists certainly appreciate hearing that people in the audience enjoyed themselves. However, it’s a delicate balance because we do try to be courteous to the panelists following us and the convention staff which has requested we keep within our set time.

      We missed you at the Tea!

  3. Paul Says:

    That’s great advice about name tags. I hadn’t even thought about it – lately I’d been sticking mine down on my belt. Now I may buy some kind of lanyard myself for future convention badges. Sometimes something that seems obvious isn’t.

  4. Paul Genesse Says:

    Hi Jane, I remember the very first panel I ever saw you on at a World Fantasy. I believe it was Minneapolis, but it could have been Washington D.C.?, Anyway, you were the moderator and did a great job, which was unlike every panel I’d seen before that, as practically ever other moderator performed poorly.

    I took notice of your style, and years later, when I was asked to be on panels and moderate, I took a cue from you and prepared, among other things.

    I’m glad Bubonicon went well. I need to go some year, and your tease about reading from Artemis Invaded made me salivate a little. I just finished reading book one, Artemis Awakening. I’m stoked for the sequels!

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      Hi Paul,

      I am happy I moderated well! I think either Minneapolis or D.C. was when I had both Charles deLint and Terri Windling, which had me nervous as hell, because I had tremendous respect for both of them. Since Charles was GOH, I kept giving him first shot at any question and he accused me (jokingly) of putting him on the spot!

      Ah, good memories!

      I’m also glad you got something from the panel in addition to the content. I think you’d really enjoy Bubonicon. It’s a fine, well-balanced convention!

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