Thursday, July 12, 2012

SDCC '12: Panel Q&A - A Guide for Fans

One of the main highlights of any large con is the opportunity to interact with the writers, artists & actors that bring your favorite characters to life. Throughout the numerous panels here at SDCC hundreds of fans will do just that through the obligatory Q&A sessions that most panels end with. These Q&A's can be enlightening and enriching experiences or cringe-worthy train wrecks depending on the quality of questions asked.

That's why I've decided to come up with a quick guide based on my own experiences at various cons across the country. Hopefully with these tips you can get the very most out of your panels and maybe even help you be the rock star that instigated a memorable SDCC moment for all.

What you should do:
A convention the size of SDCC takes months, even years, of preparation. In most cases panels are scheduled months in advance and the host and panelists come prepared with jokes, stories and anecdotes to share with the audience to keep things entertaining. Out of respect for all of this work the least we can do is put some effort into our questions. These tips should help you get started:

  1. Think Ahead About Your Question - All too often the Q&A line is too long to get to everyone, that’s why it’s important to not waste anyone's time.  There are about five panels that I know I’m definitely going to attend this weekend, and I’ve been thinking about what, if anything, I’m going to ask to the panel if given the chance. Remember, every “Umm” & “Uhh” said while you're trying to think something up on the spot is a missed opportunity for the other fans at the end of the line.
  2. Ask Questions to Provoke Discussion - The real purpose of the Q&A sessions is for the fans to either try and gleam some new info from the panelists or to try and make a connection with the people they look up to. There’s no better way to engage everyone than with a thought provoking question that doesn't have a simple yes or no answer. The only thing you need to remember here is...
  3. Ask Questions That Are Revelent to the Panel - The mere fact that there’s a room full of people there in the first place means that most of those people are fans of the panels subject. While you may want to know about one panelist's side project you should remember that the audience and the panelists themselves are all there because they want to discuss the subject of that panel.
  4. Ask Questions to Engage the Whole Panel - There’s nothing more awkward than question after question being directed at the same person. True, some panelists may outshine others in star-power, but that doesn’t mean the others don’t have anything to contribute.
  5. Keep It Short & Simple - Again, there are a lot of other people on the line behind you.  Be courteous and try to keep the line moving. Also, if someone already asked your question, then bow out gracefully and get off the line. Be happy that you got to hear your answer and let someone else have a shot.

What not to do:
It would be all too easy to start bashing people and turn this section into a smoldering pile of nerd rage, but that’s not what I’m about here. This is meant to be advice for those attending their first con, or maybe just people looking for a better experience. There’s a saying at my job “Assume positive intent”. Simply put, we’re all fans and we all want a great experience. We can all help each other out by avoiding the following:

  1. Don’t Go Up Unprepared - I know I technically already said this, but it cannot be stressed enough. As I mentioned there are more fans than minutes for Q&A, so be fair and don’t jump on line just because you can. You may think that you can make something up while you wait, but you aren’t doing the audience any favors with your half-hearted attempt.
  2. Don’t Ask Generic Questions - There’s nothing more boring that asking the actor or writer "who their inspiration is", or asking some silly “what’s your favorite blank?” question. Many of these generic questions have probably already been answered in published interviews, so be sure and have a little more substance.
  3. Don’t Ask More Than One Question and/or Follow Up Questions - I cannot say it enough, there are people behind you that have their own questions. Let the panelists elaborate as much as they want, but when they’re done say Thank You and step aside.
  4. Don’t Ask Something That’s Already Been Answered - Getting up in front of a room full of people to speak is no small task, doing it to talk to someone you look up to and who may or may not be very famous can be outright terrifying. So it’s understandable that while on line you might not be listening to other people’s questions, but you’re only hurting yourself by doing this. Obviously you don’t want to ask something twice, but by paying attention you may also hear something new that alters your question. Also you can calm yourself by watching the successful interactions of your fellow fans and reassure yourself that no one was mauled by the panelists or booed out of the room.
  5. Don’t Get In Line Just to Say Thank You - You can say this by starting a standing ovation when the panel is over, or by stalking them after.
  6. Don’t Ask For Things - The panel has a topic and a purpose, don’t be the person that hijacks the whole thing with their own agenda or request. Unless the panel is specifically about breaking in to the field, don’t ask to career advice. You may think you're funny, but don’t ask for a photo-op, autograph or sing along mid-panel. The fact is that by doing this you’re alienating a large portion of the audience and potentially taking the whole thing off topic.

Well, hopefully we’re all more prepared and ready to contribute to another great weekend of discussions in San Diego and beyond. Just remember that we’re all fans here and be sure to show the respect and appreciation that you’d want to receive.

See you on the floor!

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Awww, so jealous you're there. I decided to skip it this year and I regret that decision everyday.

    Looked for your harness picture but I didn't see it in the first few pages. You should post your ID#.