Pointers for Panel Audiences

My name tent from Norwescon. I've got to get one of these  laminated.

My name tent from Norwescon. I’ve got to get one of these laminated.

I had a whirlwind Norwescon this year, moderating panels and a Q&A with Lee Moyer. It was my first time moderating at a con, and my first time doing a live Q&A interview. I loved the experience, but it was particularly draining to not be a member of the audience. While it’s possible to have bad panels and poor moderators, bad audience members happen too. If you recognize yourself or someone you know in these how to do it better tips, I hope they’re helpful in assisting you becoming an awesome member of the audience.


Don’t Take Photos If They Say No

This is really a global tip for taking photographs anywhere, at any time. While this wasn’t something I saw go wrong, I wanted to beak down some additional reasons to respect this in a panel context. One of the panels I moderated was on disability and creativity. Creative professionals talked about their psychological and physical disabilities, and how they negotiate them in context to their careers. Before the panel started, I asked people to honor the privacy of fellow audience members, and the sensitive topic, by not recording or photographing the panel. If even one person in that audience wasn’t out about a physical or mental health issue, a single photo with them in it, labeled with that panel name? That could complicate their life, or even cause deeply problematic issues for them. This is one of the reasons your doctor’s office has that no cell phones rule. In an increasingly networked world, we need to be careful of our human tendency towards documentation. If you want a photo with a panelist after the panel is over, and they say no, let it go. I didn’t see people ask for, or press this at NWC this year. But, I’ve seen it pushed at a number of cons before, so it needs mentioning.


Hold Your Questions

If you’re in the audience of a panel, and the moderator says all questions will be held till the end? Don’t ask them before that point. By doing so, you make others’ enjoyment and learning at the panel secondary to your own needs. That’s beyond not cool. It’s rude, and it interferes with the panelists ability to get as much information covered as possible before a Q&A period. If they say questions are allowed during the panel, be polite when you ask yours. Raise your hand, don’t interrupt other audience members or the panelists, and keep it short. I make my living interviewing people: very few questions actually require setup. In a tips and tricks panel, some setup may be appropriate: at a DM advice panel, panelists will need some basics filled in to answer questions eloquently. Outside of those feedback heavy panels, do not spend time setting up a question. If it requires lengthy setup to ask, don’t ask it during a panel. By electing to ask the question afterward, you allow others to get in their questions. That maximizes the amount of information that can be exchanged during a panel.


Do Not Be The Comment Guy

I cannot stress  this enough: offering a comment at a panel makes you a dick. You burn the airtime of the panelists and the audience, and your time is not the only important time in the room. Your opinion isn’t the only good one, and even good comments can wait till the panel is over. Talk to panelists after the panel if they’re free about it, or share it with the person whose question would dovetail with your comment. But for the love of all that is holy, do not be The Comment Guy. Do not combine “I have a comment and a question” for a twofer of rudeness, either.

Ryan Macklin did a post after Norwescon on how the Comment Guy screws up panel experiences. You can read it here.


Let Panelists Go After a Panel

If a panelist seems exhausted, rushed or hurrying to GTFO, don’t waylay them in the room. Not only are they likely not in the mood to talk, cornering a panelist in a room prevents the next panel from entering. Holding them up means you’re being rude of their time, as well as the time of the panelists and audience coming in after you. If they don’t have less than five minutes to get to their next panel, a lot of panelists will be more than happy to talk to you! Just be consciousness about how you approach them. Ask if they’re free to talk for a minute if you want to go beyond thanking them for their contribution to the panel. If they’re happy to talk, take the conversation out of the room. Those two things will make you more polite and considerate than a number of your fellow con-goers. Many panelists are working professionals, and being at the convention is work. By thanking them for their contribution and asking to use their time by talking, you give them an experience they wouldn’t otherwise get: a genuine and rewarding moment with someone who wanted to talk.

If you’ve got tips on how to be a great panel attendee, share them in the comments! We can all learn how to be more awesome humans together that way.


About l

L is a freelancer currently working as a writer, editor, journalist and game designer. She hauls a suitcase decorated in stickers as she blogs, travels, and tours. She makes her home in Washington, California, and wherever the tour stopped last night. You can follow L on twitter (@lilyorit )

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