Please welcome Cassandra Khaw to the blog! Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef, just came out, and we’ve got a great guest post about how to survive your first panel at a con! Enjoy, and be sure to snag a copy of her book (it’s only $3.49 on Kindle.)
So. You’re in your first panel. Before anything else:
Actually, some pressure, but not as much as that earlier statement implicated. You should bring your A-game to every panel you’re lucky enough to participate in, but what that actually means is, well, entirely subjective. Especially if you’re new. You’re there to offer an opinion, a conglomeration of thoughts, a different viewpoint. You’re not there as a cog in a machine. You’re there as an individual. More than anything else, you’re there as you.
And you can’t really be you if you’re falling apart at the seams.
True story: I’ve only participated in two panels ever. As a result, I can’t tell you for sure if there are any hard or fast rules to being a good panelist. (I could have been terrible. I don’t know.) But I can talk about surviving them as a person with occasionally crippling social anxieties.
Panels are not competitive. Despite how they might look from the outside sometimes, they’re not about the celebrity participant. They’re not about that one person whose name everyone knows. Sure, some of the people attending might be there specifically for that person, but on the whole? You’re in this together. I can tell you now that there’s nothing like exchanging smiles with your fellow panelists, volleying ideas between each other, laughing and nodding, and expressing interest in each other. The energy is contagious. Your audience will feel it. You will too, as will everyone else involved.
But how do you do that if you don’t know everyone else? How do you do that if you’re so new? An email works. Before my first panel, I sent an email out to the group, confessing to my complete inexperience and also my terror. My panelists responded kindly (Thanks, Kim!) both before and during the panel. People seemed more conscious about watching for cues from the shy newbie. People bounced off things I said (Thanks Hal!), and after a while, it became natural to do the same. It was wonderful. And all it took was a single email. Just one!
Similarly, tell your audience you’re new. I remember spending hours agonizing about whether I should share that revelation. I ended up blurting it out when I was introduced. And weirdly, it counted for a lot. You’d think that it wouldn’t. The audience is supposed to be mostly passive. But it does count. The audience laughed when I told them I was new. They offered encouraging smiles. They leaned forward. They paid attention. These little kindnesses will mean the world for you while you’re under the spotlight. (Personal mileage might vary, but. You know.)
Long story short, don’t hide the fact it’s destroying you. Be open. Be direct. Be humble. Be honest. Be human.
Or, whatever species is appropriate.
About Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef:
It’s not unusual to work two jobs in this day and age, but sorcerer and former triad soldier Rupert Wong’s life is more complicated than most. By day, he makes human hors d’oeuvres for a dynasty of ghouls; by night, he pushes pencils for the Ten Chinese Hells. Of course, it never seems to be enough to buy him a new car—or his restless, flesh-eating-ghost girlfriend passage from the reincarnation cycle—until opportunity comes smashing through his window.
In Kuala Lumpur, where deities from a handful of major faiths tip-toe around each other and damned souls number in the millions, it’s important to tread carefully. Now the Dragon King of the South wants to throw Rupert right in it. The ocean god’s daughter and her once-mortal husband have been murdered, leaving a single clue: bloodied feathers from the Greek furies. It’s a clue that could start a war between pantheons, and Rupert’s stuck in the middle. Success promises wealth, power and freedom, and failure… doesn’t.