With our first WonderCon panel behind us, we here at Wide Lantern can offer some tips on putting up a panel at the cons — how to get approved, how to make it worth attending, etc. While we’re no experts, we can at least offer up what we learned….
Deadlines, or dead in the water
As someone who’s run several screenwriting competitions, I’ve heard much whining from those who “just found out about it 20 minutes before the deadline” and pleaded for special consideration. When it comes to major conventions, it’s not easy to accommodate people who don’t meet deadlines, especially with events as large as Comic-Con, which has to cap off total attendance at around 125,000.
The ability to meet deadlines is also one indicator of future performance. Why would an organization want to have its name stamped on a panel if its organizers’ inability to follow instructions suggests they may not meet the high standards of the rest of the show?
Apply yourself to applications
Looking at the WonderCon schedule, you’ll find no holes, which means that some panel requests had to be turned down because there weren’t enough slots. So submitting your request as soon as possible, it stands to reason, could help your chances. I like to jump in the first day possible.
Neatness and a clear and concise write-up about what you are proposing are key. Hyperbole — promises to bring Hugh Jackman and Jeffrey Katzenberg to your panel — is not. There is a section in the application where one is asked to provide names of panelists who will definitely be there. While it’s certainly understandable that some committed panelists may have to back out at the last moment, the organization is looking for proof that you can get respected panelists to appear. I don’t think they’re looking for the kid down the street, but rather people with professional experience and a point of view to share.
The form also asks what qualifies the applicant as someone who can bring an idea to life. Can you make it happen?
Don’t be cookie-cutter, and don’t cut things short
Originality and a unique vision should do wonders for your proposal. Fandom, as evident from the vast array of properties at the cons, is so diverse. Try to hone in on an aspect of fandom or a property or perspective that hasn’t been seen before.
The shortest panel is 50 minutes in an hour’s time slot. Make sure you’ll be able to fill that time.
Prep early. prep late and get Prep-H
As soon as my panel proposal was confirmed, I contacted potential panelists. I tried to go beyond the idea stage to develop an overview of what the panel would look like, how it would proceed, and how I would achieve the goal of making things interesting and helpful. Wide Lantern’s co-founders brainstormed and came up with ideas.
As icing on the cake, we ordered T-shirts from Blacklava and the fantastic Ryan Suda to help achieve one of our overall objectives — no surprise — increasing WL’s visibility and readership.
There’s not much time between proposal approval and submission of the final descriptive blurb and panelists’ names for the program. Printing is done way in advance. If you’ve ever carried a con program or schedule, you’ll realize why. They’re huge. Given that there are 125K attendees at Comic-Con, probably around 150-175K programs are printed. They definitely are not printed the eve of the show.
Stress and anxiety are a given; it’s a good idea to minimize that by being prepared.
Communicate or die
I made sure to send periodic emails to my panelists to keep everyone looped in. Here are things you need to relay to the various departments:
Names of panelists, along with a credit line. [The programming department gives an exact example of how this should be formatted. Follow that!]
Name of moderator
Any video or audio needs [It’s necessary to think ahead about all needs that may arise. As stated on their form, Comic-Con rents all equipment, so they need to know what you require. Asking for a New iPad set-up? Probably not going to happen.]
Plans to do Giveaways [Yes, you do need to clear this.]
Programming badges/badge request department:
Names of panelists (different department, so don’t write “I already gave that to you.”)
Names of panelists’ guests (WonderCon allowed three guests for each panelist; Comic-Con probably will provide one guest badge.) [To speed up the process and reduce line-waiting, most registration is done online. While WonderCon was amenable to at-event registration of guests, Comic-Con might not be.]
If you have questions, be sure to reach out to your panel, giving them time to reply.
Not only do you have to request the following information, but you need to relay it all to your panel:
Badge pickup and requirements [A government-issued ID is absolutely necessary. It is totally like that Jerry Seinfeld AMEX commercial.]
Panel time and room number (Obvious but important.)
Parking and venue information with proviso (for Comic-Con, it is bound to be tough riding. My Wide Lantern cohorts and panelists got stuck on the 5 freeway. It took them an hour and a half to get from L.A. to Anaheim. Providing transportation and parking options is absolutely essential. For Comic-Con, there’s virtually no parking in downtown San Diego. Emphasize how difficult parking will be. And while you’re doing it, emphasize the wait time for picking up badges.)
Discussion focus If you have ideas about how the panel should proceed once it gets rolling, don’t spring your insights on everyone the day of. Give the panelists an opportunity to prepare. If you’re moderating, have more of a strategy than “I’m gonna wing it.”
In a similar vein, it’s incumbent upon organizers to promote their panels. I originally wanted to do two press releases but only had time for one. Social media is a must-use in promoting your panel.
On-time or out of there
Comic-Con is precise about starting panels on time. Their organizers suggest arriving 15 minutes early to check in with the staff member who runs the room. Staff members do take notes and provide their impressions on things like cooperation, audience size, and how well a panel was executed.
Should your panel be confirmed, it’s nice to know that con staffs are often enormously friendly and helpful. Brendon and Dave, who ran my room, were extremely nice and offered things I didn’t even think of. They’re professional, so it’s best to match their professionalism.
Water and name signs for panelists are provided. (I didn’t realize that so, ever ready, I printed names out.) Panelists are welcome to take home their name signs as mementos. I forgot mine.
I actually wasn’t very good at this last one. When your time is done, take the conversation outside out of courtesy to those on the next panel. Be sure to check for anything left behind. I was lucky to retrieve a gift bag a panelist forgot.
Undoubtedly there’s plenty I’ve forgotten, but here’s hoping this will get you ready to submit your own proposal.
Re Comic-Con this year, check the official site frequently for info on when proposals are accepted.
[This unofficial Comic-Con blog may be helpful too…. — The Eds.]
***Update Proposals are due April 20. Request a panel request form from Comic-Con.
****Apparently I can’t take my own advice. In submitting 2 proposals, I loaded up the wrong documents and submitted a project twice. Comic-Con staff are so helpful and kind that they sent me an email asking me to provide the correct ones. Sorry!