Beyond the usual logistical details, I usually relay tips to those appearing on a panel I moderate. Most of my panelists are used to industry panels. Comic-Con panels are somewhat different.

There are basically two major types of panels: the A-lister panels where celebrities appear onstage for five minutes to talk about how great their project is and the “instructional” panels where some amount of information is relayed that can be useful for the attendees. I use the “instructional” term loosely because many of those panels are merely opportunities for attendees to cheer their faves. For instance, no matter how the program blurbs are phrased, generally voice-over talent panels consist of the actors repeating their characters’ catchphrases to the resounding cheer from the audience. So you might want to learn about glottal fry deviations but all you’ll get are attendees frying their voice from screaming.

With my Wide Lantern and Disney/ABC Talent Development panels, I’ve also tried to provide attendees with tangible advice to take home. My panels are usually interactive–I’ve offered the opportunity to audience members to pitch their personal loglines.

Just a note: at the upcoming SDCC panel on July 11, we won’t be offering that.

Here are some of my tips to be a great Comic-Con panelist.

Not interested in who you are
Unless you are an A-lister, attendees really aren’t interested in who you are or how you got where you are. Unless anecdotes are hooked into something they can apply to their lives and/or careers. My best panelist was the phenomenal Samantha Humphrey. All her stories had a point to them. She briefly mentioned that she was a big fan of Alias. And when she got staffed on the show, she was starstruck and wanted to make it evident that she deserved to be there. Her eager-beaverness annoyed people so much that she was taken aside and told to chill out. Samantha propagated the story in answering a question about how not to be annoying in a writer’s room. Her story had a point to it.

Kiss the Microphone
Maybe panelists believe that the microphones are unidirectional. They are not. If panelists lean back or speak to the side of the mic, they aren’t heard. You have to be directly on top of that thing or it’s “We can’t hear you!” shouted from the galleys.

Don’t be a Bad Date
Ever been on a date where the potential match delivered a monologue? Panelists are not solo performance artists. When I encounter this as a moderator, I have to find an opening, a breath, a statement where I can reroute the conversation to someone else. It’s sometimes difficult to do. It may seem rude at times, but that’s my job. To keep CONVERSATION going. Leave the monologues to Anna Deveare Smith and Garrison Keillor.

Don’t be Closed Mouth
My last Comic-Con panel was a disaster. In addition to behind-the-scene politics, two of my panelists didn’t much go beyond one sentence responses. I basically asked the same question in different ways without ever getting a response or much of a conversation. Panelists have to find  a happy medium–concise but not closed mouthed.

Don’t Backtrack the Conversation
Someone says something that inspires you to add your two cents in. Many times what follows is contradictory or looking at the topic from a different perspective. That’s good. What’s bad is reiterating what the previous panelist said. Do not echo. Do not parrot. And if you have an alternative or additional insight, do not wait until the moderator starts a new topic and then say, “I’d like to comment about the previous question.” Just do it. That’s conversation. Backtracking after a new topic is propagated slows down conversation and invariably leads the panelist to say, “What was the question?” That’s another convo killer.

Don’t Use New Agey Slogans

There’s nothing worse than panelists proferring slogans such as “Dig Deep” or “Stay True to Yourself.” What does that even mean?

Leave plenty of time Those who haven’t been to Comic-Con are often overwhelmed by the immensity of the event. It’s estimated that 130,000 have actual badges. But there are countless interactive experiences outside of the convention center that do not require a badge. Homeless people love Comic-Con because they get free stuff including food, t-shirts, and giant bags they can carry their belongings in. Families can be entertained at entirely no cost. And there are countless guerilla marketers hawking their wares. So the number of people actually in the Gaslamp district swells significantly, making mobility difficult. You cannot drive up or even get close to the building. Parking is impossible. Giant herds of pedestrians clog up streets. The best bet is the shuttle but even then panelists have to navigate to the correct professional line, get their badge, and make their way to their room on time.

Don’t count on the 5
All the freeways will be booked so the usual 2 hour drive is a fantasy. Coming home to LA from Comic-Con took me 9 hours because of construction. Every WonderCon panel I’ve moderated had late panelists, and that’s only in Anaheim.

Don’t get in the wrong line
The yellow shirt people are your friends so instead of waiting in a line you think is the right one, ask. Panelists go to the professional line which is Hall D. A confirmation print out with barcode and ID are required. If you get into the wrong line, you’d probably expend hours for naught.

Use the Free Shuttle Comic-Con provides an absolutely, entirely free shuttle service from partnering hotels to the convention center. It’s best to go to the first shuttle stop or you may be left behind as the shuttle does load up rather quickly. You do not need your badge to ride the shuttle.

Enjoy the Entire Event

Panelist badges are 5-day passes good for the entire event including Preview Night Wednesday. It is considered a Professional Badge. The only perk is that you can get in the shorter Professional Line for the Exhibit Hall first thing in the morning (and preview night) if that is your goal. They’ve also allowed professionals to switch their Official Swag Bag at badge pick-up if so desired.


–Ken Choy



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