So, you applied to teach a panel at a comic con or some other type of convention. You waited to hear back for weeks or months, and now, finally, you have a response: You’ve been accepted to teach a panel!
But… now what? You’re excited, you’re nervous, and you have NEVER done this before. How do you even teach a panel? How do you keep from awkward pauses, or a bored audience? Not having anything to say, or not sure what you’re even supposed to be teaching?
These are all valid concerns! But not to worry! I have taught panels at a variety of conventions over the years, including in-person and online, and I can give you the answers to all your questions! (Well, some of them, anyway.)
Let’s start with the basics.
Know the expectations
Before you can start preparing a panel to teach, you need to know what the convention expects of you, and what type of panel it is. Is it a presentation, with just you? Or a panel with lots of other people doing it with you? Will you have a screen to show slides on? How long is your panel meant to be? Do you need to get there early? (Actually, it’s a good bet to always get to your panel room a little bit early.)
Knowing the answers to all these questions beforehand can really help alleviate some stress, and help you better prepare. I always feel more calm going into a new situation if I know some of what to expect.
Plus, you don’t want to prepare a full, hour-long presentation, only to find out you only have thirty minutes. So make sure you know what the expectations of the comic con are! Online or in person, most cons will know what they want from you, and will be happy to tell you if you ask.
After you know what the expectations of the panel and the convention are, it’s time to start preparing your presentation! Being prepared, knowing what you’re going to say, and how you’re going to say it, helps SO MUCH with presenting a panel. It’s much harder to talk to people and teach them if you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Have a panel outline
That’s why I’ve found that it’s a great idea to have an outline for your panel. In my experience, having a full script of every single word you plan to say isn’t as helpful, since if you lose your place, or go off on a tangent, it can be awkward to try and find your place again. Plus, you don’t want to sound like you’re just reading off a script. Nobody really likes to listen to that.
What can be more helpful, at least to me, is just having an outline!
I like to have a set of bullet points covering what I want to talk about, not going too in-depth. That way, I know what I want to talk about, and in what order, and I can have something to refer back to.
I do also occasionally have a full script written out, but I don’t usually read it word for word. It’s just a way to help me stay on track, and have something to refer back to and read off of if I get lost.
There’s a ton of different ways to make outlines and scripts and notes for teaching a panel, and it’s up to you what you choose! I encourage you to try different things, and see what works best for you.
Going along with not just reading off a script is what to do if you have a slideshow. A slideshow should help underline what you’re saying, providing some more context, images, or sometimes bullet points. What you DON’T want to do is have a big block of text on screen, and then just read that. There should almost never be a big amount of text on screen.
Slideshows can be helpful, but they should support YOU, not the other way around.
I’ve used slideshows to underline bullet points, make a short list of websites for people to check out, or to display images. It’s helpful for me to have something to gesture at and talk about, and it’s helpful for the audience to better visualize what I’m talking about, or sometimes take a picture of.
It’s a piece of advice I got while preparing for my first in-person con panel, and it was super helpful to me!
Engage with the audience
Some more advice I got when preparing for one of my first comic con panels was that if you want the audience to engage and ask questions, make it clear early on that they CAN. Before the panel actually starts, ask them how they’re doing, maybe make some jokes, laugh with them. This also has the added benefit of helping calm your own nerves down, helping you feel like you’re among friends.
I’ve found that panels where the audience engages and asks questions are a much better experience than me just talking into the void.
So talk to your audience! Let them know they can ask questions, or give comments. It really adds a lot to the energy of the room, and, in my opinion, it usually makes for a better experience.
Unless, of course, you’re talking to a stadium of thousands and thousands of people and having people raise their hands to ask a question is just not at all logistical, or even allowed. Which, again, is another reason you should know the expectations of the comic con and the panel before hand.
My final piece of advice for teaching your first comic con panel is not to take yourself too seriously. Don’t stress too much about it. It’s only an hour of your life, and if you mess up, that’s okay! Most people in the audience have probably had to do public speaking before, and they would sympathize with you, rather than make fun of you. So don’t worry too much!!
Before you go up to present your comic con panel, take a deep breath, and let it out slowly. It’ll all be okay. Do something that calms you down, or helps you feel more confident. For me, that’s usually getting hyped up by a family member, or saying a quick prayer. Find what works for you to help calm you down, and then go up and teach your panel!
You’ll do awesome. I believe in you.