By Petrea Mitchell| June 13, 2010 | 2 Comments
Have you ever wanted to be a program participant? You know, one of those people doing panels, workshops, or demonstrations at your favorite con? Do you have a brilliant idea for a program item you want to do, but wonder what sort of fearsome challenges lie in wait for the would-be talking head?
Your odds are better than you think. Unless you’re looking at a very small convention, where program space is at a premium, or a very big, high-profile one, where people from all over are competing to get a slice of the attention, the program director can probably always use another competent-sounding volunteer.
There are two main models for con programming. One, which tends to be used by specialized events like anime or gaming cons, leaves the assembly work up to you: you submit a proposal with a description of your event and its basic needs– amount of time, room arrangement, your preferred times to hold it, and so forth– and then you find the extra people you need to run it.
In the other model, which is the usual one for broad-based sf cons, the programming department has a list of topic ideas, many of them not suggested by anyone planning to be a participant, and a list of potential panelists to match up with them. People may also volunteer to do a specific one-person talk, slideshow, or such, but most of the panels are assumed to be open to be filled by whoever programming can find to be on them.
This model can get you on to fascinating and fun panels that you might never have thought to suggest yourself, but the process is a little more anxiety-inducing, so let’s walk through it in detail.
1) Write in and volunteer, giving an idea of the sorts of things you can talk about.
Remember, panels at a general sf con can be about practically anything. Work experience, volunteer experience, academic experience, or just firmly stated assertions of a major interest can give the programming people something to work with.
For instance, say you’ve faithfully maintained a blog for years with postings about every soda you drink. You might think soda connoisseuring might be of no interest to the general sf fan (and you might easily be wrong about that), but mentioning it might suggest to the program director that you are exactly the person they need to round out that discussion about the technical aspects of blogging.
Fandom is unfortunately not very good at communication, and it’s not at all unusual to not get an immediate response. If it gets to be 2-3 months before the con, and you still haven’t even gotten the “Thanks, you’re on our list of volunteers” reply, you’re justified in writing again and asking (politely!) if perhaps they did not get your earlier e-mail.
3) Fill out the survey.
If you make it over the initial hurdle, then you’re asked to fill out a form (usually on a Web page, these days) giving your knowledge and availability in more detail. Every one is a little different, but typical things they ask for are:
- Whether or not you’re willing to be a moderator.
- Interest in various specific topic areas– sometimes by general fields of knowledge, sometimes in terms of how the program tracks are divided up.
- Anything you don’t want to talk about.
- Times of day you’re willing to be on program items.
- Specific things you don’t want to be scheduled against (e.g., the Masquerade because you’re a contestant).
- Maximum number of items you want to be on, per day or total. Be conservative about this! It’s been said that one hour in front of an audience is equivalent to three hours just enjoying the con like a regular member. I didn’t believe this either, until I experienced it.
- People you don’t want to be on a panel with. (Usually with a note that you don’t need to tell the story, just give the names.)
Some cons will give you a list of possible program items and let you indicate which ones you’re interested in, and degree of interest.
4) Wait for your schedule.
Preliminary schedules typically go out 3-4 weeks before a con. You get a chance to check it over, let the programming people know that you’re actually not going to be available after 11am on Monday after all, or that you do know a lot about mecha but can’t stand being on yet another Evangelion panel, or any other issues.
Final schedules then go out with any corrections, and congratulations, you’re going to be a panelist! Surviving that experience for the first time is worth a whole other post in itself.