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Because Readercon is very soon now, my friend Claire asked for advice on moderating panels at conventions. It turns out I've done enough research and had enough experience that I actually had a lot to say on the subject. After our e-mail exchange Claire asked if I'd post my notes publicly, so here they are:

1) Remember first and foremost that your job on any panel is to keep the audience entertained and engaged. If things go off topic, but people are interested in that tangent, it's okay to follow the tangent for a bit. If things are going exactly according to plan, but people seem unengaged, it's time to change things up somehow. Never stay for too too long on one subject (or one tiny aspect of a larger subject, anyway).

2) People have most likely come to this panel for one of two reasons. The first is that they know and like one or more of the panelists, and would like to hear them speak. The second is that they like the look of the panel description as it appears in the program. Knowing these two things, consider it your task to make sure that all the panelists get chances to speak more than a tiny amount, and to address the subject matter described in the panel in at least three different ways--there is nothing quite so disappointing as arriving at a panel where the description sounds very exciting, only to have the moderator undercut it ("I know the description says this is about contemporary fantasy fairy tale retellings, but everyone's totally sick of those. Let's focus on aliens in space opera fairy tales instead.").

3) To make things go smoothly, it helps if you have done some prep-work. If you've been provided a list of e-mail addresses for your fellow panelists, you might want to send a message in advance with a brief explanation of your game plan. Something along the lines of:

"I'm going to introduce the panel by name and tell the audience that we will have a discussion for x minutes before we open up to audience questions for the last y minutes of the panel. Then I'll read the official description and ask each of you to introduce yourselves in a brief way. I will spend the remainder of the first x minutes asking you all some questions, and making sure everyone has a chance to speak. If there's anything you particularly hope to talk about in this discussion, please let me know."

Of course, you would also want to add salutations and pleasantries. You might also end the message by asking if that plan sounds all right, and welcoming their suggestions for changes to the overall plan. In practice, I have never had anyone ask me to change my plan, but people seem to like the idea that they do have input. I have sometimes gotten good suggestions for things to talk about, too.

If you have not been provided a list a of e-mails you can either skip this step, or you can try asking the event organizers for contact info if you feel like doing that.

4) On the day of the panel, be very clear from the start that you'll be taking questions at whichever time you intend to take them, and that you are the leader of the discussion. People will accept your authority if you lay it out up front. If you haven't explicitly stated it, and people start to overtake the conversation (panelists or audience members), it can be very difficult to wrestle the conversation into a meaningful shape. At 5 minutes before the panel is supposed to end, stop taking questions, tell everyone it's time to wrap up, and ask your panelists for any final remarks. End the panel on time (several minutes before the next panel is scheduled to begin) so that the next group can come in and get started promptly. This all sounds very authoritarian, but if you say it with clarity and good-naturedness, most likely no one will mind.

5) Have some specific questions in mind (and bonus points if you have one question specifically related to each panelist's work), but don't think of them as a list to get through. Use them as a guide to start the conversation, and then to bring it back on track if it starts to stall or wander too far. Be open and flexible about following the natural conversational path as long as that path is interesting and the audience is engaged. If you believe that every panelist has something interesting to say, and that your job is to help them have a chance to say it, you'll usually be right, and everyone will be pleased with the end result.

6) If one person is dominating the conversation, it's okay to stop them, even mid-sentence. Just make it seem like a natural segue, and bring the conversation specifically to a panelist who hasn't spoken as much. ("You've brought up an interesting point, Jane. Bob, since you also write science fantasy, I'm wondering what you think about Jane's observation. Do you agree that all fairy tales should feature aliens from now on?").

7) Have fun. If you have fun, chances are everyone else will too.

Bonus tip: If you've got microphones available, use them. Even if you don't think you need them, other people might benefit from the amplification. Some audience members might feel unable or unwilling to complain when they can't hear you, so it's better to err on the louder and clearer side.

This is not an exhaustive list of tips, but it's good basic guide. If you have more suggestions, feel free to mention them in the comments!

P.S. If you're coming to Readercon, I hope to see you there! I'll be reading in the Mythic Poetry group reading at 11am on Friday, and then leading the Codex Writers group reading at noon on Friday. The Outer Alliance is also having a meetup Friday at 9pm in the lobby. Do say hello!
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This is the one with C.S.E. Cooney and Gwynne Garfinkle and Mary Robinette Kowal (in effigy), which we recorded at Readercon, and which is entirely silly and wonderful. Gwynne reads a zombie poem! Claire demonstrates her repertoire of hilariously terrible fake accents! Mary is a hand with a voice! Mary's Real Person even makes a brief cameo at the end to approve this tomfoolery.

Go listen!
skogkatt: Sabrina the Teenage Witch (Nerd Girl)
First, thank you to everyone who came to the Interstitial Arts Exchange Party. It was really packed and an awesome event, and that's in no small part thanks to all of you! You rock!

We had Passports, Leaving Dakota, The Cabinet of Curiosities Contest, and a collaborative collage going. For the passports, the attendees went all out. maverick_weirdo drew lovely little escutcheons in all the ones he received (I think he was actually at it all night without a break, poor thing) and emilytheslayer brought wool to spin into yarn before our very eyes, and put little bits of fluff into the passports she received. I will have to do a page by page picture entry for my passport soon, but I haven't had time to document it yet. Eventually! And then you will see how jaw-droppingly amazing these things are.

In addition to all that, several people brought fantastic items for exchange. Chris Howard brought Saltwater Witch artwork, asakiyume brought paper flowers, and teenybuffalo brought amazing little clay sculptures. And that's just three examples, not even close to the whole of the creative offerings for exchange.

For the Leaving Dakota contest, we had attendees come up with a caption, or a description of a missing photo. Competition was fierce! I haven't got them transcribed yet, but soon I will post all the entries for your reading pleasure.

For the curiosities, we provided a box of random craftish supplies and had people build their own curiosities and describe them. This was a giant hit! I think everyone at the party was really looking forward to reading the book by the end of the evening. I made a posterboard display of the promotional tour poster (supplied by Jaym Gates), the title pages (with art by the amazingly talented John Coulthart), and a description taken from Jeff VanderMeer's blog with instructions to create and describe a curiosity. To seed the contest, I made a sample curiosity called "What the Phoenix Left Behind". At this point, I feel I ought to say that I really did find all those objects within a few feet of each other in my town. I thought of firebirds and Sharyn November and then I knew I had to make them into a thing. At the end of the evening I let some of the runners up from various contests take curiosities home as prizes, which was another cool way to spread the creativity around. Yay!

The rest of the weekend passed in a flurry of readings, conversations, and amazing trips to the airport and train station. What? I hear you thinking it. But srsly, I dropped off two groups of people, and each one was a wonderful chance to get to know my passengers. In one case, I even found out that Brit Mandelo's friend was a Sabrina the Teenage Witch fan! You might have no idea how exciting this was, but Sabrina fans are few and far between, and I have never met anyone besides Moss who will happily dissect gender presentation in Sabrina with me. Until this weekend. And I'm sort of sorry for the two people in the backseat who had to listen to us geek out about Sabrina for twenty minutes on the way to South Station, but honestly, that was one of the absolute coolest things in a weekend of super amazing cool things. In case you were wondering if I was a big old geek... um, you weren't, were you? Yeah.

Anyway! I read a poem in the Rhysling Slan, which was nervewracking, because I realized halfway through that I had brilliantly chosen a deeply personal poem and might start to cry at any moment, so the last half of my reading passed in a blur of shaky nausea. I didn't cry, though! Yay! And I hear people liked it all right, so that's good. I hear there was applause, but I don't remember that, only a great buzzing in my head as I stumbled to my seat and hoped against hope that I wouldn't throw up or pass out on the way. I didn't! Double yay! The really awesome thing about the Rhysling hour, though, was getting to listen to so many of my excellent friends reading, and then! Then we we got to swarm C.S.E. Cooney with congratulations at the end because she won! She won the long form award for her most excellent "The Sea King's Second Bride" (which you can read and listen to in the Spring 2010 issue of Goblin Fruit). And she was even wearing the spectacular Sea King capturing skirt that Anita Allen made for her and everything! It was utterly perfect.

I love being read to, so I went to readings whenever I could (which wasn't as much as I wished). I got to hear Leah Bobet read from her debut novel, which won't be out forever and a half (but then she did spoil the entire plot for me later in a late night epic discussion of awesomeness, so I guess that's all good?). I took a short break from arts party prep to check out the Crossed Genres party, and heard a great short reading by Camille Alexa. cucumberseed rocked his quite well-attended reading with pirates and swearing. A lot of swearing. It was fantastic. Mary Robinette Kowal read from her novel in progress, which was really interesting because I got to see other people hearing it and reacting to it for the first time. I've been reading the raw draft as she goes, so I knew what to expect, but hearing her her read it was neat, and watching others was fascinating. And then later we had a conversation about that, too, which was great and made me think a lot. Also, I was supposed to interview Mary along with C.S.E. Cooney and gwynnega, but Mary didn't actually make it to the interview, so, um, we pretended she was there anyway. All I can say is that this month's Broadly Speaking podcast is going to be Very Silly. And by very, I mean extremely. I'll link you when it's up.

I also attended a couple of panels (including the one about children's books that asakiyume was on, and a really interesting talk by Gemma Files, which made me feel even worse about not yet having read her Hexslinger books. People have been recommending them to me for ages), shared some meals with awesome people, caught up a tiny bit with some Viable Paradise kids, and generally had a wonderful time.

So much happened over the weekend that I can't possibly do it all justice. If I saw you and talked to you, I really loved getting the chance to do that. In many cases, I'm very sorry that I didn't have more time to spend with you. Wirewalking says she wants to have an everybody come and spend more than three days with her right now con, and boy do I understand that. I wish we could.

In the meantime, here are a few pictures from the weekend, to remember it by, or perhaps to better pretend you were there.

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I have just returned from my first ever WisCon. For those of you who are unfamiliar with WisCon, it's a feminist science fiction convention, which takes place every Memorial Day weekend in Madison, Wisconsin. The astute reader may recall that this is usually my birthday weekend. Historically, this means I usually spend my birthday weekend watching with some wistfulness as scads of my friends post all about how much fun they're having far away from me. This year, I decided to change that.

Okay, so first I went to New York to stay over at Sumana's place so we could travel to Wisconsin together. I was pretty sure this would be an excellent trip when the woman next to me saw me working on the OA Podcast on my laptop and told her new friend about how her 70-year-old aunt makes, "BAAAAAD tapes with GarageBand. I mean it was the baddest tape. You know some tapes, you wanna skip a song or go to the next one? No! This one, you wanted to hear everything! It was the baddest tape I ever had. I mean, it was a CD, but it was a tape." I am now going to measure every mix I ever receive by whether or not it's a tape. Seriously. Apparently this one was so BAAAAAAD, that the woman's mechanic stole it when he fixed her car. That totally bites! But the conversation didn't bite at all. It segued into a discussion of Tina Turner's legs (also BAAAAAAD), and how she's proof that 70 is the new 60. Meanwhile, I quietly worked on my podcast editing, and grinned with glee.

Then the trip got its second brilliant start the next morning as we were getting ready to walk out the door. Sumana said, "You know what they say, as long as you have your ID, your boarding pass, and your debit card, you'll be fine... Wait a second. Where's my driver's license?" This then led her to realize she'd left it at a wine shop, and to tell our taxi driver, "Okay, so, before we got to the airport, I have to make a very important stop. Yeah, just pull up right here. No, not after the light, right here. At the Wine and Spirits Shop." It was 10am, and the shop wasn't quite open yet, so Sumana then had to bang on the door until someone let her in. Heaven knows what the cab driver made of that. "Before I leave town, it's imperative that I beat down the door to get into the liquor store. I MUST!" Hee!

The trip got its third great start at the airport, where we ran into three awesome WisCon people (and then several more, including [personal profile] shadesong once we arrived in Milwaukee for our layover).

By the time we got to Madison, I was pretty worn out, so I'm afraid that first night I wasn't very good at socializing. We went to the reading at A Room of One's Own, where Candra Gill read Joanna Russ's "When it Changed", and then Nisi Shawl read part of "Pataki". Both of them were wonderful. I really loved the way Candra read the Russ story. Even though I'd read it not long before (maybe a week?), her reading was full of warmth and humor and expression, which totally engaged me. And Nisi? Well, Nisi was WisCon's Guest of Honor this year, and if anyone doubted she was awesome before she read, they wouldn't have doubted it after. When the reading was over, I went for birthday sushi with [personal profile] ckd and [personal profile] aedifica, which was lovely, too.

Friday, I had a major migraine and a podcast to finish, so I sequestered myself in the hotel room and worked all day. I managed to completely miss The Gathering, which I am told is one of the big WisCon Things. I did manage to get Sumana to take some of my clothes down to the clothing swap, though, so at least there's that. I did get the OA podcast up, too. That night I dined with [personal profile] gwynnega and [personal profile] nwhepcat in the hotel restaurant before making my way over to the super exciting karaoke night.

Okay, so: karaoke! I heard about it from [personal profile] cathschaffstump, who totally rocked with "These Boots Are Made for Walking" (among other songs). I sang "I Love Rock and Roll", which was fine, except I did not remember to plan my breathing for the end of the song, which requires a hell of a lot of breath control. Still, I think it got people dancing. Getting people to dance is a good thing. Other highlights included The Christopher Barzak Players performing "The Love Shack We Share Without Knowing", an amazing singer who called herself Buffy and sang "Rehab" by Amy Winehouse (and one other thing, which I forget, save that her voice was really incredibly good), Mary Anne Mohanraj and Ben Rosenbaum singing "Total Eclipse of the Heart", Liz Argall's spectacular version of "I Touch Myself", Margaret Ronald's dance party inducing "Bad Romance", and finally, the smash hit incredible song of the night: Amal El-Mohtar, David Moles, and Ben Rosebaum performing "Roll a D6" (the original parody video is here). The awesomeness that was this performance cannot be overstated. All three of them have amazing charisma, and Amal is totally a wizard. Fighting dragons in her mind!

After that I went up to the 6th floor, which is the party floor, where I met some OA people, like Sunny Moraine and Keffy Kehrli, and proceeded to have great thinky conversations about gender until way too late o'clock. This is one of the things I loved about WisCon: it went from extreme silliness to extreme thoughtfulness over and over again, and everyone seemed totally down with enjoying both modes.

Okay, I think that's probably all I can manage to relate for now. More to come soon! If you met me at WisCon and you want to add me, please do. Let me know who you are, and I will totally add you back.

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