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Sunday, September 08, 2013


THE FOLLOWING IS A GUEST POST by Peter Halasz. As well as being a friend, Peter is one of the best read people I know. An avid collector of books, he has amassed a huge collection over the years; many of his books are signed copies. He attends many conventions and meets with many writers, making him the perfect authority for this next post: what to do, and what not to do, when participating at a speculative fiction convention.

IN THE LAST YEAR, I’VE ATTENDED MORE CONVENTIONS than usual and have compiled a somewhat idiosyncratic and hopefully self-evident list of do's and don't's for those scheduled to read or participate on panels.

For Readings:

1). When scheduled to do a reading, pre-time a reading of your choosing and choose a passage that is five minutes shorter than your allotted time.

2). Please practice how to read aloud; pacing, enunciation, and projecting one's voice comes naturally to very few people.

3). Please try to choose a passage with more action or witty dialogue and less description of the setting. There is no better soporific than listening to a writer reading an extended 15 minute passage about a room, a forest, a desert, a whatever.

4). A short reading which ends naturally, or unnaturally, in media res seldom fails to pique my interest. As a reader I want to know what happens next. Let me find out as a reader and not as a listener.

5). Have fun.
On panels:

1). If the moderator hasn't introduced you and asks that you introduce yourself, then all that is required is your name and a very brief - no more than a two sentence - background blurb as to why you're on the panel.

2). Never introduce yourself by saying, "Hello, my name is Joe/Jill Clueless, and I don't know why I'm on this panel."

3). Be knowledgeable about the panel topic. Remember, BS smells and is pungent in cramped quarters. If necessary, don't be shy to decline participation on a panel whose topic is terra incognita to you.

4). Don't be a panel slut. Very few writers/editors/publishers/others can speak authoritatively about a dozen and one things at any one convention.

5). When on a panel never, ever, reference your own work more than once.

6). Do not hog the panel. Each panelist ought to be talking roughly the same amount of time. If the moderator doesn't enforce this, then be collegial and afford your fellow panelists plenty of opportunities to jump in and participate.

7). Above all else, don’t be afraid to be a good-humored and informed contrarian. A little bit of drama can be good fun.

8). Have fun.

As a Moderator:

1). If the panel topic isn't your idea, make it your business to find out what was really meant to be discussed. Panel descriptions are more often witty than informative.

2). If you don’t know the panelists or have no inkling of their thoughts/attitudes/approaches to the topic, make an effort to find out well before-hand.  

3). Introduce the panelists knowledgeably, giving each the same attention as the rest.

4). If you think ground rules are in order, they need to be set out just before or after the introductions.

5). Remember, you don't have to be an expert on the panel topic - that's the job of the panelists, but do have at least a better than passing knowledge so that the panel doesn’t derail itself. In other words, moderators do not participate; they facilitate.

6). Above all else, moderators must moderate, ie., keep the discussion focused on the topic, ensure that all panelists are getting their fair chance at airing their views and enforce courtesy politely but forcefully, if necessary. No panelist or audience member ought to be interrupting or monopolizing the procedures.

7). Have fun! 

Over the last twelve months I've been to seven conventions/conferences, including World Fantasy Convention, 2012. That's about three more than I normally attend in one year. All of them are almost exclusively book-oriented. My three favourite sfnal events are:

1). ICFA:
2). Readercon:
3). World Fantasy Convention (WFC):

Peter’s Bio: I am an avid book reader and collect books in a few subject areas. My primary collection is of fantastika by Canadians written or translated into English. (N.B. fantastika is an old-fashioned term essentially meaning any fiction not exclusively mimetic. John Clute, in the SFE 3, defines it more narrowly here: )

I am also one of the founders of and an administrator of The Sunburst Award Society which administers and confers the annual Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic (, and have survived chairing WFC 2012. (

(Thanks, Peter. These are excellent reminders about how we can be well-behaved convention attendees, whether we're reading, on panels, or moderating.)

Stay tuned.


  1. "2). Never introduce yourself by saying, "Hello, my name is Joe/Jill Clueless, and I don't know why I'm on this panel." "

    This happened at a con where the head of programming was in the audience. She called out "Because you asked!"

    For my part, I'd be temped to ask the panelist: "Then why are you up there?"

    -- Michael Walsh

  2. Thanks for the comment, Michael. I'd also add to this list that organizers should assign a moderator to a panel. This hasn't always happened with the panels I've been on, which leaves panelists scrambling at the last minute, deciding who should moderate. As well, I think moderators need to be prepared, have questions ready for the panelists rather than just winging it. To me, it looks really unprofessional when the moderator admits he/she hasn't prepared anything. That said, the panelists I know who took on the moderator role at the last minute, all did a bang up job. (I'm thinking of you, Mike Plested).

  3. Oddly enough, all of the panels I've been on have had a designated moderator. Granted, there have been occasions when said person failed to show up... but things generally worked out.

    -- Michael Walsh