Saturday, February 27, 2010

Panel Tips

Last Halloween, I did a beginner-level panel on kimono at OniCon here in Houston, and it was a lot of fun. I'm currently in talks to hopefully do two more local panels back to back, one at Kamikaze Con next month and then one at Anime Matsuri in April. I'll be hauling a lot of silk around!

I'm certainly not perfect at presentations, but I'd like to share some tips gained from that first experience, other panels I've watched or been part of, and my background as a teacher. Panels don't always need to be formal affairs at a convention: you might find yourself wanting to do one on samurai for your school's anime club, a tea ceremony intro for International Day at your college, or a presentation on kimono for your Japanese class. So how can you do one that will be both educational and fun for your audience, and stress-free and fun for you?

- If you know enough about the topic at hand and love it, you're halfway to a good panel already. People respond better to a presenter who is actively and obviously interested in the topic. :)

- Treat the audience as you would want to be treated. Smile, be friendly, and never talk down to them, no matter how obvious you may think the answer is to their question. Knowledge and learning happen in positive, welcoming environments where students feel "safe" to ask questions.

- Involve the audience. Ask them questions as you talk, eliciting answers from them. If you think back to school, the teacher who peppered her talk with questions probably held your attention better than a teacher who talked as you passively sat there. It also creates more of a personal "connection" between you and the audience.

- Manage your time well. Rehearse your panel at least once and jot down the topics you want to cover and how much time you will spend. It can be as easy as an index card listing things like "Kimono History: 5 minutes". That way you can stay on track throughout your presentation and speed up or slow down as needed. Part of this is also wearing a watch, as you can't guarantee the room you're in will have a clock.

- Have fun! If you've never spoken in front of an audience, you might be nervous. I'll admit that despite almost six years of teaching, I was nervous before my first panel! The best way I've found to relax is imagine that you're talking to your friends, or if all else fails the old public-speaking trick that everyone out there has a watermelon for a head. It's impossible to find watermelons intimidating, right? ;)

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