Biography of a Disasterous Panel

Last night I moderated a panel for Salt Lake City Comic Con and the Harry Potter book (or script) release Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at Weller Book Works in SLC. It perfectly illustrates just how bad a convention panel can go. Let me make it clear that I don't blame Comic Con and I don't blame Weller Bookworks. Sometimes you just can't see how things are going until the car is skidding off the road.

To start with the panel room was right next to the open area where they were doing sorting hat stuff, just about the loudest thing I've ever heard. The screaming came continuously and loudly. And with great enthusiasm.

All that separated the two area was a pane of glass. It was nowhere near soundproof we had mics, but the sound system was very soft.

I already suspected that I shouldn't sit through the panel. The subject was the stage play the script was for and the upcoming unrelated movie. My panelists had the subject material covered and in those cases, I often won't even sit at the table with them. It depends on whether or not I think I can contribute something they can't.

But in this situation, sitting would be death. I had quiet mics and huge noise problem. Energy would be a huge problem. I knew that every time the energy lagged, I needed to blast it back up and under those circumstances, the energy would lag at every lull in the conversation. Standing keeps you from being too comfortable, and comfort is death under these circumstances.

Just as we finished introductions, the fire alarm went off.

So we evacuated the building. I didn't think of having us all meet in the parking lot for panel related discussions until too late, so fifteen minutes later, when the energy had completely dissipated, we made it back into the room. I asked Blake, the programming guy in the room, how he wanted to handle the time slot and he told me to go long and give the entire panel, we could let the one after slip.

So I got everyone in the room cheering and applauding to get the energy back up and once it was, we started the panel. About three minutes in the mics went out.

One of the panelists was loud and one was damn loud, but the other two were quieter and with the noise pollution they couldn't be heard. So Brian Young, a panelist, crawled around and got the mics working again, just about the time I was going to pretend I was an age of sail bosun and repeat everything the other panelists said at the top of my lungs.

The mics cut in and out throughout. Bounced all my questions off the back wall to get the energy up and the screaming outside got louder and louder and louder. For audience questions, I DID repeat the audience, to make sure everyone heard. Finally, I finished with a humorous story I stole from my friend Gary.

This isn't a bragging post. I'll start those when I have something to brag about. This is just me talking about what we did to make the best of a bad situation. I'm hoping that if you have a bad panel in the future, you can get something from it.

The point was we percevered. We fought through. We focused on giving the best panel we could. It might have been terrible, but no one lost their cool. We stumbled but we picked ourselves back up after. We pushed on. I'd say we never let them see us sweat, but it was 90 degrees and high humidity, so we actually sweated buckets.

Or maybe we panicked and degenerated into screaming masses of terror. You'll never know.