Moderation In All Things III

Written By: Randy Hall

Published: Issue 18


Now that we've discussed the importance of being prepared (and what to do if you're not) when moderating panels at fan-run cons, let's wrap up this subject with some other guidelines.


Involve as many people in the discussion as you can. Panels are NOT "moderator monologues" or a time for speeches from people in the front of the room no matter how erudite and informed these individuals may be. The more folks who participate, the more likely they have a good time. And folks who didn't volunteer to lead out can often be sources of information no one else has access to if they're members of stars' fan clubs or happen to know people in the right places.


Of course, this means maintaining a balance between those who consider themselves experts on the subject (sometimes any subject) and people who wish they could merge with the wallpaper until the discussion is over. I've often asked for opinions from folks who haven't yet joined in the fun, and that has helped motivate some people who are shy or not used to speaking in public to share their thoughts.


And if at all possible, be positive! Most people don't pay their hard-earned quatloos to go to a convention and then attend panels to hear something get put down. They're usually fans of guests at the con or the series in which those actors have roles.


One of the reasons members of the Star Trek club I'm now captain of got into leading discussions was because we'd become tired of panellists who told us we were nincompoops for liking things they didn't. At a panel on Deep Space Nine several years ago, one of the people up front stated: "No one likes this show." Well, we did, but we thought that guy knew more than us, so we held our tongues. Then, at the next local convention we attended, the same person leading a Voyager panel told us we should all write to Paramount and declare that we didn't want the new series while demanding TNG's return to the small screen. (But looking back, he may not have been too far off the mark on Voyager.)


At that point, we figured: "Hey, if this guy with one thing to talk about can moderate discussions, how much worse could we be?" We started out doing three panels at the next convention, and they went well, so we've been "the panel men (and women)" of some Maryland cons ever since.


Of course, this isn't to infer that people on panels should only say good things even if they think something is bad. But there's a huge difference between telling people "This series sucks!" and "I don't like this program, and here's why." The first is a statement of "fact" that tells people: "If you like something I don't, you're wrong to think that way." Naturally, folks who disagree are forced to defend their views-and themselves. However, the second is clearly stated as a matter of personal opinion that leaves room for reasonable disagreement. And there's nothing wrong with a healthy exchange of ideas. I've learned a great deal from people who disagreed with me during panel discussions.


But what if the worst-case scenario happens and you're asked to host a discussion on a show or subject you really dislike and wouldn't enjoy talking about? If all else fails, decline the offer to be on the panel, though it might be helpful if you can suggest others who might take your place.


In the end, the best panels are those led by people who feel strongly and are well informed about the topics, programs, or characters being discussed. Don't be afraid to acknowledge that other opinions might be just as valid as your own, but be prepared to present an informed, thoughtful viewpoint as at least a starting point for an hour of fun and discourse.


Most of these guidelines are the result of my personal experience leading out and taking part in panels on everything from bringing Kirk back to a wide variety of sci-fi TV shows or movies. If you have any questions or suggestions that would help your fellow BBKers in moderating discussions, feel free to drop me an e-mail at, and I'll be glad to share them in my column.


Convention Calendar

Looks like a pretty slow week ahead for Star Trek conventions, though Grace Lee Whitney (Janice Rand) will be a guest at a Creation con slated for Saturday, August 19, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As I write this, I'm in Burbank, California, attending the first "official" Farscape convention. More on that next week.