Moderation In All Things I
Written By: Randy Hall
Published: Issue 16
When last we discussed panels, which are one of the best things fan-run conventions provide that professionally run cons usually don't, we covered a few pointers on how to take part in the chat and even promote BBK in the process.
But if a panel was just a roomful of people talking whenever they felt like it, things would rapidly deteriorate into chaos, and it would be all too easy for the discussion to go spiraling off onto a tangent and never address the announced subject, which is what most people are there for. This is where the moderator comes in. (And even if you don't moderate panels, it helps to know what a moderator does so you can make better contributions to the chat.)
As you recall from this column a few weeks ago, a panel usually has more than one person leading out, primarily to provide different viewpoints since one individual talking by himself or herself gets tiresome very quickly. From my experience doing panels at several different cons, I consider the optimum number of people leading out to be three. Usually, the moderator sits in the middle so he or she can easily see when one of the other panelists wants to say something. That's not to say, however, that a good panel must be restricted to three; the number can go up to five or even more, though the difficulty in keeping the conversation on course goes up with each extra person on the panel.
I mention this because I've looked in on panels that had more people leading out than were sitting in the "audience." (The largest had no fewer than 12 individuals on the panel.) This can lead to big problems because it usually takes the whole hour for just the folks in the front to get in their two quatloos, leaving no chance for others in the room to join in. When this happens, people tend to get bored or frustrated and soon leave.
The main job of the moderator is to keep the conversation "moderate," or balanced. If only a few people are talking, then the moderator should try to involve others by asking questions or soliciting comments from people in the room who haven't taken part yet. Also, the moderator is responsible for keeping the discussion on topic, bringing those passionate but distracting tangents back to the topic at hand.
And without further ado, let's look at the most important thing you should do as a moderator or panelist.
Quite simply, that is to be prepared. Yes, those Boy Scouts were onto something! Ideally, the folks leading out in the discussion should know more about the subject than anyone else in the room. However, information (especially on sci-fi shows and topics) spreads like wildfire in these days of the Information Age, so it's pretty likely that some folks will have heard things you aren't aware of. But the more you do to get ready for the talk, the better that chat will be.
Resources for panelists and moderators are quite plentiful these days. There are several Star Trek and science-fiction magazines, such as the Star Trek Communicator (which looks at Trek mostly from a fan's point of view), Star Trek: The Magazine (which is produced by Paramount and is therefore an "official" source), Starlog (a great read for Trek and other sci-fi TV series or movies), Cinescape (known for taking a different point of view than other magazines), Cinefantastique (such a great-looking publication that you almost hate to open it) and others. A quick trip to the magazine section of your local book store will pay big dividends for any moderator or panelist.
Over the past several years, computers have enabled people to get up-to-the-nanosecond news on just about anything by surfing sites on the World Wide Web. There are plenty of great places to get the latest information, including: http://web.archive.org/web/20011108090543/http://www.startrek.com/, Paramount's official Web site for Trek; http://web.archive.org/web/20011108090543/http://www.trektoday.com/ and http://web.archive.org/web/20011108090543/http://www.cinescape.com/, both great places to find the hottest scoops; and http://web.archive.org/web/20011108090543/http://www.scifi.com/, which has regularly updated news on its SciFi Wire; just to name a few.
There is one teeny-tiny drawback to relying on online sources of info. Because they try really hard to get news onto their sites as instantly as possible, sometimes they move too quickly and post things that aren't set in stone just yet. If you can't find an item on more than one site, I suggest you let folks know that the information you got there might not be official. The people attending your panel will appreciate your honesty in not leading them astray.
I remember one instance in which the Internet and America Online were abuzz that Stephen Collins (who played Decker in STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE) was going to be a guest star in an episode of Voyager, which meant that V'Ger was going to meet Voyager. This was exciting stuff, but when we talked about it on a panel, we made it clear that this hadn't been confirmed. Then, when for one reason or another it never happened, we were still considered credible sources of information.
But information isn't the only thing that makes a good panel, as we'll see in next week's column.
If you're curious as to what happened at Fantasticon a couple of weeks back, you might want to check out http://web.archive.org/web/20011108090543/http://www.startrek.com/. There are a couple of interesting reports and color pictures in that site's news section. Coming up next weekend in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, will be a big Slanted Fedora convention with guests from Voyager, Deep Space Nine and several other sci-fi shows. Again, if you are going and want to have BBK flyers to give out, contact me at RandyHall@aol.com as soon as you can!