[Editor’s Note: This advice about how to become a panelist on convention programs, written as a comment here yesterday, is so helpful and practical that I asked permission to repeat it as a front-page post.]
By Heather Rose Jones: I think a lot of people aren’t aware that most conventions have mechanisms for volunteering to be on programming. Doesn’t always mean you’ll be offered any, but especially if you aren’t a Big Name, you can wait a very long time to get a personal invitation out of the blue. (Though I am on the side of those who think being a Hugo finalist is a good reason to get a personal invitation out of the blue for Worldcon programming.)
This is, of course, one of the things that contributes to programming often being the same limited pool of people a lot of the time — they’re the people who know the various systems for getting on programming. So what are some of those systems?
- Check out the convention website and social media well in advance (and repeatedly) to look for announcements about programming questionnaires and the like. Put your name in and highlight one or two very specific topics or activities where you have expertise and can “put on a good show.”
When you do so, think up entertaining and informative programming ideas and propose them. Conventions are always hungry for new and interesting programming ideas and sometimes they will explicitly prioritize giving programming slots to people who contribute to the process.
Now we come to the “who you know” items. Be an interesting and articulate person in the company of people who are involved in coming up with programming ideas or proposing potential panelists. Engage in casual discussions about the topics of your interest and expertise. Tell people outright that you’d enjoy contributing to programming on a particular topic. One of those people you’re talking to may tell someone else, “Hey, you know who would be great on this panel? So-and-so!”
I’m not going to lie. I got my start participating in convention programming at small conventions where the concom were personal friends of mine. I’m less fond of the notion of Worldcon programming being given out on the basis of “she’s a buddy of mine” but it’s a perfectly acceptable way to get a foot in the door at a local convention.
Find ways of contributing to the convention experience that don’t have gatekeepers: interest groups, spontaneous activities. Be entertaining and informative and get along with people. They’ll remember you. And while I’m at it, never discount the advantages of volunteering at cons to get a chance to get to know people who might help open the door for you. (But be aware that people can tell when you’re trying to get to know them solely for this purpose.)
Some of the avenues to program participation aren’t open to everyone. I believe that Westercon sends out a general programming invitation to SFWA members. There are some cons where I got a program participation invitation out of the blue that I think was based on SFWA membership. Dunno. But conventions who do that also have other ways to get on programming, so it’s not an exclusionary thing.
If a programming topic excites you, follow-up on it with other people (panelists or not) who were similarly excited about it. Discuss your ideas. extend the panel discussion (without cornering a program participant who needs to be elsewhere!). Suggest moving it to the bar or socializing-venue-of-your-choice. Be part of the conversation even if you aren’t behind the table with a microphone.
Well, that moved away from “how do I get onto programming” a bit. But keep in mind that the officially scheduled programming is only one part of a convention. Be the programming you want to see in the world.