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Open Season on Bad Panel Attendees

I was at NorWesCon over the weekend, which I enjoy going to. Let most lit-focused cons, it’s primarily to me a “panel” show — one where panels are pretty much what you do there. (Some gaming shows are like that as well, like DunDraCon or Gen Con, and some aren’t.)[1]

I love doing panels, probably more for the five minutes or so after a panel when you get to just randomly chat with people who come up than for the panel itself. But there’s something that has been rubbing me raw lately. Someone else summed it up well in a tweet:

"Hi, my question is just my long-winded opinion, stated with a question mark on the end." - annoying people at conferences

So here’s my addition: It’s open season on all of you who raise your hand to “add a comment.” I’m no longer going to be nice about it.

I will cut you off if you aren’t getting to a question. If you say “I wanted to comment on the last person’s question” then I will tell you flat-out no, and that you can talk with that person after the panel. If you say “I have a comment and a question,” guess which one I won’t shut you down for. And if you sneak a fake question past me, I won’t address it and I will never call on you again so long as I remember your face. Trust me, I won’t be shy about letting you know that’s why.

Why take such a hardass stance on these assholes? Because they rob everyone else of time. Every time I have to say “I’m sorry, we can take only one more question” and several hands are up, those of you who didn’t get to ask your question have those people to blame. All of those people who shows off their need to look smart and show how they should be on the panel instead extoll a cost from us on the panel and everyone there to see the panelists.

This used to be something I would only do if I was moderating, but since I can’t guarantee the quality or “niceness” of the moderator on any given panel, from now on I’m just going to speak up.

If you want to offer a comment, offer one after the panel. Come up to us or up to whoever you wanted to offer that comment to.

There are exceptions. There are genuinely good comments, part of the reason I’ve been hesitant in the past to say anything. But I did the math this year, and that was maybe 1 good comment to 8 useless ones. The return isn’t worthwhile.

Some panels are built to be all about taking comments, and that’s cool if that’s what they attendees are there for. I’ve also solicited comments from the audience, in which case they’ve been, well, solicited.

But at this point, if you’re one of those time-sucking assholes who pops up with unsolicited comments, you can go fuck yourself, and I will be happy to let you know that.

– Ryan

[1] And yes, they got recorded.

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19 Responses to Open Season on Bad Panel Attendees

  1. Yeah, I usually try to give people the benefit of the doubt once. After one long winded comment or comment disguised as question, I usually point blank tell them, “You’ve already talked quite a bit, and these people over here haven’t. So please let me get to them first. If there’s time I’ll address you.”

    There’s rarely time.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      I’m now at the point where there’s going to be no niceness about it, no “and maybe I’ll address you” when I’m up there. I don’t want my words to come of like I’m being fair; no, I want them to come off like I’m hitting that person on the nose with a newspaper.

      – Ryan

  2. Jim Tigwell says:

    Every talk at every conference has this person, whether it’s gaming, social media, or straight up academic conferences. It can be better if it’s a roundtable or a panel, and they want to give you a topic to discuss, but even then, get to the point. This falls under “Don’t be that guy” without a doubt.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Totally. Man alive, yeah. I’m at the point where I’m going to be about public shaming and, if repeated, not above kicking someone out of the audience.

      – Ryan

  3. Will says:

    I’m all for not being That Person. I’m in favor of questions being questions and panelists being panelists. I’ve been on panels that turned into roundtables with the audience that went great. I’ve seen it collapse a room, too.

    The thing I can’t get behind is the part where you consciously pre-decide, as a policy, to stop being nice. That’s changing too much of yourself in reaction to some jackassery, in my opinion. As usual, this is an area where I might be wrong, but it’s about niceness and I’m pretty sure I’ve got a point.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      I think that will depend on the moment. I won’t sacrifice firmness for niceness. I can nicely say “Sorry, I don’t take comments, because that means we can’t get through all the questions, but you’re free to come up after the panel to talk,” at least the first time. When niceness doesn’t work, though, I won’t let that stand in the way.

      – Ryan

  4. Thank you. I’ve been waiting for this for years.

  5. Scott H says:

    As someone who was at one of your panels and who added a comment, I’m a bit offended.

    One of the things I have always liked about panels is that they can be a rolling conversations that can involve people who have valid things to add to it that just don’t happen to be on the other side of the table from the panel members. I mean, if you are on a panel, I’m not just interested in what you have to say on your own, but what you have to say in response to other people’s comments.

    And, ya know, other people do have interesting perspectives as well. Not only to I like the chance to occasionally insert what I think my be a relevant piece of conversation, I like to hear what other people think might be relevant as well. I’ve seen (and run) many panels that have gone in very interesting directions based off of panelists riffing off of someone wanted to ‘just add a comment’.

    There are people who try to monopolize the conversation, who try to derail the conversation, who are just completely disconnected from the flow of discussion or who try to act like they are part of the panel. Moderators and panelists should keep an eye out for these people and deal with that situation.

    And if that is what you are railing against, then say that. But what this sounds like is ‘Shut up, no one came here to hear your opinion, prole.’ Well, I do.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Congrats, you just admitted to being an asshole who kept someone else’s question from getting asked because of your need to be heard. You’re welcome to not attend any future panels I’m on.

      – Ryan

    • That Word Grrl says:

      Just because you think your bit of information is relevant doesn’t mean others will find it so. In fact, my experience has been that about eight times out of 10, that bit of relevant information you are providing is a five-minute ramble with no question whatsoever.

      As a panelist (and sometimes moderator), I need to keep in mind not just whether you think it’s relevant, but whether the rest of the audience and the panelists will think so.

      That’s what makes me the panelist. Keeping everyone in mind, and not just my need to interject into the discussion.

  6. Brianna Reed says:

    Unless the panel is meant to be conversational, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with just telling people you aren’t going to answer any questions until the end. I usually leave 10 minutes at the end as opposed to 5, and at the beginning try to make it clear that – since I’m working with only an hour or so – that all questions should be held off until the end. If someone raises their hand, I ignore them. If someone blurts out, it’s usually something I’m about to say in 5 seconds, so I usually respond “Well I’m getting to that” or just ignore them and keep talking. Some people are just plain rude, and some people are rude without meaning to be – they’re just excited to discuss. But what they don’t understand is that people often spend MONTHS preparing for their presentation, and for it to get derailed by an interruption is infuriating.

    In short, if it’s a conversational panel, fine. Otherwise, keep your pants on and wait ’til the end. :l

    Now I want to do a panel on how to be a good panel-goer. PANEL ALL THE PANELS!

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Depending on the panel, it makes sense to ask questions as part of the process. On some of the panels we were on, we did what you describe. On others, it was more Q&A throughout (like almost all GM panels) — and those are where you get these problem people.

      The point of those, of course, is that it’s Q&A, not Q&A&A&A&A&A&A&A.

      – Ryan

  7. Willem says:

    Ryan,

    I’m pretty pumped about this. I think there needs to be *way more* fierceness (aka courteous but extremely firm) in the enforcement of constructive conversation spaces, such as panels, and also games at the table. There are all kinds of toes that need to get stepped on that don’t – it reminds me a bit of the Geek Social Fallacies: http://www.plausiblydeniable.com/opinion/gsf.html

    -Willem

  8. Ryan Macklin says:

    One of the things I’ve found being a panelist is that, when you’re up in the front, you grow acutely aware of how many people are left hanging. That’s something I didn’t really have a concept of when I was just in the audience.

    – Ryan

  9. Gareth says:

    Generally speaking, geek circles would be more pleasant places if we’d actually shame the worst excesses of behavior, instead of putting up with it. Too often, “geek” has been used as a tribal badge to avoid having to learn the basics of acceptable adult social interaction, and we collectively let it go unchallenged because of our collective trauma of “ostracization = bad”.

    Fuck that.

  10. Ben Robbins says:

    I was just thinking that I saw remarkably little of that at Norwescon this year. Instead I saw a lot of really good, cogent questions (and short, to the point comments).

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      The ones where you and I were on were good, and I think in part because we were doing panels where the audience was unfamiliar with the territory.

      – Ryan

  11. That Word Grrl says:

    Bless your heart for this! As a fellow panelist, I’ve learned to spot the people whose “question” is nothing more than an excuse for them to completely monopolize the panel. There’s a guy who invariably shows up to the panels I am on who uses this to get back at the con for not putting him on the panel (yes, I’ve heard him boast about this).

    I’ve learned to interrupt and ask “Is there a question here?” Usually startles the fanbois enough to shut them down.

  12. I applaud your firmness. I’ve been told I’m a good moderator because I keep things moving and make sure all the panelists get their share of speaking time. I cannot stand audience members who want to play what I call “Fifth Panelist.” (Or sixth, or eighth, or whatever.) We’re not at that panel to hear that person blather on. Now if it happens to be somebody like Joe Haldeman (and this happened to me at Nippon 2007), then hell yes I’ll allow that comment. Otherwise, your point is very well taken and I wish more moderators would abide by it!