How ComicCon Panel Moderators Keep a Panel from Getting Stale

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San Diego ComicCon is the ultimate panel discussion event of the year.  Packing Hall H with over 6,500 people (many of whom stand in line overnight) to hear from their favorite actors, programs, and authors.  What’s even more crazy is that the panel format is the dominant session format!  Who knew panels were so attractive to audiences?

Well, at SDCC, they are, for lots of different reasons but today, we’re going to focus on the role of the panel moderator.  The Hall H Comic-Con panels generally call in magazine writers, industry insiders or, fan-favorite Chris Hardwick.  This year “brought a much stronger moderation game,”  according to WIRED author, Angela Watercutter.

Angela goes on to say, “Call it prestige convention programming. As the outcomes of Con panels become more and more predictable—or in the case of shows like Twin Peaks and Stranger Things, more opaque because of the mysterious nature of their subject matter—a compelling moderator can keep things from getting stale.”

So what kinds of things did they do to keep the panel format from getting stale?

      • Stories.  Damon Lindelof opened the Twin Peaks panel with a remarkably personal story about growing up “a quirky misfit” in the 1990s and finding a sense of belonging thanks to David Lynch’s bizzarro show, Twin Peaks.  He finished his story by declaring, “I owe my entire career to this incredible show—and I couldn’t think of a better place to say that out loud than in Hall H in San Diego in a room full of weirdos just like me.”
      • Provocative Questions.  During the Game of Thrones  panel, moderator Kristian Nairn asked a bunch of rather random, intriguing and juicy questions.  Fan Favorite? Which dead character in the Game of Thrones cast would you like to bring back from the dead? Spoiler alert: Not everyone said Hodor!
      • Talent.  Terry Crews made his sizable pectorals dance during the Netflix movie panel.  (Don’t think everyone can do this, but leverage what talents you DO have!)

    • Props.  Netflix (who historically hasn’t done much at SDCC) came out strong.  At the Stranger Things panel, they had a small tent with props from the show, promotional giveaways like Stranger Things hats, a VR encounter with the Demogorgon, and a funeral tribute to Shannon Purser’s Barb.  There was even an exact replica of the Byers house, complete with the Christmas lights used when Will communicated with his mother from the Upside Down.  How cool is that?
    • Demo.  Inventor Richard Browning and a panel of specialists got together to talk about real-world attempts to create jetpack technology, and how close we were to the kind of things we saw in the film Iron Man. According to Andrew Liptak of the Verge, “The really cool part, however, was that Browning actually demonstrated his jetpack. An hour after the panel at the convention, he suited up, turned it on, and flew down a street toward a group of reporters, kicking up superheated air and grit as he flew past. It was a spectacular demonstration that looks like something out of one of Marvel’s movies.”
    • Music.  A little music goes a long way!  Kansas opened the Supernatural with the show’s anthem “Carry On Wayward Son.”

  • BIG Surprise.  Marvel television head Jeph Loeb surprised everybody in attendance by unveiling the entire first episode in the series The Defenders. Considering the anticipation for this show, “It was a bold move to put out the debut episode of ‘The Defenders’ a month out from the series hitting Netflix.”  I guess he could do this as this was the last panel of the day…and who wouldn’t want to stick around?

Yes, indeed.  As Angela says, “All those gatherings were, to put a fine point on it, a lot livelier.”  And isn’t that what we would hope for OUR panel discussions as well?

Related Articles:

Powerful Panel Discussion Tip #108 with Joe Calloway: What to Do With a Panelist Who Won’t Shut Up

How to Create GREAT Questions for Your Panelists to Answer during Your Panel Discussion

“Turn the Tables” in a Debate-Style Panel Discussion Format


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Kristin ArnoldKristin Arnold
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.
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