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FOGcon is coming!
So FOGcon is coming right up, March 30 - April 1. You should go!

You should especially go because, in a fit of enthusiasm, I volunteered for things and am going to be moderating two panels! My panels are both on Saturday, so if you are local and just want to buy a day pass that is the day to aim for if you want to come heckle support me. They are:

Best Alien Ever
10:30 a.m. Salon A
Some aliens are just humans with funny foreheads. But sometimes an author creates an alien that stretches your mind or makes you see ordinary humans in a whole different light. What makes for an alien species worth reading about? What are the most extraordinary aliens authors have successfully portrayed?
Moderator: Theresa Mecklenborg
Panelists: Chaz Brenchley, Juliette Wade, Ann Wilkes

Did Everyone Fail High School Biology?
1:30 p.m. Salon A
From stupid stunts with DNA to implausible ecologies, lots of science fiction just gets biology wrong. Why is this? What are examples of books, movies, or TV that gets it right?
Moderator: Theresa Mecklenborg
Panelists: Tari, Wendy Shaffer, Cassie Alexander, Pat Murphy

(I am having some serious sad about things that are scheduled across from one another. Too many cool things, cannot be at all of them at once, oh woe.)

My job as moderator, as I see it:
* Ask interesting questions.
* Make sure all the panelists get chances to talk about the particular relevant things they would like to talk about.
* Interrupt/redirect as necessary to keep discussion flowing and the conversation ball moving between people.
* Keep an eye on the time.
* Summarize statements or rephrase questions as is helpful to aid general understanding.
* Track who gets to talk next.

The part of this I am least practiced at is the part where there's a panel/audience separation -- I've moderated a discussion or two, but they've all been sort of roundtable things, without that division. Anybody have any tips about audiences? I'm thinking save 15-20 minutes at the end for audience questions, maybe move that a bit earlier if the panelists seem to be running out of self-generated steam or the audience is all bouncing up and down waving their hands in the air. Does that sound like enough time? (These are all hour and fifteen minute panels.)

I have sent out pre-planning e-mails with a dozen or twenty possible interesting questions, so the panelists can tell me which of them sound most interesting and whether there are other directions they would like to explore, and then when I get that feedback I will make up a further list of slightly more tailored interesting questions to print out and keep in front of me in case interesting questions do not present themselves naturally in the discussion as it happens. If I can pick out the bits they'll argue about I'll put stars next to those questions and make double extra sure they get asked.

And that is my moderating plan! People who do this sort of thing more often: Good plan? Bad plan? Am I leaving out any important bits?

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I am of the school of thought that says moderators get to talk too if they like, so there's always "make your own contribution" if you want to.

On the second panel topic, one of the problems will shock everyone, and that is sexism and/or insufficient sex ed. In Charles Sheffield's Aftermath, one of my favorite howler biology examples, the scientists want to make sure that the changes have not gone through to people's reproductive cells, so men have to regularly provide a sperm sample in the usual way, and women...have to provide a sample of menstrual blood.

Certain parties who shall remain me may have shouted things like, "The egg is probably not there! The egg has packed its bags and fled to Tahiti at some random point in the menstrual cycle before now! You might as well BIOPSY HER SPLEEN for all the good it will do you!"

I may contribute here and there (especially for Biology, where I have more opinions) but I think on the whole I am better at asking interesting questions than at thinking of clever things to say. And if I am going to err one direction or the other, I'd rather be erring on the "Gosh, I wish we got to hear more of what Theresa thought about that! Perhaps I will go ask her about it in the consuite later!" side than on the "Does she ever shut up?" side.

That is... that is one heck of a howler, there. I, uh, wow. And this book was edited and all? Multiple people had a look at it over the publication process? I wince.

For this type of panel (example-collecting), it's probably best not to limit audience interaction to the end of the panel. They're supposed to be conversations between the panelists and the audience, not expert presentations.

The way most sf con panels of this type tend to go is: the moderator asks a question, panelists respond, audience has comments; then the moderator asks another question, etc.

It's great that you're pre-planning. In my experience, this hardly ever happens, and panels suffer from it. (If some panelists ignore your emails, it's not your fault. There's sort of a culture of passivity about it.)

S'okay, we're not ignoring her emails. We're having to keep a lid on it here, not to have the whole panel by email before the con...

I'd actually rather avoid long lists of examples, because they are dull and boring, especially to people who don't recognize many of them. Examples as illustrations of particular points I am all over, but I'd like to keep the focus on the larger questions and more general principles, because that is a way more fun conversation. (So says me, Mod the great and powerful....)

The conversationalism is a good point to keep in mind if we do get to doing some listing, though -- it should be easy enough to collect another few examples of a restricted subcollection ("aliens with interestingly different moral principles", "works that express the experience of veterinary medicine well") and get back on track without everyone in the audience feeling like they need to contribute something. There's just not time for everybody to explain their particular favorite example, not and have a proper discussion as well, but keeping general requests for examples tightly targeted ought to help.

And if whatever's going on between the panelists has petered out such that I am about to ask a totally new Interesting Question, rather than just gently batting at the conversation to keep it rolling along, that would be a good time to solicit audience-provided interesting questions also.

I do plan to make space for audience members who clearly project "I have a thing to say! About that thing that just got said! Right now it's totally relevant!", which on the whole fans seem to be pretty good at projecting. It's the big wide eyes, they're very telling. But I'd like to keep that to one or two at a time, neatly incorporated into the ongoing discussion.

Edited at 2012-03-13 11:53 pm (UTC)

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