Panels are discussion style activities with a single focus usually on a group of individuals (the panelists) knowledgable on a given topic, who expound upon their view of it to an audience. Some panels may feature a single person making a presentation. There is often audience particpation, depending on the topic, panelists, and convention style. This responsibility falls to the head of Programming.
Generally there are two broad kinds of panelists: fans and experts. Fan panels are presented by fans, often volunteering to speak on a subject which they're passionate about and perhaps even educated about. Other panels will be run by experts in their fields - these may well be your guests of honour or professionals invited to attend your event to run this panel. Both panelists can run successful panels providing you and the panelists put in the required effort and planning.
If you are making a callout for fans to offer to run panels you should ask for the following information from them:
- Brief description of the topic of the panel
- An overview of the structure of the panel (e.g: introduction, propose argument, examples 1, 2 and 3, summary, Q&A)
- Their backgrounds and experience (this may include education, experience running events or public speaking, relevant work experience)
- Required equipment for the panel (projectors, whiteboards, ect)
If possible, it's recommended to have panelists provide a sample recording of their intended panel.
Take care when if you have a small community where every knows everyone not to injure feelings if you have to reject a panel application. But at the same time try to apply a standard of quality.
Public speaking skills are vitally important. Panelists should be able to project their voice, speak eloquently and informatively. The enemy is rambling, stuttering and not having anything to say.
Hopefully panelists will have microphones - if so, panelists should also know microphone technique. This includes not 'eating' the microphone, keeping a constant distance to the mic and remembering to keep the microphone pointed at the mouth - not away. These basic things are often forgotten by inexperienced people once they start talking and become preoccupied with what they're saying. On the tech side of things you can minimise problems by having pop guards or foam windscreens on the mic and by having the microphones on a stand right in front of them.
At the convention itself, panelists need to be provided with panelist badges and a schedule showing when and where their events are on. As Programming, you should have every panelists mobile number so that you can call them if they're not at the convention half an hour before they're due to run a panel.
When scheduling panels, be sure to leave a minimum of 10 minutes between each panel to allow for setup. Take into account panels which may have extra setup time. Panels or events with particularly long set up times could take advantage of the lunch break in the schedule.
For further information, you can listen to this podcast called How We Would Run Fan Panels by Rym and Scott, who are experienced panelists and head of panels at a number of conventions , including ConnectiCon.