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Surviving the American Anime Convention: Panel Preparation

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"Letters from the New York Otaku"

By David Cabrera

#76 – Surviving the American Anime Convention: Panel Preparation

A couple of days ago, I went over to see my good buddy Carl; on business, of course. After a little small talk, we sat down and got to work. Work, in this case, was repeatedly running through a PowerPoint presentation in Carl's empty living room. We chatted for two hours with an audience of nobody. Otakon's in nearly two weeks, after all!

What we were doing was rehearsing our discussion panel. Otakon has again accepted our application to run a panel about the basics of Japanese mahjong. It's a common game in Japan, but not something a lot of English-speakers know how to do. Furthermore, there are precious few resources they can use to learn. Since the Saki anime came back this year, there's a new wave of interested potential players, and of course folks who just want to understand Saki or Akagi a little better. Our services are needed once more.

On the one hand, panelists don't pay an admission fee to the convention, because they are actually providing its programming. Otakon's $80 this year, so that's a lot to save. On the other hand... there's pressure on your head BECAUSE you have been given an hour of the convention's time. A lot of panel ideas-- good ideas, mind-- get rejected every year. If you get a panel at a big con like this one, the convention is giving you its faith that you were the best possible choice of many. Then you have to live up to that. You can't waste that hour.

Of course, I've seen people waste hours. The convention can't easily tell, after all, who really has something to share and who just wants a free ticket into the event. (If a panel on a simple subject has 6 panelists, though...) You can only really figure that out when you walk into the panel. As an audience member it's really bad to find out that a panel that sounded like it would be interesting was actually a waste of time. As a panelist, one should avoid going in without a plan. This often results in:

Giving a presentation far shorter than the time allotted and lazily filling up the rest of the time by answering questions from the audience
Just playing video for an entire hour while yelling bad otaku jokes over it

Among other ugly scenarios.

See, Carl and I are worried that we might perhaps waste somebody's time. We have nightmares that we're up there in front of a few hundred people, and we just forget everything we were going to say and look like complete idiots. That's where the rehearsing comes in. We set a stopwatch on the table, and we do our presentation as though there were people in front of us. This includes the friendly banter, it includes pretending there are actually people in front of us. We probably look really weird. We FEEL really weird. But damn it, we're going to get this panel right. It pays off when we're finally up there and give off the image that we're naturally brilliant, fascinating, and hilarious guys.

Other people do a lot more preparation than we do. I've seen panels put on by people who've done so much research they could (and in some cases have) publish an academic paper. I've seen game shows so elaborate that they could probably be televised. And these people don't do this amount of work just to get into the con for free: they do it because they have something to share. That pure spirit, I think, is one of my favorite things about the American anime convention. If you're here, you're probably here for the love of it.