Why you need to do panels at conventions.

(I mean, the picture says it all.)

I mean, the picture (kind of) says it all.

If you’re an artist of any kind and you’re thinking in any way about how a well-built audience would improve your standing in the world, it only makes sense to take time now and then to put yourself in front of people.

The kind of people you want to sell to are already there.

A panel at a convention is a no-brainer for you.

A convention does the work of filtering people into the event based on the niche the event is centered around. Most conventions that allow panels will first invite guests to do speaking in order to attract people to the event, and then they will open up applications to the general public to organize and host panels.

You have to cover the cost of travel and event attendance, and you might not have a lot of time to submit a panel to the con, but you don’t have to pay for advertising or event space.

All you have to do is create a panel that’s worth people’s time.

That last bit is the tricky part. You have to have in mind something that’s not only worth people’s time, but sensible for the event coordinators to allow in the event space.

Part of the equation of being allowed to host a panel at all is first having some level of expertise on a subject in your field of art. You can’t expect to be allowed a platform if you don’t have something useful to teach, but on the flipside, you’re most likely good enough at one thing to be able to teach a lot of other people. 

Speaking for myself, I filled a room when I hosted my first panel, and I was in a position to talk to and help a lot of people afterward, even if I was still pretty early on in my career. Hopefully this validates for you the viability of applying to host a panel at a local convention.

Here’s a few things you could potentially host a panel on, just to get your gears turning:

  • How to draw <specific thing>
  • How to develop good creative habits
  • How to enter certain professional creative fields
  • How to become known as an artist
  • Open QnA
  • Demonstration Panels

And so on and so forth. Even within each of these categories there is a near endless list of subjects you could interact with and teach people about. The sky is the limit!

A well-run panel makes people remember you and your art.

When you do a worthwhile panel, you’ve put in credits with your audience that allow you to ask things of them, including visiting your website, following your social media, visiting your booth in the vendors’ halls, or outright buying a product from you directly from the panel room. (Assuming you’re allowed to do that. Don’t cross the convention rules.)

Hopefully I’ve made at least a decent case as to the “why” of hosting a panel at conventions. Having said that, however, it might be worthwhile to begin discussing the “how”.

You must respect the time of the people you are asking to spend time at your panel.

They don’t get to use the time they’re using in your room on spending time with their friends, checking out other panels, having a look at the dealer’s hall, and so on.

Your panel must have a relevant subject to the audience present at the convention, and your panel must deliver something valuable for the time the people are spending there. Uplift them, educate them, or otherwise improve their lives in some way by the act of them spending time in your room listening to you talk.

To pick a good topic to spend time on, think about either you yourself, or the kind of people you want to be your customers., What are some questions you wish you had answered? What are some things you wish that your favorite artists would share and talk about?

With the exception of an open QnA, once you’ve chosen what subjects you want to deal with, you then have to spend time writing. You need to be familiar with whatever subject that you want to present, and you either have to have existing experience that you can draw out into documentation, or you have to do a lot of homework to deliver information to your audience who doesn’t even know what homework that they’re supposed to do to know how to move forward.

When you write your panel there must be valuable takeaways for your audience.

They ought to learn something that will improve them either as people or as artists.

I recently attended a couple of panels at a convention. One was hosted by an artist who was at least partway competent, and the other by an independent game developer who was also at least partway competent.

The artist panel, which was more relevant to my interests, was a disaster because the artist carried on with no real point for nearly an hour and a half.

The indie dev panel, which was less relevant and experienced a lot of technical difficulty, had a well developed and well-structured message that offered valuable insights into his craft that were applicable to other independent creative pursuits and projects such as mine as an artist.

You as a creative professional, as an artist, most likely possess expertise that will enrich other people and help their craft along, so long as you take the time to select good insights about your field and lay out your message in a clear fashion that your audience can digest, remember, and reflect on.

Don’t be afraid to host panels. The difference it makes for your art and business can be absolutely massive, even if it just means you get better at presenting your art and understanding to people.

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