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Naomi Kritzer @NaomiKritzer
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Having skimmed John Ringo's 38 pages of "why I am good and the feminist moderator who interrupted me is bad" (here:… ) I want to talk about moderating panels.
For a while, my big local con did not routinely assign moderators, so I literally prepared to moderate every single panel I was assigned to. (I'd cede if someone else also showed up prepared.)
Moderating panels is hard. Moderating assholes is REALLY hard. The thing is, as a moderator, you're supposed to do things like keep the conversation moving and prevent people from taking over, but your tools are super limited.
You can (and should) interrupt people (in the audience, if they fail to quickly ask a question or get to the point; on the panel, if they're dominating inappropriately) but if they ride through your interruption...
...well, you can try again louder, maybe. It's not a great situation. Sometimes you can enlist the audience to shout them right the hell down.
MOST panelists, thank goodness, want a successful panel, and have some common criteria for what that looks like: an entertained (and hopefully informed) audience, panelists who all had a chance to have their say, no absolute trainwrecks.
Most panelists, if you say something like, "I'm going to have you sit on that thought and give the other panelists a chance to talk" will acquiesce.
I'll also note that as moderator, you're often giving up your own opportunity to express your opinion. Your job is drawing other people out, not using your control of the mic to yammer on forever (which he ALSO DESCRIBES DOING, on a different panel).
Anyway, John Ringo's behavior, as described by John Ringo, is astonishingly, over-the-top, ludicrously bad.

Even BEFORE the bit where he decided to sexually harass an audience member.
I have no idea how I would even BEGIN to handle a panel like this.

But, back when I first started moderating for WisCon I remember we got a cheat sheet with some useful phrases on it.
Like, "Do you have a question, please?" if an audience member is rambling.

At the very bottom was, "can someone in the back please go get Safety?"
And for real, if I had a panelist who responded to a question by telling an audience member that he'd spent a panel yesterday staring at her breasts, I ... I might resort to that one.
I was familiar with John Ringo prior to this mostly because of the "oh John Ringo NO" thing that went around LJ a few years back.
I tend to NOT assume that people who write misogynistic books are necessarily awful in person, so I'd given him sort of a vague benefit of the doubt. (I don't think I've ever encountered him in person.)
It's 2018 and we do not have to put up with assholes at our conventions!

I am friends with LOTS of people who've been on the NYT best seller list who are LOVELY on panels!
The absolute worst panelist I've ever been on with, FWIW, is someone that Ringo would dismiss as a "nobody," except probably Ringo would like him because he was on that panel to talk about some bizarre Obama-related conspiracy theory and deny global warming.
I was not moderating. I responded to the beginning of his "climate change is a myth" rant by yelling "oh no no no NO NO NO NO NO" and the mod (Elizabeth Bear) chimed in to say "yup, the climate change debate will be in the hallway later on" and we got things back on track.
(That was overall a fine panel, despite Creepy McConspiracyDude being on it, actually. Good moderators make a big difference!)
Anyway, since this is getting retweeted for the moderation tips, let me provide some additional moderation tips.
Most cons these days will provide the program online beforehand. I look up my panelists and try to e-mail them. I have a couple of questions always but one ABSOLUTELY KEY question goes like this:
"Is there a book you've written that's super related to the topic? If you give me your pitch, I will ASK YOU ABOUT IT so you don't have to worry about working it into the conversation. I'll say to YOU, so, I understand your book is about XYZ, can you tell us about that?"
Because I know that you desperately want to make sure that the people coming to the panel about Cat Fantasy hear about your Lioness Wizard book that's out on March 10th but you also live in fear of being THAT AUTHOR who won't shut up about HER BOOK.
As your moderator, I AM HERE to let you have your moment of shining self-promotion when it's obviously relevant. (Also, if I promise you that moment, you are a lot less likely to bring it up 50 times out of sheer desperation.)
Other tips: if you know you're going to wandering into contentious territory, set ground rules up front! ("We are not going to be debating XYZ.")

When I've thought to set ground rules, people are almost always good about respecting them.
Pay attention to how much panelists are talking. Make sure you explicitly pass the ball to the people who aren't saying much. Be particularly conscious of this if there are two people on the panel who could interact with each other all day, if unchecked.
By "explicitly pass the ball" I mean saying, "Marissa, any thoughts?" or "Marissa, it's definitely your turn to talk if you'd like to?" or something else that makes it very clear to everyone that it is THEIR TURN if they haven't said anything in a while.
Sometimes you have a very very talkative GoH and everyone else is going to just shrug and let them talk and deal with it. IN GENERAL, though, the "some people are IMPORTANT and some people are NOBODY" framing (thanks, John Ringo!) is absolute bullshit.
It is normal for a panel to be a mix of writers and fans, neo-pros and old hands. If someone's on your panel, they're a panelist and they get to have their say. (I mean, unless they're a conspiracy theorist who needs to be shut down, but that's a different problem.)
Sometimes people are SUPER SUPER WRONG on panels and you see 87 hands go up as everyone gets really mad. If you're on your home turf and you know people, call on whichever person will most efficiently and clearly set them straight.
Hopefully your Very Wrong panelist will recognize that they are in a hole and stop digging.
I really should go to bed, so I'm going to post a couple more thoughts and then probably just do that. If people want me to address Other Urgent Moderator Issues I can do that tomorrow.
WisCon runs a panel called "The Mod Squad" early on in the convention where people talk about how to moderate well. One of the really outstanding bits of advice that stuck with me at some point came from Ian Hagemann (I hope I spelled his name right).
He said that one thing you're allowed to do as a moderator is value certain voices over others. (I know, this sounds like it runs counter to my earlier advice, but bear with me.)
He used the example of interracial adoption. He said this was a topic a whole lot of people have thought about for five minutes and have an opinion about. But that people who are members of an adoption triad have probably put a lot more thought into the topic.
And when you're moderating, try to prioritize the more knowledgeable voices.

HOPEFULLY, if your con does panels well, the people on your panel will be some of the more-knowledgeable voices in the room.
Ian's point was basically, you can call on audience members, but feel free to not just give them free reign. There's often a reason they're NOT up front. (Sometimes it's just that they didn't fill out the programming survey on time, but not necessarily.)
I like audience participation and I don't think "more a comment than a question" is necessarily evil so long as the comment is SHORT. Long rambling discourses are an indulgence reserved for people sitting at the table up front.
If I'm calling on audience members I try to be unapologetic about NOT calling on someone again who I've already called on ("we've heard from you, so I'm going to see if other people have questions" is a nice courtesy so they can put their hand down.)
Oh, and probably the most important advice: if you're moderating, brainstorm yourself a list of conversational topics before you come!
The topic as written in the book is probably not actually going to keep you all going for an hour. Come up with some interesting questions about the topic that everyone can try to answer.
And try to resist the slide into the List Panel, where your question ("Why aren't there more books about magical cats?") turns into a session where everyone names their ten favorite totally obscure fantasy novels about magical cats.
Like, a panel on why there aren't more magical cats can definitely include some discussion of existing books on magical cats (Diane Duane's wizard cats!) but you could also talk about magical housecats vs. magical lions/tigers/etc.
You can talk about how furry books are still in their own ghetto and why that is. You can talk about whether a cat that's maybe not exactly magical but is definitely owned by a magical person, counts as a magical cat, and where Hermione Granger's cat fits in.
You can talk about why cats seem sort of magical, whether cats are more magical than dogs and why that might be, you could trade cat anecdotes, you could talk about what sorts of magical powers cats OUGHT to have, but brainstorm a list of topics and have more than you need.
It will be easier to get the conversation going if you have a couple of different gambits up your sleeve. You can add new topics as they occur to you during the panel, but you definitely want to bring a bunch to start with.
Anyway, I'm going to bed. I may come back and continue this thread in the morning.
(And since this thread sort of sets me up as a MODERATION EXPERT let me just apologize right now to all of the panelists out there who've been dissatisfied with my moderation in the past. Some of these lessons are things I figured out AFTER they would have been useful.)
("How to do con panels" is one of those writer skills that you are expected to ACQUIRE, if you are a genre writer, but it's not like there's classes.)
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