Wanderers! We know some of you are already sad about missing out on your favourite conventions (they do insist on being held so very far away) but some of you may be planning to go to one – or indeed, any kind of event where the stars of your fandom (be they writer, actor, or someone else) get up on a stage, sit by a microphone, and patiently answer your questions. So we thought we’d give you some tips, because we like to stick our noses in like that.
- Don’t go out of your way to make them uncomfortable. This means no talking about the dodgy, NSFW fanfic you’ve been adoring, or the equally explicit sketch your best friend drew and how accurate they feel it is. Don’t show them it, don’t talk about it, don’t make things weird. Nothing ruins the atmosphere of a room quite like hundreds of people all cringing at once.
- Don’t get personal. Basically, if you wouldn’t want someone asking you that in front of hundreds of people whose opinions mattered to you, don’t ask them. There are some exceptions – if you’re a shy person and would hate to be asked to dance in front of a crowd, but the person in front of you is well known for a signature dance, you can ask them about it.
- Don’t get angry. If you ask someone a question and they dodge it or give a flippant answer, they probably have their reasons. Maybe you asked about a future plot point without even realising it, maybe it would take way too long to explain what you’ve asked, maybe there’s something else that makes them not want to answer. Let it be.
- Prepare your questions in advance. If you come up with a great one on the spot, that’s fantastic, but if you’re determined to ask a question you should try to enter the room with one in mind. If possible, even work out the exact words you’ll use. You don’t want to be grasping for the right phrase while you’re holding a microphone.
- Get in there! If they ask for questions, get your hand up – you might not be given the chance to ask your question anyway but there’s definitely no way you will if you’re sitting on your hands.
- Assume they mean well. This goes for other fans asking ‘obvious’ questions, as well as stars with clumsy phrasing. They probably don’t mean to offend you, so think about what they might have meant to say before you get too upset about how it actually came out. It’s pretty high-pressure, being asked to answer questions you can’t really prepare for in front of hundreds of people! People make mistakes.
- Don’t take photos or film if you’ve been asked not to. And we don’t mean if a steward or a member of the security team comes along and glares at you; we mean that if there’s a sign up asking you not to film/photograph the panels, or two minutes in they say ‘alright, that’s enough photography now, we’re being dazzled up here’, you stop and put your camera away. Chances are the panel hosts are recording it in some way anyway, and if you’re not messing with a camera you can listen more closely to the questions and answers being given.
- Avoid in-jokes the panellists might not get. They’re probably already a little nervous – if you say something that references a joke from Tumblr rather than the actual thing you’re a fan of, it’s going to be a bit alienating for the people up front when the room shares a hearty laugh at something they don’t understand.
- Have fun! This is your chance to get answers to questions you may have had for ages. And you’ll get to find out what fellow fans have been wondering, too. Don’t let it go to waste – seize the day and enjoy it!
Eleanor Musgrove (hasn’t been to a Q & A in far too long)