Hi. I really want to do a cosplay panel called 'how to preform your best at a cosplay masquarade'. This would be my first panel though. How do you prepare for yours?
I’m going to answer this as a general “how to put together a cosplay help panel” type question, since it might be useful to other people, as well.
A lot of work can go into a panel, so how much work you put in depends on how much work you want to put in. There’s also multiple styles of giving panels, so I’ll try to cover as much as I can, but obviously I’m mostly going to talk about the style of help panel that I run, since I know how to do that.
First step is to choose a topic. You’ve already done that, so that’s good. Along with a general topic, you will also want to decide what you want the scope of the panel to be. Keep in mind that most panels are 45 minutes to an hour (usually given an hour in the schedule, but how much of that time you actually have and how much is the time between panels differs by con), and that you can choose to go very in-depth on one topic, very broad on many topics, or somewhere in between. Of course, the more topics you cover, the less time you have per topic.
For example, in determining the scope of your panel, do you want it to cover very aspect of a Masquerade (such as construction, skits, and walk ons)? Do you want to keep it focused to one aspect, such as just skits, or a couple of aspects, such as performance, including both skits and walk-ons?
Within your topics, what do you want to cover? Go as broad as possible? Go in-depth on the actual steps to putting together a skit (including audio recording methods, how to write dialogue, etc.)? What is the “grade level” of your panel, so to speak? Are you addressing people who are totally new to the topic and know nothing (and would thus need to cover the very basics, such as what a Masquerade is, what a skit vs. a walk-on is, etc.), or are you assuming prior knowledge of the topic?
For my panels, ones such as Body Paint 101 and Foundation Garments for cosplay address people with little to know knowledge in the subject, but Body Paint goes in-depth on a few things while Foundation Garments goes broad on many things; ones like Fabric Choice for Cosplay assumes some prior knowledge but not a lot and is between being broad and in-depth (lots in information, but on lots of topics); How to Level Up Your Cosplay assumes intermediate knowledge and goes broad. They have different scopes, and that’s something you need to decide on either ahead of starting to write your panel or while writing it. You want to make your panel as helpful and easy to understand by your target audience as possible, so spending a lot of time covering very basic information (”what is a skit?”) in a panel aimed at people who have had Masquerade experience might not be as helpful, or including higher-level information or going too in-depth in a panel aimed at beginners might be lost on them.
Along with this, figure out what you aren’t going to cover. You have an hour, which really isn’t as much time as it sounds like. You can’t cover everything. (Hell, the 2-hour long version of my Fabric Choice panel could still cover more information.) You have to decide what is most important and what is getting left out.
Once you figure out what you want to cover, you research. Unless you are giving a very personal type panel (this is how I do things), then you want to have as many perspectives as possible – what works for you might not work for everyone, or in every circumstance. You also want to make sure that your panel covers the information thoroughly, so even if you know a lot about the subject, you want to fact-check yourself and make sure that you aren’t missing something that you may not have thought of.
After this, you come up with your visuals and examples. Are you doing live demonstrations? Are you just going to talk the whole time? Are you going to ask for audience participation at points? Are you going to use physical examples (such as a live blocking demonstration, or a physical costume that won a construction award), or just pictures? Are you using visuals at all (and you should)? Are you going to include video (such as a video of a winning skit)? (If you use video, make sure that A: you have it saved to your computer and aren’t relying on internet and B: you note on your panel application that you need a room wired for sound, since it’s more common and easier to have visuals with no sound.)
Personally, I love Powerpoint. I make a Powerpoint for each of my panels, and am able to include photos and text there. I would recommend to not have too much text on the slides themselves (my panels that I’ve posted online are a bad example here – I actually often have to add the text back into the slide itself from the notes on the slides so that it’s comprehensible to people just seeing the slides and not hearing me speak). I would also recommend to not simply read off of the slides, but to use them as a guide for your speaking.
Next step would be to get all of your visuals together, and to write the text. Here you need to decide on the structure of the panel. How are you going to break up the topics? What order are you putting the topics in? There are multiple valid ways of breaking up a panel into sections and then slides from there, so you need to decide how concepts are going to be grouped. Are you going to talk about walk-ons, skits, and construction as three separate topics? Are you going to combine performance (walk-ons and skits)? Are you going to break it up in some other way, such as temporally (what you need to do before the event, what you need to do at the event, etc.) or by the step of the competition (such as a section on how to deal with judging and what judges look for that encompasses both performance and construction)? Where in the presentation are you going to put some of your more general information (at the start, at the end, broken up between those two depending on what it is, etc.)?
I’ve started to include an outline at the start of my panels, so that people can know upfront what I’m going to cover and when, but that’s extra.
Then, practice practice practice. Especially if you don’t have any sort of teaching or public speaking experience. Make sure it all flows well. Make sure that you can cover the information in the time provided without either going over (honestly the bigger danger here) or going far under, and without feeling like you are rushing or having to add filler. If your time is way off the mark, then decide what needs to be edited down (whether you are removing entire sections or just going less in-depth on everything already there), or decide what needs to be added. Practice will also help you feel more comfortable the day of. (For those of us with teaching experience, at least for me, I just wing it when it comes to time because I know intuitively about how long these things take just from giving a bunch of panels and teaching a bunch of classes, but it’s still helpful to practice. Don’t be me. Even I sometimes end up rushing at the end of a panel and then regret it.)
Be sure to leave at least a few minutes for questions at the end of the panel. There will always be questions. Sometimes more than others, so it can be hard to judge how much time to leave – no more than 10 minutes, I’d say, since that’s getting to be excessive and cuts into your panel time. (Also, make sure that everything is as set up on your end as it can be before you walk into the panel room – your laptop on, your Powerpoint up, your dongle out, etc., because some cons take setup time out of your panel time, and you don’t want to spend too long at the start of your panel fumbling with getting your computer booted up.)
On the day of the panel, breathe, eat a snack before the panel to keep your energy up (especially important with long panels or when giving back-to-back panels…), use the restroom before your panel so you aren’t distracted during, BRING WATER (it isn’t always provided and you WILL need it), relax, get to your panel room early (either a couple of minutes before your scheduled setup time or right at your scheduled setup time, so you have plenty of time to prepare), and do it. Be sure to end on time and pack up on time so that the next panelist can get in there and set up after you.
Good luck! I hope this is helpful. :]