2013 Tip of the Day #22: The Art of Asking a Panel Question

Careful not to Oodle around in front of the mic...

Careful not to Oodle around in
front of the mic… by @paintingemily

If you have never been to Comic-Con before, one of the greatest experiences is to go to a panel. I’m so glad that over the years, this has become the big attraction to the show instead of just shopping on the showroom floor. The panels are where the real insight and emotion is experienced and many of my lasting memories have occurred in a panel. Another amazing opportunity is the chance to ask a question. However, to stand in front of thousands of people, speaking directly to one of your life long idols is daunting to say the least. Done well, it not only satisfies your personal dream, but also adds value to the entire panel. However, done wrong and it’s a painful experience for everyone- as well as put up on YouTube for the world to judge you.

So here are a few tips to think about when asking a question at Comic-Con:

  • If you want to ask a question in Hall H or Ballroom 20, then immediately line up to the microphone if they will allow for it. If you go get a seat then wait to be called up, you will be 50 people back with no guarantees you’ll make it to the mic.
  • Be thinking way ahead of time about what you want to ask. Plan on two questions just in case yours gets asked right before you. Nothing worst than being all mic’d up and no where to go.
  • Sorry, but don’t try to be funny. I know there are many funny fans out there but unfortunately we don’t get too many of them in the panels. So save your routine for the Improv night and just get the question.
  • Carefully craft a question everyone in the room will appreciate. Asking a celeb what their favorite food is might be interesting to you but the rest of the room might not appreciate it.
  • Ask a question where the answer is not easily found on the internet. Don’t ask what projects they have coming up when IMDB can answer that. Do ask out of your upcoming projects which is the most intimidating to you and why?
  • Keep the question short with no backstory. Some people go into a story so long that it would impress JRR Tolkien. The longer time you take, the less others will have. Respect the clock.
  • If you have a great costume that is relevant to the panel, then this is a great way to show it off as well as ask a good question. Fans usually reward a good costume with a respectable applause so this is your chance.
  • Don’t ask for hugs, to give gifts, to take a pic with them. I say this while recognizing I’ve seen some real touching moments with these type of requests- but I still feel I have to list this as an important don’t. I know, I am irony personified.
  • Here’s a bit of technical advice. Hearing yourself with 1.31 Gigawatts of sound and seeing your face on a 100 ft screen can be a little disorienting- especially in Hall H. While you are talking, focus on the sound of your own voice and look directly at the person on stage. If you listen to the echo and watch yourself onscreen, you’ll lose your train of thought.
  • A warning about Hall H. It is notorious for critical fans. If your question appears self serving, critical, or it’s a failed attempt at humor, you will be boo’d off the mic. Followed by the walk of shame. It’s not a pretty sight, so don’t be the next victim.

I know this is a lot for something as simple of asking one question- but believe me, there are genuine eye rolling, groaner questions in every panel. If you are a Con veteran and agree, please leave a comment echoing this statement. I hope this helps and I am looking forward to what you will be asking at Comic-Con in 11 days! In 2010, at the TRON: Legacy panel, I had a chance to ask Jeff Bridges a question. My question wasn’t anything too epic but I thought his answer was brilliant:

The super cute drawing was done by my new friend Emily at http://paintingemily.tumblr.com/.
Check out my past Tip of the Day posts.

16 thoughts on “2013 Tip of the Day #22: The Art of Asking a Panel Question

  1. Do your research! This goes along with asking a question that the answer to cannot be found on the Internet. I appreciate and love all new fans of Psych, one of my personal favorites, but someone has asked a variation of “what’s up with the pineapple thing?” every. single. year. at SDCC. If you’re going for your first time and want to ask a question, watch panels from previous years to make sure what you’re thinking of asking hasn’t been asked (several times) before.

    • Yea, some fans just want to be on the mic/camera to talk to someone famous and end up asking a question everyone knows. Doing research is a must. Thx!

  2. If we could teach the fans that there are some fannish things you DON’T talk about with the celebs, especially in front of a crowd of several thousands + journalists and cameras, that would be awesome. General questions about fanfic can be ok if worded properly, but expecting an actor to discuss people writing about his/her character having sex is weird and intensely awkward for everyone else in the room. Write it to your heart’s content! Freedom of expression, etc. But don’t ask the actors to comment on it.

    It’s sad that this comes up in at least one panel I attend every year. It causes me secondhand embarrassment and I have to cover my own ears. No one wants the mic turned off on them (this happened 3 TIMES at the Supernatural panel last year) and to get boo-ed back to their seat. Just…be respectful, I guess.

    • Yup that is pretty embarrassing. I listed to one guy try to connect with a director about his love of anime porn. It was painful. Thx or your comment.

  3. Honestly I hate the Q&A part of most panels, because so few people follow your sound advice. I waited in line to hear the learned people on the panel speak learnedly, not to hear skippy the fan try out for open mic/tell a tale of woe/propose marriage (although I do tear up at proposals, awww),ask irrelevant to the topic questions. Now I have been witness to some interesting questions, and interesting answer to not so interesting questions, but I kind of wish they would drop the whole Q&A thing. I have been told I am wrong, and a bitter old lady, by friends who think Q&A is the best.

    If I am pressed for time, I will sometimes just leave the panel as soon as the Q&A starts, when I do this I am of course seated toward the back and am on or very near the aisle.

    Despite my dislike for Questions I never boo, or even harumph (I may roll my eyes) because even bitter and old, I still have freakin’ manners. Booing for anyone, other than a villain in a pantomime, is just wrong.

    In the end to each their own, but politeness, and forethought are required.

    • Agree with all your points! I am not a fan of the pure Q and A but leading out with about 60% content then move to it. A good moderator can keep it under control too. Right on that respect is the key for both the asker and listener. Thx or your great comment!

  4. Definitely agree with all your tips! I had the opportunity to ask a question at a panel last year, and I wasn’t at all prepared for the echo of the mic. It totally threw me off and made me a lot more nervous! I’d also have to add to be very clear when asking the question – although you may think something’s straightforward, the panelists may misinterpret what you’re asking (as they did with mine). They all had great answers, though!

  5. These are all great tips! I’ve done my fair share of both eye rolling and applauding a question. I like the Q & A but it can be hit or miss.

    I’ve only been to SDCC a couple of times, but this tip of the day post reminded me..

    Example: At the Wilfred panel last year someone asked Elijah Wood something along the lines of “How do you think your role as Frodo prepared you for blah blah,” to which is first reaction was “You know I don’t think I’ll ever get through any kind of Q & A without someone bringing up something completely unrelated to the panel,” and I wonder if the rest of the sass in his response went way over the head of the person that asked. The answer was great because it just turned the groans in the Indigo room into laughs.

    Cosplay Example:
    At the Robot Chicken panel last year one person that lined up was dressed as Starro with little Justice League characters on his body & limbs. When he was up to ask a question, about three words in Seth Green was like “Hey… Starro? Are you dressed as STARRO? Dude that’s awesome! Can I get a picture with you?” etc. And they got their picture together as the next questions came up.

    Anyway, great tip! I can’t wait for SDCC this year and I’m going crazy about it!

  6. Agreed. I would second keeping the question short; there’s a limited amount of time for Q&A, and longer questions means fewer questions. Also, the panelists know you’re there because you love/like their work, so keep the praising as brief as possible. Or better yet, just go right to the question.

  7. People who ask for hugs or talk about “getting into the business” generally get and deserve the biggest round of boos. It puts the panelist under their thumb and it steals focus away from the overall con experience. Ps…Tony, great site!

  8. Avoid asking a 2-part question. Seen this at almost every panel I’ve ever attended. It’s probably the fastest way turn the audience against you. Stick to one question only please!

  9. I’d add if your fave show / film is adapted from books / comics, don’t be the person that spoils it for the people who haven’t read the original source material. You can be clever and ask the question if you are dying to know without out and out ruining it for people. For example, ask if we will see a character or location, without going into massive details to give huge potential plot points away to newbies.

  10. I’ve seen pretty painful questions and requests over the years, so I have lots of advice. Don’t ask a celeb out. Don’t ask for a hug. If you feel you must give them a gift, do it at their autograph signing/photo op instead, if it’s allowed. Don’t request a voicemail recording. Don’t spoil plots. Keep it short. Don’t blather on about how you’re their biggest fan. Just quickly say, “I loved your work on [X]” and then ask your question. Research first. If it’s info that’s easily available online, skip it and ask something else. Don’t try to be too clever. Run your question by friends you trust and use their feedback. I’ve still never asked a question in a large panel like Hall H because I follow these guidelines. And, honestly, everybody is probably the better for it.

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