Tag Archives: panels

Panel Programming

  • contact: panels@wiscon.net
  • Deadline to submit a program idea: January 19
  • Deadline to complete panel interest survey: March 19
  • Deadline to accept/decline panel assignments: April 16

WisCon is famous for panel programming that’s full of great conversation, that covers a spectrum including the hilarious and the intensely political — far more than you’ll be able to fit in during one weekend (sorry!).  Our panels celebrate our Guests of Honor, delve into discussions of gender, race, disability, and class, and explore every aspect of science fiction from current books and film to transformative works to fandom itself.

Who’s on our panels? You are — the members of the convention, including professional authors, detail-loving academics, and attentive fans.

Programming Timeline

WisCon programming is developed in stages, all heavily influenced by our participants and attendees.

Idea Collection:  We collect ideas throughout the year and close idea submission in mid-January. We receive many hundreds of ideas, so we’re forced to cut, combine, or postpone some because we simply don’t have the space to run them all. Please submit your idea at any time between the end of the prior WisCon and mid-January at https://account.wiscon.net/idea/.

Participant Signup: In February we open up the list of potential panels as a survey so members can let us know their interest in ideas and so they can volunteer to be panelists or moderators.

Scheduling and Program Assignments: Using the participant sign-up information, we determine which items will be scheduled, who will be assigned to them and when, and in what room they will happen. Participants receive an email confirming the details of their assignments A first cut at the schedule generally goes out to program participants in early April.

Program Assignments: By late April we’re able to publicly reveal the full program schedule.  Minor adjustments will continue to be made even into the convention itself (e.g., a panelist may need to leave a panel), but the schedule we reveal in late April is 99% final!

How Long Do These Programs Last?

The standard program time slot is one hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes), followed by a 15-minute break until the next program. No one is going to actually kick anyone out of a program room during the 15-minute break, but remember that break is your chance to use the restroom or run up to the Con Suite! Continuing our tradition of supporting our convention attendees’ need to eat meals without missing programming, lunch and dinner breaks are scheduled at 11:30am-1pm and 5:30-7pm.

How WisCon panels are born

Elliott Mason

tl;dr: What can I do to improve WisCon programming?

  • If you have a panel idea anytime between May and January, tell us! (If it’s between January and May, write it down and tell us in May.)
  • If you like copyediting and fixing words, volunteer to be a program wrangler! The work gets done in January/February, but you can add yourself to the team any time of year.
  • If you want to be on panels, make sure your wiscon.info bio is up to date and accurate, and reply to the big Programming Interest survey when we send it out! Please use the “why you’re interested in being on this panel” field and the “enthusiastic/interested/willing” radio buttons.
  • If you attend the con, note down one or two “this was good/this was bad” comments about panels you attend. Tweet them, using the panel’s hashtag, or share them through the post-con survey or via email directly to program@wiscon.net

How are panels born?

There are nine key steps along the way from spark to full fruition, many of them involving input from the wider WisCon community or from interested volunteers.

1) Idea

Everything starts when a member of the WisCon community has a spark of an idea. It might be during a panel at the con itself (“Hey, they don’t have time to get to this right now, but if you went down this tangent, it’d be a neat panel!”), out on a dinner run, just after the con when talking to friends, or at any time between June and January, but there we are: an idea.

2) Suggestion

Anyone with an idea can go to the WisCon Idea page and fill out the form between Opening Ceremonies of the convention and the following January. At this stage, it may be a fully-formed and eloquent panel description, or it might just be a title and some bullet points, but all ideas are welcome. Even duplicate submissions are no trouble: far better to accidentally input something three times over the course of the year than forget to put it in even once.

3) Basic vetting

Program staff do a quick pass through the submissions when the Idea page suggestion box closes in January, culling the obvious robot-generated spam and any simple duplicates.

4) Wrangling

Our talented and valiant staff of program volunteers dig into the submissions, making them better in every possible way. This is when we do everything from fixing typos to putting things in the format that the Publications department needs to deep reconfigurations of panels. We turn bare sketches into the sort of rich and chewy morsels discerning attendees are used to from WisCon programming. You can volunteer to wrangle: you just need some availability in January/February and access to email and a web browser. Contact program@wiscon.net to be put on the list for next year.

5) The Big Survey – the Programming Interest form

Once the panels all look as good as we can possibly make them, we run them up the flagpole for the entire WisCon community to look over. This is the Big Survey – the Programming Interest form – upon which everything else depends! A link goes out by email, or you can get to it by logging into your account.wiscon.net account. On that page is a long list of every panel we’re considering putting on this year, and you are invited to tell us if you’re excited to attend it in the audience, if you want to be on it, if you want to moderate it, and so on. If you volunteer to work the panel, please DO use the field provided to tell us what special expertise or angle you bring, and make sure your program-book bio (on your main account.wiscon.net account) isn’t blank. Both those things will make our jobs in the next step much easier.

The Big Survey is the single largest factor deciding which panels will or will not run in a given year, so it’s important that as many WisCon-goers as possible take a look and give us their honest opinions. It’s spatially and temporally impossible to run all the panels suggested in a given year — not even all the amazing ones! — so prioritization has to happen, and the Big Survey pulls input from as much of the WisCon community as we can manage.

6) Staffing

The survey closes in early spring (Madison time), and the most complex stage of making programming happen begins: putting panelists and moderators on panels. A crack team of skilled and doughty volunteers gather via video chat to confer and share expertise and workload as we do our best to get not only the best available slate onto each and every panel, but also to put each volunteering panelist onto the panels they are most excited to do. Very nearly everyone who volunteers is empaneled for at least one item, so don’t be shy: volunteer! The “why you’re interested in being on this panel” fill-in field from the survey is key here, as it helps us balance expertise and lived experience, and make sure the entire panel isn’t full of people with only one slant on the question.

7) Pre-Con discussion

When the preliminary schedule is finalized, moderators and panelists are sent their assignments. Conversation (sometimes very extensive) occurs via email among each panel’s participants pre-con, guided by the moderator, to help get everyone prepared and excited about what will be discussed at the convention. Sometimes panels decide they need handouts or bibliographies; moderators can coordinate with program and publications staff to get what they need lined up and ready in time. We do our best to give the panelists a month to prep, depending on deadlines, though with late cancellations and unavoidable rearrangement of schedule it’s not always available.

8) Last-minute staffing

Life happens: sometimes people who were planning to come just can’t, or things need to be rearranged. Sometimes one panel just didn’t get four awesome panelists volunteering for it on the Big Survey. Never fear! Even if you only know you’re coming to the con at the last minute, you can be on programming. In the weeks leading up to the convention, the Panels Needing Panelists page goes live, and you can volunteer to be parachuted onto a panel in desperate need of your experience. The program staff are always grateful that people volunteer last-minute, because it helps us patch up holes and make things the best they can possibly be.

9) Panel

Where the magic really happens: live, at the con, in front of your very eyes. Some panels use A/V equipment or other visual aids; some have handouts and flyers; some have ground-rules for the discussion written on big signs posted up front. Every panel is different, depending upon the needs of the moderator and panelists, and it’s up to program staff to support those needs.

Lather, rinse, repeat

Everything starts when a member of the WisCon community has a spark of an idea. Say you’re at WisCon and you’re struck with an idea for a panel for next year’s convention…

In that case, go to step 1.

main website temporarily down

Chris Wallish
Media & Communications

Looks like our website got so excited by all the amazing panel suggestions you’ve been submitting that it had an attack of the vapors and passed out on the fainting couch.  If you haven’t had a chance to submit your suggestion yet, jot it down somewhere so you don’t lose your inspiration!  We’ll let you know when the website has returned to itself and is ready to go again.

Last Call for WisCon35 Programming/Readings Sign-up (and more.)

A final reminder that Friday, March 18 is the last day to sign up as a panelist or moderator for WisCon 35. That’s today (or soon will be).

It’s also the last day to sign up for a reading. Groups and individuals alike are welcome to sign up to read – see the full details on doing a reading on the WisCon35 website.

And it’s the last day to tell us what panels you’re interested in, if you haven’t already done it.

All three tasks can be accomplished by visiting the programming sign-up page. You’ll need to sign-in or create an account using a valid e-mail. Once in, there’s a link for program sign-up and audience interest, and another link for readings sign-up.

We have a few favors to ask:

  • If you’ve signed up to participate in programming – please remember to let us know your availability for programming. We don’t want to assign you to an 8:30 am panel if you’re a late-night party person, or schedule your panel for midnight if you’re in your jammies by 10 pm. The availability link is on the programming sign-up page.
  • Similarly, if you’ve signed up to do programming, please complete the bio sections of your profile on by accessing your account. It helps speed along the process.
  • We can always use a few good moderators.
  • Finally, please help us get the word out by re-distributing this message among your online communities, e-lists, and friends lists. Remember, one does NOT need to have a paid registration to indicate an interest in WisCon programming, nor sign up to be a panelist (though you’ll need a paid registration in order to score a final assignment – there’s a convenient link to registration on the programming sign-up page.)

Thank you for participating – and if you have any questions, please send an email to program@wiscon.net