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An insider's take on geek Con panels

Geekend contributor and web series creator Jessica Mills has been a panelist at a number of geeky conventions. She describes what that experience is like and why she enjoys attending Cons.

The past couple of years, I've been lucky enough to be invited to participate on panels at WonderCon, GeekGirlCon, Comikaze Expo, and Wizard World. The panel topics I've discussed range from web series to writing to geek culture. This past weekend I was on the Web Series Anonymous panel at Wizard World Austin Comic Con 2012 with the creators of Geeks and Gamers Anonymous (Alex Langley, Katrina Hill), The Variants (Richard Neal, Ken Lowery), and moderated by comic book and Doctor Who historian Alan Kistler.

Every Con is like a family reunion. I have so many friends online (many of whom are professionals or press) whom I dearly love, and it's great when we are all at a Con. It's so fun to wander the floor with friends and look at things. There's always something new to find every time you go to a Con (except for Saturday at San Diego Comic-Con -- you can't see a thing around the crowds...it's feels like a really civil and slow stampede). Comic Con exclusive toys, replica props from your favorite shows, amazing cosplay, artist tables, and creeper fangirl moments (sometimes I hover and stare). It's also a truly unique and silly experience to try and find people at a Con. I compare it to playing a complex game of Marco Polo using Twitter and texting. Wandering the Con floor is usually a sort of revolving game of mixing people. The group grows and shrinks constantly as people peel off to go in a different direction, get in line for a panel, or squee over a booth.

I've also been lucky enough to be recognized by people who know me online and follow my work. My web series Awkward Embraces has awesome fans, and it's always a surreal and heady experience to be stopped by someone who loves the show. It's the great thing about a Con -- we're all there to be fans. Even a lot of the people on panels or at tables are geeking out over some other person on a panel or at a table.  I've absolutely loved being on both sides of the experience. It's one of the things in my life I'm the most grateful for, and there's nothing quite like a total stranger stopping to tell you how much they enjoy your work. If you ever have the chance to stop someone and tell them how much you love their work, do it -- nine times out of 10, it will be appreciated.

Being on a Con panel is a unique and always awesome experience. It's such a privilege to be considered someone with opinions and experiences people are interested in. It's also really fun, as I am usually good friends with at least one other person on the panel. However, it can be quite nerve-racking. I've only known a handful of people who didn't feel nervous about being on a Con panel.

Over the past couple of years, I've developed a routine for panels that has worked really well. About an hour and a half before the panel, a small group of good friends and I will sit somewhere and get a drink. We grab a table and sit down to talk, tease each other, and argue about our various loved and hated characters. A Con is so incredibly insane that if I didn't have a chance to go somewhere quiet with a few close friends, I would be a total wreck at the panels. That prior hour and a half or so of laughing and camaraderie with friends is the perfect preparation for being on a panel. I also usually run into the moderator at some point and grill them about what they will ask us. It eases my mind a bit to know some of the questions ahead of time.

Here I am before our panel started at Wizard World Austin Comic Con. (Photo: Edgar Dapremont)

No matter how many times I participate on a Con panel, filing up to that table and sitting behind the placard with my name on it is so thrilling. The panelists all say hi, or introduce ourselves if we haven't met. We usually mess around a little before, especially if we're friends. At Wizard World Austin Comic Con, I knew Kat Hill pretty well, and our moderator Alan Kistler is one of my best friends. This is the third time Alan has moderated a panel I was on, and I love it. I know he'll do a great job, and I always feel at ease teasing him and cracking jokes together. Hearing your voice through a microphone can be a little unnerving, and I'm usually worried about saying something stupid, so I'll sit down and crack a lame joke into the mic just to break the ice for myself. I also take a moment to pick out my friends in the audience. It's always reassuring to crack a bad joke into the mic and see my friends pity laugh for me. So, if you're watching a friend on a panel, always pity laugh for them -- they'll really appreciate it!

Here I am with moderator Alan Kistler at Wizard Wizard Austin Comic Con. (Photo: Jessica Mills)

Once the panel is rolling, it's always too short. It's really cool to have a conversation with other professionals in your field. It's fun to commiserate with such bright and interesting people. The audience Q&As are also really great. Getting to talk directly to the people who want to hear what you have to say is fantastic. I love feeling as though I've helped advise someone, or made them laugh, or comforted them in some way.

Regardless of whether I'm a panelist, Comic Con has always been a place where I feel welcome and...dare I say it...normal. The excitement, joy, and enthusiasm shared by every person there gives me a feeling of goodwill that, so far, has no comparison.

If you have thought about going to a Con but just never gotten around to it, I encourage you to seek one out near you and experience it. I promise, it will be totally worth it. (Before you go, you might want to read the Geekend post The 10 lamest things to do at Comic-Con.)

While I was at Wizard World Austin Comic Con 2012, I took photos of some cosplayers, which included these Tiny Doctors! Check out the TechRepublic photo gallery Cosplay at Wizard World Austin Comic Con 2012.

Photo by Jessica Mills for TechRepublic
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