Tribeca hosted a Westworld panel yesterday with an all-star lineup including co-creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, as well as actors Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, and James Marsden. I’m sure the discussion of the upcoming new season was great, but we’re actually here to talk about the very end of the panel, when the moderator takes questions from the audience.
Audience Q&As, a longtime staple of the panel format, offer attendees the chance to ask thoughtful questions that may have arisen during the discussion they attended. Just kidding! They’re actually a nightmare, because anecdotally anyone who’s attended panels at any major event — myself included — can tell you that the questions are bad 95 percent of the time and contribute nothing of interest.
Thanks to Tribeca’s Facebook stream, we finally have some hard evidence you can view for yourself around the 49:35 mark. When the first person steps up to take the mic, he actually rambles for so long — about human potential, his unproduced screenplay, and how it’s “unbelievable... you’re able to have an idea and put it on screen”— that the moderator has to shut down any further questions. The whole exchange is painful, from the bemused looks of those on-stage, to the audience rumbling as this whole sordid affair plays out.
Because nobody wants to be this guy at their next Q&A session, let me offer a few handy tips.
- Keep it brief. I want to stop here, but (sighs heavily, glances at checklist).
- Don’t ask for autographs or photos.
- Don’t talk about yourself.
- Seriously, unless it is of dire importance to understanding the question you want to ask, leave your personal stories at the door. I appreciate that this is the only time Evan Rachel Wood or James Marsden will probably recognize that you exist, but yours are ships that pass in the night. What I’m trying to say, gently, is that they don’t care.
- Don’t ask panelists to read your screenplay, listen to your song, whatever. They’re trying to do a job and it does not involve furthering your career.
- Don’t breathlessly tell panelists you love them. You’ve come to see them speak! Obviously you like their work. It’s fine to quickly say you’re a fan, but when you overdo it it just seems creepy and weird.
- Don’t bring gifts.
- Remember that this is still a stranger you are talking to, even if you love all of their work. Don’t go digging around in their personal life; don’t go asking intimate details that are none of your business.
- Don’t be an asshole. I mean this for your own good, really, because if you’re going to pull something there is an entire crowd of fans there to throw things. It really doesn’t make you look like a freedom of speech hero to be thrown out of a Q&A session. It makes you look like a basement-dwelling ding-dong.
So, what went wrong here? The particular panel-goer makes some very rookie mistakes (rambling on with unnecessary praise, calling out unrelated projects, talking about himself), but perhaps most curious of all is that this guy has no question to ask. He just came to talk. So stick this final lesson in your pocket for your next panel: only approach the Q&A mic if you actually have a question.