Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[conventions] Time, reading and panel etiquette

I was thinking about this topic yesterday as I was packing for Norwescon, and realized that if I wanted to talk about it on my blog, I should do so before the convention. Because if I posted this after the convention, people would think I was being a passive-aggressive grump about something that happened at Norwescon. Which hasn't happened yet.

Or something.

So here's me being a Ranty McRantypants about an issue that always bugs me, and is a very common problem at conventions. Probably I'll come off as a total crank, but, hey, it's my blog. I can crank if I want to.

See, I'm kind of a fiend about time. Barring major catastrophe or serious process failure, I am always on time to everything. Usually I'm early. Late is something that happens to other people. For the most part, this is my own private neurosis, and I deal with it pretty well. Since timeliness is valued in many aspects of our culture, this isn't even a dysfunction. (Though some of my close friends might argue otherwise.)

But that's when my time is my own. When the time belongs to other people, it transcends a private neurosis and becomes a matter of mutual respect. Showing up late for a meeting or a date is disrespectful of other people's time and effort. Not to mention wasteful. Making other people late for their meeting is even more disrespectful.

So, at a convention, when I have a reading or am moderating a panel, I am a fiend about ending the event at least five minutes before the start of the next reading or panel. This is because it takes a few minutes for everyone to file out of the room. Not to mention to clear the clump around the panelists' table as people come up to ask questions. Not to mention that the next reader or panelists need to set up, clear their heads, and be ready to go on time. Not to mention that anyone attending that reading or panel might like to make it to their next planned event on time. Not to mention that the audience for the next reading or panel would like to come in and sit down to see their desired event on time.

Sensing a theme here?

Yet over the years, I cannot begin to count the number of occasions where the reading or panel before mine has run long, right up to the transition point, or even beyond it. Which is profoundly disrespectful to both audiences (exiting and entering) as well as the pros scheduled to have the room next. And wastes the time of a hell of a lot of people.

Being who I am, after the first couple of years of putting up with this, I've developed the habit as needed of simply walking into the room about four minutes before the start of the next reading or panel and tactfully signaling that they need to cut it off pretty much right away. If I am ignored, I become a lot less tactful, though I am never rude. Just insistent.

When I do that, i sometimes encounter a lot of resentment and even outright anger from the audience. This is especially true of readings, where fans are listening eagerly to their beloved author.

You know what? The next author is beloved of their fans, too. And just because your author can't judge the time required for their own reading is no reason to steal time from the next author. Or from the people who want to hear them. We're all in this together, and everybody's time is just as valuable to them as yours is to you.

So, if you're a pro with a reading or a panel, please pay attention to the time. If you're a fan in that reading or panel, please remember that the next event in that room is just as important to other people as the one you're attending is to you. Being aware of time is just basic respect for the folks around you.

And if it's me coming in to the room to ask the event to wrap it up now, feel free to glare all you want. That's not going to make you or your favorite pro any less disrespectful of the next people who need the room, and mostly you're going to amuse me with your rudeness. To my mind, that sort of irritated response is of a kind with the notion that it's rude to ask people to stop talking in theaters, because you're interrupting their conversation — an inversion of social norms that makes no sense except in an utterly self-centered world.

(Also, you kids, get off my lawn!)

Tags: conventions, culture, process

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