I spent much of my time at Worldcon in Capital Suite 6 where the academic track was taking place. Most of the panels I attended went very well. There were occasional moments of embarrassment, and future conventions please note that Ronald Meyers should never be allowed to moderate a panel again. His performance in the session featuring Maureen Kincaid Speller and Gillian Polack was a disgrace and deeply disrespectful to his panelists. From my point of view, however, the only real issue was the microphones.
Well actually microphone technique was a major issue throughout the convention. Far too many panelists either refused to use them, or forgot they were doing so, and were inaudible a lot of the time as a result. Academics were particularly bad in this respect because they are used to having to address a large room without use of a mic. It is matter of professional pride to them to not need one. But I’m a radio presenter, and if I don’t use the mic properly no one outside of the studio will hear me, so from my point of view good mic technique is essential. More convention panelists need to be aware of how to use a mic properly.
However, out there in Internet land I am seeing several people complaining about the academic track and saying how badly it worked. This surprised me. We have had such things at Worldcons many times before. If large numbers of audience members were unfamiliar with the format, and for example kept interrupting the papers, that must have been because they were new to the idea, not because academic tracks were new to Worldcon. There is, of course, an open question as to whether the three-paper plus questions at the end format is appropriate within a convention setting, especially if the papers don’t have a lot in common (and you can’t always guarantee that they will). But I’m really surprised to see people questioning whether an academic track has any place at Worldcon. We are planning to have one at Archipelacon, so feedback would be appreciated.