The Scalzi Rule at #potlatch

If you do follow the tweeting from Potlatch you’ll see that they had a panel about something called “The Scalzi Rule”. This was news to John, who isn’t there, but is seeing some of the tweets. Apparently this rule is:

A panel audience should ask questions, not make statements

That’s a debatable point alright, and it probably depends a lot on the size of the audience. But let’s leave the Potlatch folks to discuss that. I have a rather different question. You see, this rule seems really quite tame for John. If there is going to be something called “The Scalzi Rule”, surely it should be a bit more, well, ferocious? So here’s your question for today: assuming that you didn’t know what “The Scalzi Rule” was, what would you have guessed it to be?

Update: A warm welcome to anyone directed here from Whatever, and many thanks to John for sending you here. If you fancy a look around while you are here, you may want to check out my video diary featuring Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer.

30 thoughts on “The Scalzi Rule at #potlatch

  1. Also, it’s an easily-circumvented rule, which isn’t like John at all. We used this old trick in my student union days, when “Points of Information” (i.e interruptions to the speaker) were only allowed to ask a question to request additional information. It didn’t take long for people to cotton on that you could pretty much bring anything into order by prefacing Whatever you wanted to say with the phrase “Is it not the case that…”

  2. assuming that you didn’t know what “The Scalzi Rule” was, what would you have guessed it to be?

    When things get slow, BACON.

  3. I think Scalzi’s rule definitely must involve bacon… Either “Bacon is the answer” or “When in doubt, tape bacon to your cat.” would be appropriate Scalzi Rules, methinks.

  4. I believe the Potlatch program director, Bill Humphries did contact John four or five months ago, tell him we were thinking about having this discussion, and invite him to attend the convention.

    FWIW: the general consensus among the 20 to 30 people who attended was that the solution to the problem of audience members attempting to hijack panel events (spoiling the experience for the majority of people in the room) is having good moderators who can deal with individual situations on a case-by-case basis rather than imposing a pre-imposing a fiat about what will constitute acceptable participation in the experience from non-panel members.

    (There were some exceptions to this consensus from con runners who had personal experience of “bad” or distracting audience behavior at panel events they had carefully populated to provide specific entertainment experiences for the audience.)

    Mary Kay Kare actually phoned John up during the panel to get his take on it. What she reported him saying was something along the lines of: “Generally, I think it’s a good idea to limit audience participation to asking questions of panelists. When audience members make statements it tends to be primarily an ego thing for them.” (John, please feel free to correct me if I’ve mis [quasi] quoted you.)

    From my point of view, the notion that statements from audience members at panels are generally motivated by ego-related performance issues (and that these statements almost always tend to detract from the quality of the panel experience) is the crux of what I object to in pre-imposed fiats that limit possibilities. Several people at our small discussion raised the point that they don’t come to the convention panel events solely to witness a performance spectacle. There are other notions for the purpose of convention panels than the one of “providing an opportunity for audience members to witness a performance event delivered by chosen experts. Panels can be engineered and facilitated to allow group discussions of specific issues: to provide a venue where audience members increase their sense of connection to one another, or one where subject experts in the audience can exchange views with panel members in productive ways that enhance the quality of discussion.

    FWIW: for reference purposes, the following is a history of John’s own statements on this subject (and some reactions to them) that I made available to people who attended our Potlatch event.

    (Hi John! Hope things go well with you. )

    The panel description:

    The Scalzi Rule: Questions and Comments from the Audience
    Ringleader: Debbie Notkin

    Some s-f professionals, convention programmers, and other fans have requested audience members at s-f convention panels to refrain from making statements, limiting their participation to asking questions if they wish to address the panelists. What is the role of the audience and panel at s-f conventions? Should the relationship be different at different conventions?

    This will be a discussion among the members of Potlatch 18, facilitated by Debbie Notkin.

    PLEASE NOTE: We are DISCUSSING the Scalzi rule, NOT enforcing it. Not for the con, and especially not for this panel.

    For those of you who may not be acquainted with the this meme and would like to know more about it, the following web links provide a history of discussion over the last several years. If you read through the linked discussion on John Scalzi’s blog, “The Whatever,” you may note that Scalzi, himself, (an often-entertaining fellow and a good science fiction writer) did not originally propose a rule or policy for s-f conventions that would prohibit audience members at panels from making declarative observations. After an experience he found frustrating at one s-f convention, he announced an intention to enforce such a policy on all panels that he was in charge of moderating. (June 2005) (June 2005, a week later)

    The following link is to some thoughts on the subject from Debbie Notkin, the ringleader of our Potlatch panel, and readers of her LiveJournal, shortly after John Scalzi’s original posts on the subject:

  5. Also, it’s an easily-circumvented rule, which isn’t like John at all.

    Easily circumvented only in a formalistic environment where the rules bind the moderator. Which a con panel is, generally, not. I believe that Scalzi is completely capable of quashing attempts to subvert intent by technicality.

  6. Lenny Bailes:

    “I believe the Potlatch program director, Bill Humphries did contact John four or five months ago, tell him we were thinking about having this discussion, and invite him to attend the convention.”

    Bill invited me to Potlatch, yes, back in September (I was unable to attend). No mention of this particular panel, however. To be clear, I’m not at all nonplussed about it: I’m glad people are talking about moderation and panel management.

    Re: MKK: We chatted by Twitter, not by phone. My comment to here (when she explained what “The Scalzi Rule” was) was (with space conserving abbreviations, as Twitters are limited to 140 characters): “Oh, THAT. Well, in general, I think it’s true; asking a ? keeps the conversation going. Statements = ego; ?s = more conversation.”

  7. “The Scalzi Rule”

    A panel audience should ask questions about John Scalzi, not make statements (unless they are about John Scalzi).

  8. I was under the assumption that ‘The Scalzi Rule’ was “Marry someone sensible with money, possibly with health benefits.”

  9. No, no. We all know what the Scalzi Rule is!


    All others pale by comparison.

  10. The Scalzi Rule.

    “Insult the wife or kid? I’ll stand by laughing while the wife and kid guts you with a rusty spoon handle. Insult me? Meh – I’ve heard worse.”

  11. Potential Scalzi Rules:

    Pluto is a planet. (though it is not)
    Alright is not a word. (though it is)

  12. Hmm, I’d always thought that the Scalzi Rule was, “Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded.”

    Anyway, I’m off to bed now as it is pumpkin time in Merrie Olde Englande. I look forward to some more suggestions tomorrow.

  13. The Scalzi Rule? Isn’t that the abortive sequel to The Georgia Rule, in which the main character has to enter a twelve-step program for his bacon and double-double addiction?

    All seriousness aside, the Scalzi Rule for Moderating Panels must be something like this.
    “We’re all here to discuss x. If you want to discuss or pontificate on y, however important you think it is, there are plenty of AOL chatrooms waiting for you.”

  14. The Scalzi Rule: You are officially Internet Famous when one of your pets has its own Twitter feed… and its good.

  15. Scalzi Rule:
    He who has the Loving Hammer of Correction ™ makes the rules and must be paid tribute in Coke Zero and DoubleDoubles.

  16. I’d have to go with Jaws @15 and adelheid @17.

    My take though on the Scalzi rule would probably be “The Internet is not a democracy. Also, if you’re itching for a proverbial gunfight online, make sure you bring your intellectual ‘gun’ and not a freaking knife.”

  17. The Scalzi Rule: You will be excused for a certain percentage of your ass-hattery if you pepper your speech liberally with “hideous arse-candle” references.

    And bring me another Coke Zero minion!

  18. I think the best fictional example of this comes from Joel Rosenberg’s The Sleeping Dragon where (in a fantasy world) the MC announces, “The judges’ decisions will be just short of final. Any disagreements with the judges’ decisions will be settled by the archers from the edge of the ring — and that will be final.”

    Not really appropriate to skewer audience members, but perhaps an appropriate Scalzi-esque adaptation would be to hae them pelted with raw bacon from the panelists? I’d suggest having the panelists throw books, but that’s more likely to cause further problems:
    “Yeah, this is my copy of Old Man’s War; It was thrown at me personally, by Scalzi himself. He got me right over the eye. It took two months for the swelling to go away, but it was totally worth it!”

  19. The Scalzi Rule: “If you don’t like the way I run things, get your own damn [blog | panel | call-in radio show | planet].”

  20. Well heck, if you want to combine known Scalzi preferences with a panel moderating rule, and make it “more ferocious”, how ’bout:

    “NAQMOACs will be drawn, quartered, and cured into tasty BACON.”

  21. Harrumph. This is entirely too civilised for anything to do with that verbal hooligan*. There must be penalties, ranging from a gentle caress of the occiput with the Mallet of Correction, through to flaying with the razor-keen knives of public humiliation before being dumped in a pit of quicklime.

    Then covered with bacon.

    *I say that with consummate respect, of course. He scares me.

  22. With apologies to John, the most succint and true Scalzi rule I could think of was: He who moves least wins.

  23. *grin* I think the thing about the Scalzi Rule(s) is that John knows the dark secret of legislation: it’s always flawed.

    So the rule says “there shall be no naqmoaqs”, but what it means is “play nicely with the other children, and yes, you know precisely what that entails, and I know you know, and you know I know you know, and if you don’t behave I will come over there and break out the Mallet of Correction in ways which other people will still be giggling about when you’ve gotten so grey that no one can tell you’re blushing”.

    And when people get that a moderator has the longer version in view, they are disinclined to mess around…

  24. The Scalzi Rule: “Your egocentric bloviations will be graded. Mercilessly.”

  25. I thought the rule was:

    “Don’t roll out of bed for less than twenty cents a word.”

  26. I thought this was Scalzi’s Rule.

    Or the blog-equivalent of Godwin’s Rule; “as a blog comment roll grows longer, the probability of bacon being mentioned approaches one.” The corollary applies, as well: “He who points out a new (exc)use for bacon has lost.”

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