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Con-Running [Sep. 2nd, 2008|11:50 am]
dalekboy
[Tags|, , , ]
[mood |contemplativecontemplative]

A friend posted up a piece on programming for conventions - I wanted to add some more general con-running thoughts and ideas.

These are based on things I've seen and done, stories I've heard, mistakes I've made and seen made by others. It's not aimed at any one person or convention, though it can't help but relate to many...

* No-one knows everything about running cons, no matter how many they've run.

* I have seen first time con-runners do a far superior job to people who have been running cons for years. It all comes down to professionalism and not resting on one's laurels.

* A convention has to work as a business first. If it fails, you may not run again.

* You are running the convention for your members. They are your customers. If they are unhappy, they won't be back.

* Cons are one of the few businesses where the customers pay money and are then asked to help run the event. You are charging the people who will be your panelists, tech help, entertainment, volunteers, etc. money for the privilege of helping you. Try to treat all your members well for this reason, if they aren't helping now, you might want them to one day.

* You can't please everybody, there's not enough money or programming hours to even try.

* You can, however, have enough variety in your event that everyone can find something they will enjoy. This is how you please your customers, a percentage of whom are putting in their time free of charge to help you out.

* Evey subgroup thinks it's needs are the most important, and want you to cater to them.

* Aiming what is meant to be a general con to appeal mainly to a single subgroup is a slow death. It doesn't matter how important you personally think that group is, they are only a small percentage of your potential members.

* It's a multi-media age, your customers are unlikely to only engage with one medium - cater to that diversity.

* Not everybody goes to banquets or masquerades. Not having something programmed against those events means that people have paid money to have nothing to do one night of the con. This is not looking after your customers.

* Learn from the mistakes of others, whenever possible.

* If you regularly have problems dealing with other people on your committee or in your community, you have to accept the possibility that the issues may lie with you, not them.

* Just because someone is your friend, that doesn't mean they aren't allowed to kick your arse for doing a bad job. A real friend will kick your arse, when others stay politely quiet and let you dig a deeper hole.

* No convention or event is worth a lost friendship. Better to get out before this happens.

* A good auction is a major event.

* Auctions should be early on in the convention. That's when people have money. Putting the auction late in the con robs the people selling items of money, and costs the convention money if they are taking a percentage.

* Putting a charity auction late in the convention is even worse.

* People who think that fandom and convention running is all a game, will usually be willing to hurt other people and events in order to feel like they are winning that game. You needn't avoid them, but do not allow them to use you.

* Interstate and overseas people should be able to buy memberships with a minimum of fuss. The more steps you put in front of them before they can buy a membership, the less likely they will be to follow through.

* Not all criticisms should be ignored, even if you think you know better.

* Not all critics are bad or thoughtless. Some are trying to help, and some rude ones are merely frustrated at seeing the same obvious mistakes made again and again - or just have no social skills. If you listen to them you might benefit.

* Some people will criticise your con no matter what you do. Learn to ignore the obviously stupid or uneducated complaints.

* K.I.S.S. - Keep It Simple, Stupid - words to live by.

* These days your website is likely to be the most accessed and most public face of the con. People should have up-to-date information at their fingertips. A good website is graphics-light, stylish, and easy to navigate. A potential member should not have to click more than twice to find any single detail (i.e. price) they are after.

* Just because someone has done a bad job on a committee in the past, doesn't mean they can't be on a committee and helping out again. I've seen people screw up in a couple of different positions, then find a position where they are not only good, they are truly exceptional.

* That said, you and they need to be sensible about keeping track of how they are doing.

* Just because someone has been brilliant on committee before, doesn't mean they won't suck this time. If they are screwing up constantly, don't keep expecting them to suddenly come right.

* Micro-managing everyone is bad

* Regular updates are good.

* "Leave me alone, I'm dealing with it," is not an update.

* If you see problems with the running of a con, tell them, don't wait for someone else to do it. If the con ignores you, then at least you tried.

* If you see problems with a con, don't ask ME to do something about it! I'm getting a bit tired of always being the bad guy because I'm willing to do something when others would rather sit back and complain. Do you know how hard it is for me to fight these battles now? I'm still recovering from my stroke you bastards! ;-)

* Plus I have a kid now, and he's way more important for me to put my available energy into than any con.

* First time con-goers panels are important. It's a scary subculture to come into cold. Their times should be advertised on the website.

* First time con-goers panels should be light, informative, and non-threatening to newbies, their target audience. They aren't a place for old hands to relive their glory days, the only people entertained by this are themselves. Also stories of orgies and skinny dipping at previous conventions may be fun, but give a false impression to new people. Such stories can be intimidating or build unhealthy expectations of what goes on. A parent hearing such stories may choose to withdraw their child from the con.

* First time con-goers panels are not the place to give a detailed history of fans, fandom, the convention, etc. If asked questions on these topics, a shorter concise answer is best, perhaps followed by an "Ask me more after the panel."

* Event Conventions (Natcons and the like), while having a place in the community, are generally less important than smaller regional cons or even regular club meetings. Smaller events usually do more to introduce new folks to the culture. Event Cons are also often more trouble than they are worth.

* Wanting to run an Event Convention just to run one is the worst possible reason to do so.

* Wanting an Event Convention in your town just because it's been a while since the last one is also one of the worst possible reasons to run one.

* If something important like the Opening Ceremony requires a video file to be played, have it burnt to DVD and played using a DVD player. This avoids the problems of computer/file incompatibility that so often dog conventions.

* Video tapes and VCRs are old tech, but they work. I never saw an opening ceremony delayed because the VCR couldn't read the tape format.

* If you must use computers to play files during panels/events, make sure all files have been tested on the computer to be used AT LEAST an hour beforehand.

* Opening and closing ceremonies should be as brief as possible. 30 minutes is a good maximum to aim for

* This means that if that special thing you want to do has a problem, move on and assign someone to quietly try to get it fixed before the end of the ceremony. DO NOT delay the ceremony for five or ten minutes while you faff about. The audience cares less about it than they do sitting there bored.

* Not every member of the committee has to be allowed to talk at the opening/closing

* You are better assigning a toastmaster/host/master of ceremonies to do the public speaking at major events, than let someone who is nervous, doesn't like public speaking, or obviously unsuited to do so. This includes con chairs. It can make them look/feel bad, and doesn't help the con.

* Your guests are GUESTS! Treat them as such.

* Every guest should have a minder to help them with food, drink, wrangle fans, and to get them to panels on time. The less of a die-hard fan of the guest's work the minder is, the better (usually)

* Following the opening ceremony with a fun event - big entertainment-based panel with reliable people, cocktail party, etc. - helps give the first night a good kick-off.

* Your program is the most important aspect of your con, even beyond your guests. Guests can drop out at the last minute for a variety of reasons, a good well-balanced, interesting and fun program will help you weather such disasters.

* Guests will get the people who are only interested in those guests, and may tip a few fence-sitters. A good program, well-advertised in advance, will get more of the con-going crowd.

* Just because you're running a con, it doesn't mean people have to come. It's your job to make them want to come.

* This includes any Event Convention. Saying "But it's Omni-Mega-Con 17!" is NOT a good enough reason for anyone to want to attend, no matter what you think. Neither is it a good enough reason to expect them to volunteer their time.

* If you're going to have someone as the public face of the convention because you think they are a people-person, talk to other people-people who know them. Some popular folks are only popular in your very small group and are disliked by the silent/polite majority. Not accepting the reality of this can hurt confidence in your con because to everyone else you are obviously out of touch.

* If one of your committee or associates commits a very public faux-pax, deal with it, don't ignore it or pretend it's not important.

* Not asking the best person for the job to do it, simply because you don't like them, only shows you're not suited to be in charge. You can always make them answerable to someone you can work with. It's not your con, it's your customer's con.

* However, not asking the best person for the job on board because you know you can't work together, and would have to, is fair enough. You don't want your personality clashes to damage things.

* Just because a con lost money, that doesn't mean it was bad or poorly run.

* Just because a con makes money, that doesn't mean it was good or well run.

* If something is important, do not rely on SMS or email. PHONE THE PERSON! Some SMSes don't arrive for hours, if at all. Some emails get missed, or placed in a mental to-do pile, and then get forgotten, and not everyone checks their mail regularly.

* Working around a troublesome committee member, or moving them into a new postion, is preferable to sacking them. Sometimes this is not possible.

* If someone is occupying a postion but not doing the job, it's no good waiting until someone better offers to do it. Most people won't offer to take on a position that is currently filled.

* Any member of committee that is not doing their job, is hurting committee morale, or hurting the public face of the convention, can be changed at almost any point up to a month or two out from the con - this includes the con chair. It is not ideal, or nice, but it can be necessary.

* Sacking is not nice, but the con is a business. Plus it's not fair that those 100+ people who have paid money to come along, and all those people who have volunteered to help out, have a crap time because no-one wanted to hurt the feelings of a single committee member. Hell, it's not fair if an otherwise good committee, who have paid and put in hundreds of hours of their free time, if they have a crap time for the sake of one person's feelings.

* If you're on committee and find you can't do the job you signed up for, let the others know as soon as possible. You're only letting the side down if you tell no-one, because that's when jobs don't get done, which affects everyone. This counts even for the chair.

* Deadlines are there for a reason. Don't assume you can go beyond them. If you feel you can't meet a deadline, say so as soon as possible.

* Don't burn your bridges, but don't take any unnecessary crap, either.

* Don't offer to help out behind the scenes if you don't believe in the con or it's committee, and don't let yourself be talked into helping out in those circumstances either. You're better off saving that energy for something you believe in, rather than burning yourself out on something you think will be rubbish. This counts for tiny one day cons, all the way up to huge Event Conventions.

* The con isn't about your ego or wants, it's about doing the best job for others. Lose sight of that and sooner or later it will bite you in the bum. And you'll deserve it, too!

* Being on a con committee is hard work, but can be a really rewarding learning experience, if you are open to it.

* None of these things are absolutes, every con and con committee is different, you should feel free to ignore any of these thoughts and suggestions. Just be aware of how many you're ignoring and why.
linkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: sonictail
2008-09-02 08:31 am (UTC)
That's a massive post, will read in full later, but you have already touched on several points in there that I have been stating for years. Awesome Work!
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[User Picture]From: leahcim
2008-09-02 08:40 am (UTC)
Perhaps the Red Book ought to have a 'useful advice for con-runners' section? (Of course, one would also need to make sure the appropriate people read it too)
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2008-09-02 02:34 pm (UTC)
It has always shat me when people's defense of not reading the Red Book is 'it's out of date'. There's still lots of good advice in there - if you can't adapt, should you be running a con?
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[User Picture]From: baralier
2008-09-02 09:19 am (UTC)
*makes notes*
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[User Picture]From: rachelholkner
2008-09-02 09:46 am (UTC)
ditto!
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[User Picture]From: black_samvara
2008-09-02 09:29 am (UTC)
Thank you!
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2008-09-02 02:41 pm (UTC)
You're welcome. I was venting mainly because I'm watching a couple of cons make the same bloody mistakes all over again.

It's all common sense, just when in the thick of running a con, people occasionally need a reminder.
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[User Picture]From: transcendancing
2008-09-02 09:57 am (UTC)
This is awesome. Amazing summary to conversations we and others have been having for ages - always good to be reminded, always good to have something to refer to and add to and think about.

*love*
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2008-09-02 02:41 pm (UTC)
I'm just a grumpy old fan :)
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[User Picture]From: vegetus
2008-09-02 10:48 am (UTC)
What a well written list. I think alot of these points can be applied to other events or volunteer organisations.

Have you considered going into events management?
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2008-09-02 02:46 pm (UTC)
I'd be crap at it. I'm not that good an organiser, I'm too disorganised. I only do it when there's no-one else, I'd much rather run video program or do a few big silly panels.

That said, I'd be quite happy to be a convenor rather than chair. The Chair does the running, I provide ideas, guidance, and say "No one has ever had live pandas at a con before... See what you can do."

They can take all the credit and never mention me, I just have stuff I want to see happen, and I can't do it now.
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[User Picture]From: callistra
2008-09-02 12:25 pm (UTC)
Excellent.
:-)
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[User Picture]From: mortonhall
2008-09-02 12:43 pm (UTC)
I feel like I'm having a flash back to one of our many discussions of the past. Awesome post and a nice follow up.

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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2008-09-02 02:51 pm (UTC)
To be blunt, I've had a gutful of all the fucking egos who forget the whole reason we're meant to be doing these things - for the fans. They say the right words, but don't follow through with their actions. They don't listen to anybody, shoot themselves in the foot by ignoring what people want, then have the cheek to blame the fans for all the problems!

I want to get a secret committee dressed all in black with balaclavas, like TISM. No one would ever know who we were, so no ego issues, we'd just run the best cons we could...

Until we were shot down by the police, mistaken for terrorists.
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[User Picture]From: threemonkeys
2008-09-02 07:55 pm (UTC)
This is superb - "the distilled wisdom of dalekboy". I know a few people who really need to see this.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2008-09-03 08:35 am (UTC)
Less wisdom, more simple observation.

Most problems with cons and fandom come from a few basic things.

Ego & Assumption - as in, "of course I/we know what I'm/we're doing", "of course people will want to come", "I/we have earned this", "everybody already trusts us to do a good job", "people will ask if they want to know stuff", "I haven't spoken to such&such for ages, but of course they'll want to help me out", "I/we like this, so will everyone else."

Blindness - "if they have trouble with what we're doing it's their problem", "yes you're incredibly busy with work and your homelife, but I'd like you to help with...", "yes they usually run at that time of year, but if we get in first, they can just move their dates", "Yes I screwed them over and backstabbed them, but they wouldn't know about that, and I need their help now so..."

Edited at 2008-09-03 08:37 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: arcadiagt5
2008-09-02 08:01 pm (UTC)
Applause! Well said Sir!
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From: tillianion
2008-09-02 09:40 pm (UTC)
Perfect timing - I'm sitting down to start the full-on programming for Conflux 5 today, and I'm also now panicking a little :) It's good to stop and think while doing something - makes sure you're still on track. Thanks.
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[User Picture]From: littenz
2008-09-02 10:59 pm (UTC)
That grapeshot blast was spot on.
I had the misfortune of being on a concom that was less than customer focussed - and which was reflected in the event.
I think the catchcry of concom meetings was "where's the rest of the concom?"
I'd seen more organised chaos.
Having a heart attack reduced my stress levels - might have focussed the others on the con too.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2008-09-03 08:40 am (UTC)
Shame it took that sort of thing to focus people's attention, and scary how the heart attack reduced your stress. Mind you, I sort of get how that works, being stroke-boy :)
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[User Picture]From: strangedave
2008-09-03 11:45 am (UTC)
I agreed with almost everything (and if I agreed with absolutely everything, that would seem suspicious). Well done.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2008-09-03 03:02 pm (UTC)
Oh there's plenty to disagree with :-D

It's not even entirely consistant, but that's because it's dealing with humans. I've made a few of these errors even after I got the stuff right in the past.

But I figure a list that big and long, if someone realises they are doing a bunch of those things, they will hopefully at least stop and take stock of what they are doing, and why.
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