Smofcon Program Ideas

(Hi guys - This is Priscilla Olson here.....)

Ruth Sachter and I have been working (together and with others) on Smofcon's program. Below, find a list (with short summaries of where we think we're going: please note these are essentially first-draft/cast-in-silly-putty) of what we've come up with so far.

Note: there are too many ideas: probably about 1/3 will be left off the program. (Additionally, there may be other program items not yet listed.)

THIS IS SMOFCON: you're gonna help us.

Please send your commentary directly to me (PO throughout) or Ruth, otherwise to the Smofcon 15 mailing list.

We're planning a small written handout at this Smofcon, and I'd like to solicit contributions to it. What we'd like is articles of any length (though we may have to edit, of course) on topics directly related to any of the proposed program items. Mark Olson plans to contact a few people directly asking for something, but for the most part we don't know who has something to say, so if you would like to write a page (or more) on one (or more) of them, please email Mark. Previously-existing material which is apropos is also welcome.

Many thanks!


[These are the ideas we've heard: leaders??]
Publications (print)
A how-to on 'book' productions. From progress reports and program books to hardcovers. Bring samples, suggestions, and horror stories.

Publications (computer/web)
A discussion and (ideally) 'show-and-tell' about making effective use of computer communication to market your group or convention. Web design, plus?

Hotel Resumes((or contracts??)) (Basic/Advanced)
Another 'how-to' on techniques of writing a resume your hotel might actually understand and follow! Should cover F&B, room set-up, and (for advanced) a whole lot more. [PO - Hotel groupies should tell us what they need, here......]

Sponsorships [may be re-sited as 'small program item']
Sponsorship of convention activities by external groups is fraught with difficulties, especial when the external group is completely mundane.
How does sf-community-based and non-sf-community-based sponsorship differ? Where has sponsorship worked? Where has it failed? Should sponsorship be allowed? Encouraged?
Are there practical steps which might be taken to make sponsorship work better? Is it ever worth it? Is sponsorship potentially a useful source of revenue for cons? An ethical one?

Art Show Building/Running
How do you build an art show out of 'native' supplies? Alternately, a discussion of the 'mission' of convention art shows......
Why does the art show attract 'groupies' more than most other convention areas?

How To....Program
The nitty-gritty of putting the program together. Do you use computers or darts? Index cards or relational data bases? Re-invent the wheel with us. Learn -- and share!

Childcare Issues
Are there any new ones that people care to discuss?

Tracking and Securing Convention Items
Money. Equipment (whether owned by individuals or rented.) These have a tendency to stray. How to keep this from happening, in an organized and effective way.
[Special request from Bucconeer]

Creating a FAQ for Con-running (for Smofcons?)
Is this really needed? Why or why not? If yes, produce a draft!

Stocking the Con Suite/Den
Primus: do you plan to feed fans meals, or provide snacks? Plusses and minuses.
Secundus: discuss the best ideas to do whatever you think proper. Why?
[Could be a field trip too?]

Parliamentary Procedure
How to understand (and use) it. What rules should be used for Business Meetings?

Copyright Issues
What are the ones that affect fandom? What is fair use and what is infringement? How to have some fun, without crossing the line.

Small Programs

Keeping Things from Going Stale
There's a tendency to leave well enough alone, particularly when things are going good. That's fine, but eventually even the best ideas get a bit stale. So, how do the 'good' keep going, even when the going isn't tough?
How does one keep a well-run con from getting stale? There are two models: continuous incremental change and occasional revolution. Is one better than the other? Easier to do? Better at eliminating staleness?
Does your home con have any systematic ways to keep from getting stale?
Do you know of any that work well? (Or any that don't work well?) Is a formal effort to do this even worthwhile, or is it just more bureaucratic crap to get in a con-runner's way?
Is it worthwhile rotating people out of areas regularly? Even if they're doing a good job? Even if they don't want to? (And, in either case, how do you best do that?)

Computers: When Not to Use Them
Nearly everyone has been on the edges (at least) of a fiasco where someone decided to do a super-computerized job for a con, and made a complete mess of it. So where is it appropriate to computerize? Can either of the extreme positions ('never' and 'always') be defended?
Describe some computerization failures that you have reasonably first-hand knowledge of. (And solicit stories from other people present.) Are there any common threads amongst them? Real-world computerizations tend to fail because the systems were poorly thought out, or too unreliable for the application, or inadequately tested and hence buggy, or not designed for the end-user, or not designed to address the actual application, require too much training for random volunteers, or just not tested in real-life situations. Do any of these fit your experiences?
Now let's talk about successful computerizations. What do they have in common? Are they generally less ambitious than the failures? Designed by sharper people? Or what?
How can one tell if a given proposal is a good one? What can a convention manager do to make a computerization succeed? Should pre-con and at-con systems be subject to different standards?
In the end, are there applications which are simply too important to be done by computer?

Applying Real-World Management Techniques to Conventions
What are these techniques? Can some of them work? (which?) Why do some succeed and some fail?
How can meetings be made to work. How are decisions made? (and are some group structures more effective at building consensus than others?) Is there a gentle art of persuasion?
[may combine with below, or be subsumed into a larger program item: advice?]

Trust/Team-Building: Managing and Motivating Volunteers
(Fannish) conventions are run by volunteers. Volunteers need a different kind of stroking than salaried employees to stay happy and productive. What can you do to make volunteers stay part of a team? How can you motivate people to put their time/effort/money/whatever into working for (with?) your convention? How is this implicit trust developed? Please share stories and ideas!

Convention/Real-World Interface: Working with Publishers (Artists?)
Talk about convention running with a real-life publisher (or possibly, pro-artist) type!
How can you work with each other to mutual benefits? What are the tacit expectations and common pitfalls fans encounter when they interface with real-life economics?

When/How to Cut Your Losses
OK, you have a disaster ripening on your hands. How to you avoid/fix it 'gracefully'
(Examples: a friend is screwing up in a sensitive position, promises made regarding a piece of your convention will cost mucho money, your space arrangements are changing dramatically.....). Share philosophies,

Geographically (Culturally?)-Dispersed Teams: It's not just distance....
We've all worked with a local group putting on a local con or a local group putting on a Worldcon. And more and more of us have been deeply involved with a dispersed committee. How is a geographically-dispersed committee different from a geographically condensed committee? What sorts of problems does the dispersed committee face that the local committee avoids? How significant are they? Are they sufficiently large to put a dispersed committee at a disadvantage to a local one? Can they be solved?
How about cultural differences? Can you cite examples of cultural differences which impact committee effectiveness amongst con-runners from different places? Is this a distinct problem from geographical dispersion? How big a deal is it, anyway?

So, This Is Your First Smofcon....
Which sorta sez it all.
Smofcon is a bit different than most other conventions (see opening statement)'it practically requires (well, expects) you to interact. Find out how to do so (in the most productive way) -- and why you should. And help us figure out why so many seem to regard Smofcon as invitational!!!!
Recommended for any new Smofcon attendees, though Old Pharts can learn a bit too.

Large Program

Ethics and the SF Community
Ethics are a bit less general than morals in that they don't necessarily claim to specify right or wrong, but only the norms of behavior in a particular community. Does the fannish community have a code of ethics that is different from the general mundane community in which we live?
Are there behaviors which mundanes would find unexceptional, but which fans do not accept?
Are convention ethics different from one kind of convention to another? From one geographical location to another?

Ghosts and Parasites
'Ghosts' are people who participate in convention activities without purchasing a membership. 'Parasites' are people who buy a membership, but who use the convention as a venue to pursue their own, unrelated (and sometimes inimical) activities. Are either or both a problem at your home convention? In other conventions you attend regularly? Do you feel they are a problem generally?
Why are they a problem (or why not?) Is it even appropriate to lump them together as a single topic? Do you disagree with either of the definitions given above?
Should anything be done about them? What? Can they be tamed or brought into your convention community? Have you taken measures against either? Were they successful? Why or why not? Are you considering taking any actions against either?

Philosophy of Program - Community vs. Content Based. What, when, how?
Essentially, is less more? (and if so, when?)
Do you program for all fringe interests... so all things are covered for everyone? Or, do you keep the program's focus tight and keep everyone on one (arrgh) track? What? Why??
When is it most appropriate to follow these philosophies, and what do you tell the children?

After the Con Is Over
Once the con is over, the committee is usually ready to go to sleep for a while. After all, it's over, isn't it? What is involved in closing out a con?
To start with, how does one debrief a con to learn from its mistakes without re-fighting all the wars? Are there debriefing techniques which can help to retain the lessons learned? Are debriefings useful? Are they necessary? Is a blame-free discussion even possible?
What sorts of things are needed to keep the group together? If the con went badly, how can the wounds be healed enough that the group can do the next con better? (This is the old lessons-learned issue again.)
The problems after a poor con are quite different than after a good one, but are they completely different/ Can you describe the differences and similarities?
What is the role of failure?

Making Meetings Work
Meetings are hard work, and some meetings hardly work. How can we make meetings work for the group and not just bore people to tears? What sorts of meeting styles work and what don't? What is the role of the Chairman? Is a strong Chairman necessary?
How does a meeting make a decision? In particular, how do questions get put to the meeting, how are they discussed and how is a decision finally made? Are there more or less effective ways to do this? How does your local group work?
Is consensus desirable? Is it achievable? Is it a matter of local culture, or is it the right goal for all groups? How can the way a group operates make consensus more or less likely. Just what is consensus, anyway?
Once a decision is made, how important is it to stick with the decision? Is it easy? Are there effective con-running styles in which decisions are frequently reopened?

What Do We Need to Remember (list of items)....why? How applicable are these? How can we remember? And (maybe the real nub of it all) Why do we keep forgetting?
Or, do people like being perverse? (And? do you agree with that particular statement?)

Marketing: Discovering Your Inner Convention and Communicating it.[may be split in 2]
'Right-sizing' is an awful word coined by over-paid management theorists to describe the process of shrinking (when the natural size is larger, it's called 'growth' and doesn't need a management theorist to explain it) an organization to its natural size. Is 'right-sizing' an appropriate concept for conventions? Why or why not?
What sorts of things affect the natural, optimal size for a con? Facilities/ The locality? The committee? Other things? All of them? How can one estimate the optimal size for your con? Are there signs which point to a con which is too large or too small? Use examples, when possible.
If you think you need to shrink your con, how do you do it? Can you gain insight from your concept of what you con is? Do you do a crash diet or gradual weight-loss?
Finally, once you discover your inner convention, how do you tell people about it? And how do you manage the feedback (ahem) when they find out?

Traditions vs. One-Shots
Where do Worldcons really fit? How do you maintain a regional flavor in a rotating convention? (And, should you even try?) Most of us work on one or more regional conventions which are held regularly and which have over the years developed their own culture. Most of us have also worked now and then on Worldcons, Westercons or Eastercons, the major rotating conventions. How do they differ in their cultures? Does a rotating convention have a culture in the same sense that a regional does? Is this a Good Thing?
When one of the big rotating conventions comes to town, to what extent is it appropriate for the local convention's culture to inform it? To what extent is it possible? Are all Worldcons more or less the same, regardless of where or by whom they are run?
How can a local convention survive a visit by an 800 pound gorilla?


'Chair Building'
a 'touchy-feelie' team-building workshop for those who like the stuff (PO - I do!), scheduled for Friday afternoon so as not to offend the rest of youse ....

'spin City'
Prospective Friday night ice-breaker/opener. We hope to do it in the con suite. Please, tell us your disasters (real or imaginary!) ((To PO in private, please!))

Kirk Poland Does Smofcon
(To Tell Them Truth with famous well-known(?) convention stories)? Convention stories frequently (often? always?) get mangled in the telling. What's the real scoop on great stories (preferably disasters or near-disasters?) of the past? How well do you really know what happened? ((Need true stories and a few people willing to work up good fakes.... - to PO))

Smofcon 1998 selection
tentatively scheduled for 1/2-hour on Saturday night.

General 'inquisitional' question time
tentatively scheduled for 1/2-hour Sunday about noon. This is just to answer additional questions not adequately explained by the material in the con suite. There will not be 'the usual'(evening presentation.): boring.

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