Smofcon is for smofs like all of us - and if you're reading this, you're a smof. The Smofcon program isn't a bunch of famous people entertaining the masses, nor is it a few experts lecturing to the apprentices. We all have something to contribute and the Smofcon program will be best if everyone takes part in it.
We're laying out the program items to emphasize this: While we will assign specific people to lead each program item, we're not sitting them at a head table because we want them to lead a general discussion that includes everyone.
Join in! Show off! Ask questions! Make this your program!
Main program items are listed first, and workshops follow. We are still developing additional workshops-see the at-con program for a complete list.
Building the con-runner's FAQ... and wondering why it hasn't been done before.
What do we need to remember and why? How applicable are these? What are the minimal bits of knowledge that need to be passed on from year to year (particularly vis-à-vis Worldcon running)? We will start creating a list of items, and begin work on a FAQ project for the weekend! How can we remember? What can we do (besides going to things like Smofcons)? And (maybe the real nub of it all)-why do we keep forgetting? Is it because people like being perverse?
...Which sorta sez it all.
Smofcon is a bit different from most other conventions-it practically requires (well, expects) you to interact. Find out how to do so-and why you should. Help us figure out why so many seem to regard Smofcon as invitational!!!!
Highly recommended for any new Smofcon attendees (neo-smofs?), though Old Pharts can learn a bit too.
Where do Worldcons and Westercons 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 does Eastercon differ in its impact on local fandom that Westercon or Worldcon? How can a local convention survive a visit by an 800-pound gorilla?
We all know of conventions where the members of the committee have settled into their positions and do the same thing year after year, eventually building up tidy little empires. These empires take on a life of their own, having their own insignia, secret handgrips, T-shirts, etc. Frequently con-runners will develop more loyalty to their little empires than to the con itself.
In general, empires hurt the con of which they are a part. Why are they built? How can they be toppled without necessarily losing the empire-builders? Are they always a problem to a convention? Are there some things that look like empires, but aren't so destructive? How do you convince people to accept the trade-off of letting someone inexperienced move into an area and possibly run it poorly in order to benefit the whole committee in later years?
If you can do so without giving too much offense to anyone else in the room, can you cite examples of empires from your own experience?
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? And-is it only distance that disperses cons? How about cultural differences? Can you cite examples of cultural differences that impact committee effectiveness and team building amongst con-runners from different places? Is this a distinct problem from geographical dispersion? How big a deal is it, anyway?
Should a convention program be "community" or "content" based. When is each appropriate? Under what circumstances might less be more? There are two main philosophies of running Program: the N-Ring Circus and One Big Happy Family. The N-Ring Circus tries to include something for everyone and aims for a large, diverse program with multiple, independent items. Little effort is put into making different program items interrelate, and few people see the same program, since there are so many options to choose from. Practitioners of this style take a complaint that there were too many interesting things to attend them all as the ultimate accolade.
One Big Happy Family tries to have a single, tightly focused program, frequently just a single track. Emphasis is placed on a unified program with various program items being interrelated. It is considered good to have more-or-less the same people attending the whole program. Compare and contrast the two philosophies-what do you prefer, and why? Are these two approaches mostly a matter of convention size, or could a large convention successfully do a unitary program and a small con do a multi-track monster? How does the type of program relate to the people who attend the convention?
When is it most appropriate to follow these philosophies, and what do you tell the children?
What are these techniques? Can some of them work? (Which?) Why do some succeed and some fail? How can you apply these techniques to your average fans, so they won't suspect they're even being "managed?" Which aspects of fandoms can contribute to good management of conventions, and which aspects detract from it? Is it even appropriate to apply real-world management techniques to conventions? Additionally, as volunteers, fans may indeed need a different kind of stroking than salaried employees to stay happy and productive. What can you do to make volunteers become and 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!
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? (And are some group structures more effective at building consensus than others are?)
Is consensus desirable? Is it achievable? Is it a matter of local culture; 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? Why is it important?
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?
If you have experience working in different fannish groups, can you show how different approaches are used? Are some more effective than others? Is there a gentle art of persuasion?
Discovering Your Inner Convention and Telling People About It. [2 related items]
"Right-sizing" is an awful word coined by over-paid management theorists to describe the process of shrinking an organization to its natural size (when the natural size is larger, it's called "growth" and doesn't need a management theorist to explain it). 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 you estimate the optimal size for your con? Are there signs that point to a con that is too large or too small? Use examples, when possible.
Who are you, and who do you want to be?
If you think you need to shrink your con, how do you do it? Can you gain insight from your concept of what your 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?
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? Even if you keep one area of a convention exciting (e.g., program), could your convention as a whole become mundane??? 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?)
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? Discuss some computerization failures that you have reasonably first-hand knowledge of. 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, or require too much training for random volunteers, or are just not tested in real-life situations. Do any of these fit your experiences?
Now let's talk about successful computerizations. (Are there any?) 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? And, in the end, are there applications which are simply too important to be done by computer?
'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?
OK, you have a disaster ripening on your hands. Maybe a little problem is growing into a large problem. How do you know when it's time to stop tinkering and take drastic action? Drastic action, while popular with armchair con-runners, is difficult to do in practice, since it usually involves hurting someone, and leaves you as the villain. (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...). Discuss the plusses and minuses of being proactive, whatever the problem. Share philosophies, problems...solutions?
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? Be sure to talk about both regionals and Worldcons. What is the role of failure?
A "touchy-feelie" team-building workshop for those who like the stuff-scheduled for Friday afternoon so as not to offend the rest of youse....
Friday at sunset, and Saturday following afternoon program
Friday night ice-breaker/opener. We hope to do it in the con suite. Please, tell us your disasters (real or imaginary!), and be prepared to do damage control with others...
(To Tell The Truth with well known (?) convention stories, in the Readercon style)-Convention stories frequently (often? always?) get mangled in the telling. What's the real scoop on the great disasters or near-disasters of the past?
How well do you really know what happened?
General "inquisitional" question time-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.).
(Note: content will be particularly strongly determined by attendees in these items.)
How to understand (and use) it. What rules should be used for Business Meetings?
Both have to contract for facilities, both have a dealers room, both have an artists alley... now wait a minute! Comic cons and sf cons have some important differences, but also some similarities. What goes on at a comic con? Why is the dealers' room the center of the con? How do fans and pros meet? Can one really get industry job offers there? And just what _is_ an artists' alley?
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?
A discussion and (ideally) "show-and-tell" about effective web design that can help you to market your group or convention.
A how-to on "book" productions. From progress reports and program books to hardcovers. Bring samples, suggestions, and horror stories.
How do you build an art show out of "native" supplies? Alternately, a discussion of the "mission" of convention art shows...or, tax/money issues!
What's hot and controversial these days? Workshop your particular Art Show concerns with others of like mind!
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!
We've all dealt with emergencies-the printer is late with the Program Book; the GoH's plane is fogged in, H*rl*n *ll*s*n has just offered to be on Program-and we're pretty good at it, aren't we? (Pause for a round of self-congratulations.)
But do we know how to deal with real, life-threatening emergencies, like a serious medical issue, or a fire, or a bomb threat? Something that needs an immediate and effective response, and can't wait for a committee decision? Something where the Real World <gasp> impinges on us????
Remember-sometimes, knowing when not to do something yourself is the first step on the path to wisdom....
How can we freshen up the Fan Exhibits at Worldcons?
Games? I think they're in 204, you know, the closet. Why are gamers shunted aside? What do they need besides tables and chairs.
[special request from Bucconeer]
Money: it may have a tendency to stray. How can you keep this from happening, in an organized and effective way? May include tracking and securing equipment (whether owned by individuals or rented) and other convention items as well.
Publishers are people, too! Here's a chance to ask a Real Live Publisher who understands cons and con-runners.
How can you work with each other to mutual benefit? What are the tacit expectations and common pitfalls fans encounter when they interface with real-life economics? What do publishers need from the cons they attend? What do they expect? What things do con-runners frequently do that really bugs publishers? What do publishers do that really bugs con-runners?
What is the role of the program book ad in the publisher's advertising program? What can cons do to make themselves more attractive to publishers?
Another "how-to" on techniques of writing a Resume your hotel might actually understand and follow! (Also, is there any software to help with this?-share!) This item should cover F&B, room set-up, and a whole lot more.