Steve Davies writes an article about Opening Ceremonies, Panels, Games, Auctions, and many other things people expect at a con.
Lighten up kid, it's only a con!
See Opening ceremony
Who goes on?
Notes for moderators
Mikes, sound-proofing, external noise
Not to be confused with the games room
Auctions are a perennial favourite at British conventions. They generally fall into 3 categories
- Book Auction: Do you have books to auction? If so, off you go.
- Art Auction: If you have an art show, then it is generally assumed that you will be auctioning off some of the pictures. Just make sure you don't accidentally auction something that wasn't intended for sale
- TAFF: Miscellaneous bits auction for the benefit of various fannish causes and charities. All you have to supply is a room.
Generally, these items are organised by a group of people who have been doing this for ages and who understand how the whole thing works. Don't forget that in addition to one or more auctioneers (two is a good number) you also need to allow for someone to handle the money side (and they may need money from the convention for a float). Auctions, especially the Art Auction are also real gopher sinks. Be careful when you schedule the auction because you can pretty well guarantee to run low on gophers at this time.
Masquerade is generally the most hassle-intensive part of the programme. Most of your tech budget is probably going to go on supporting the various presentations. The participants are going to be highly stressed and quite a few suffering from stage fright. There is a potential for people hurting themselves, tripping over, chaos is always only ever a heartbeat away and more people are going to be watching than at any other item. With this in mind, every year people suggest doing away with the masquerade and saving a large chunk of their budget. Nobody does it because, as I said, it's a very popular item even if it is disproportionately expensive.
- Don't make things more complicated than they are already. This goes for unusual layouts, special rules and exotic tech. For instance, putting the MC in a separate room, only able to see the presentations on a 2" monitor seems to me to be unnecessary complication.
- You have to have a marshalling area (a place where people wait for their turn to go on). This needs to be taken into account when laying out the hall.
- You need a calm, competent, sympathetic person backstage to ensure that the participants are kept in line and gophers are available to feed and water them. You need someone who can cope with 30 prima donnas having hysterics at once.
- Your backstage manager needs to find out in advance exactly what each participant is going to do. People like surprise items, but the backstage manager and the tech crew must never be surprised. Every participant ought to run through a rehearsal the morning before the masquerade, but this isn't always possible. * Dangerous actions, live flames and so on need to be prevented or made safe (for instance: one person at Beccon '87 wanted to fire blank shotgun shells at the ceiling - he was persuaded otherwise). Don't be afraid to tell someone, anyone, that they can't do this stupid thing they've got planned.
- If there is a hold-up or a change in running order, the backstage manager needs to be able to communicate this to the MC.
- You need an entertaining person out front as MC who can fill in awkward gaps (perhaps while backstage are desperately trying to mend a disintegrating costume) and who can announce every item in an interesting way without seeming bored or making cheap cracks at the entrants.
- You need to decide what you are going to do in the interval, while the judges are deliberating. This should be a visually interesting item which can be stretched to fill anything from a 10-minute to a 40-minute gap. If the judges are still out after 40 minutes, threaten mayhem unless they hurry up and make a decision.
- The judges must have been informed in advance what is expected of them, and what prizes they are allowed to award. Imagine your horror when the judges, instead of awarding "Best Workmanship" decide to give an award for "Cutest Dragon", especially if you've already had the prizes engraved\u2026
- Provide lots of gophers backstage to look after the participants. Water, cereal bars and sympathy are probably the main ingredients for keeping them happy. Make sure everyone knows exactly where and when they go on.
- Mark out waiting areas and so on with hazard warning tape. If there is any chance of people going the wrong way, mark out the route with tape. If there are steps, stages or anything that could be tripped over, fallen off or run into, either get rid of it or mark it with hazard tape. Position gophers at the entrance and exit to steer the participants the right way.
One unusual feature of Eastercons is the bidding session at which groups compete for right to run the next but one con. This has been going on since time immemorial and we're certainly not going to stop now. Since we went to two-year bidding, it's been traditional for the next year's chairman to chair this. I don't have a problem with this, I did it when it was my turn, but do warn the person you think is running the session, just in case they weren't aware of it. Things to remember if you are chairing the bidding session:
- Discourage more than one spoof bid. Please. Spoof bids are a tradition and occasionally they're mildly amusing. If they've put a lot of effort into it, then they can be very funny. Unfortunately, this is rarely, if ever, the case. Usually, a bunch of drunken fuckwits get together in the bar, come up with an idea that seems amusing at 2 am, and proceed to hammer it into the ground. Boring. Boring. Boring. Try and convince competing spoof bids to merge if you have to.
- Ask half a dozen people in advance (the night before will do) if they will be tellers. The bids also get to appoint a couple of tellers if they want, but it's best to have some sensible people prepared.
- Keep rigid time slots, especially for the spoof bid. If they take more than half their allotted time, they're probably boring everyone to sleep so rule with an iron fist.
- During the question period, try and make sure that questions go to both the real bid(s) and the spoof. Passing a tricky question to the spoof first gives the real bid time to think of a convincing answer.
- Keep control. Don't let the session degenerate into random baying for blood. You have the mike, use it wisely.
Here's my introductory speech from when I chaired the bidding session at Intuition:
Sooner or later you'll have to bite the bullet and go to the Business Meeting, also known as the Gripe Session. Do not be tempted to put this in a small room, only allow half an hour or cancel it altogether. These are sure fire ways of ensuring that lots of people suddenly turn up with serious problems, and you take a lot of flack for not letting them sound off at you.
- The one essential thing is to arrange for there to be a neutral chairman who is prepared to tell people when to shut up. Do not under any circumstances whatsoever have this item chaired by a committee member.
- Use a room that's too big, quite apart from anything else, it makes it look as if there are fewer people present.
- Use a 2-hour slot if you can, but plan to only run for 1 hour.
- If you have the meeting miked, ask Tech to arrange for a single floor-standing mike in front of the audience. This will give better sound quality and people are less likely to stand up in front of everyone unless they have a real problem. Failing that, go for a couple of radio mikes and gophers who know names and faces.
- Have a selection of people up on the panel, but try and avoid having anyone you know to be aggressive or long-winded. The next year's chairman should be on the panel (possibly chairing it).
- Be firm about dividing the session up into topics (e.g. Hotel, Programme, General) and disallow questions outside of the time for them.
- Let different people talk, don't let a few loudmouths hog the microphones.
- Be prepared to admit where you've screwed up. Trying to deny it just prolongs the agony.
Recently, a new alternative to this was tried out (at Intuition in 1998). In this variant, the people on the platform are all from the committees of the following two Eastercons and there are no committee members of the current convention visible. The emphasis is all on things to be learned for the next year, and less on complaining. We tried this again at Reconvene in 1999 and so far this seems to be a successful strategy. It does remove some of the overpowering sense of looking for someone to blame that hangs about the traditional gripe session. However, if you do this then you must:
- Have a visible means of expressing gripes at other times during the convention \u2013 a box of written complaints or regular early-morning feedback sessions at the very least. It's very dangerous (and very easy) to be seen as uncaring and uninterested in people's problems. In fact, this applies no matter what sort of session you have.
- Announce (e.g. in the newsletter) what is being done to fix problems that are affecting everybody. Get back personally to people with problems and make sure that they are now happy and have not just given up trying to get a response.
- If you go to the session, don't be tempted to get up and start apologising for your con; if you want this item to be directed towards the next year's con then stay out of it. This means you don't turn up at the item if you don't think you can keep quiet.
- Warn the people you plan to put up on the panel. At Intuition we (Reconvene) learned maybe 20 minutes beforehand that we would be fronting what could very easily have turned into a nasty gripe session.
See Closing ceremony