Steve Davies writes about the need to delegate and enjoy yourself when running a convention
Don't Do It YourselfEdit
As someone who has been on the receiving end of this problem, I cannot emphasise too much the need to do as little work as possible. Look at all the things that need doing. Consider that you've probably missed half of them. You are not going to have enough time to do it all yourself. Do not make additional work for yourself by creating work out of nowhere.
- Get other people to take responsibility for running particular areas of the convention. Try and pick people who have a track record of delivering in this area.
- Once someone has agreed to do something for you... Leave Them Alone! By which I mean, keep in touch, make sure they are actually doing something, but do not try and interfere with them by offering detailed instructions on how to do it. At best you'll annoy them and at worst they'll tell you to sod off and then you'll have to do it yourself after all. If you are delegating responsibility, you have to give up control, live with it.
- A short anecdote. At a recent convention I was asked to do signs. This is something I've done many times and it's pretty much second nature by now. I went up to the hotel with the committee, looked around, made detailed notes on where and what signs were required, developed a template that seemed to fit and prepared a list of rooms that particularly needed identifying. Some weeks later I received an email from the committee giving precise details of exactly where they wanted the signs placed, paper sizes, fonts, wording and so on. I was... extremely annoyed. Didn't they trust me? A simple list of room names and locations would have been fine, even a few suggestions for unusual signs that I might have missed, but they had obviously wasted hours trying to do my job for me and largely duplicating the work I had done while on the site visit. From being an independent contractor, working with them on making the con run well, I had suddenly been converted into no more than a handy source of laser printing and blutack.
- So, don't micro-manage, even if you do think you know better than the person you've got to do the work. This is what management and delegation are all about.
- Don't try and increase the scope of your job unnecessarily. To my mind, one of the chief failings of both convention security and Ops is the way in which people try and take more and more responsibility for things which they have no earthly excuse for. Security in particular needs to be continuously reminded that their function is to do things like checking that everyone has a badge and to politely escort members of the public away from the convention. Not to run around the corridors, chasing non-existent petty criminals while shouting "Possible armed hostiles on floor 3" into their wallyphones and generally behaving as if they are playing Killer at the con's expense. Especially not to treat members of the convention as an inferior form of life as one occasionally hears rumours of.
- The Chairman should only be chairman. It is madness trying to combine this with running any area of the convention, especially Programme, Hotel and/or Ops. This appears to be a common failing of convention chairmen many of whom seem to have something of a deathwish, or at least a congenital disability to give up control of the convention. The chair needs to balance the needs of all the different areas, they can't afford to get too involved with any one of them.
The Low-Hassle ApproachEdit
This is a philosophy that we developed when I was on the committee of Confabulation, the 1995 Eastercon held at the Britannia International in London's Docklands. We had an unusually small committee for an Eastercon, only 5 people, and it was a Worldcon year so quite a lot of the usual people were working on that and couldn't spare time for us. We got into the habit, when someone suggested a new idea or boondoggle of deciding whether or not to do it based on how much effort it was going to be. Every committee gets offered ideas, some of them good, some bad, some dubious. What they all have in common is that someone needs to put some effort into making them work. Our selection process went something like this:
- Is this a good idea?
- Is this going to be a lot of work to get right or is it trivial (not many of those)?
- If it's a lot of work, can we get someone else to do it for us? Even if it's not, can we get someone else to do it?
- Can we be bothered? Is it going to result in hassle for the committee? Remember, we are a low-hassle Eastercon.
- Can we afford it?
- And lastly, should we do it anyway, just because it's a really cool idea?
This may seem like a fairly cynical procedure, but it does have some very convincing benefits. Firstly, you can say to the person who originated the idea, "Yes, this is a good idea but we do not have the resources to implement it properly" which tends to go down a lot better than "No, we aren't doing it". Secondly, it keeps the committee's minds focused on what they personally are going to be doing at the convention. And lastly, you're a lot more likely to have fun running your convention if you don't have to run madly about the place trying to do a dozen different things and failing at all of them.
Once you decide you are a low-hassle convention, suddenly you start to look on even standard events with a different eye. Remember, an item may go down well, but if someone burned themselves out doing it, then it was a failure to some degree.
Areas Which Can Be DelegatedEdit
The following areas can almost invariably be delegated to people not on your committee. Find someone who will turn up on the day and run it for you, agree a budget and then leave it to them:
This next list is of areas which can be delegated with a bit of care. Make sure you know what they are planning and keep tabs on staff allocations and expenditure leading up to the convention:
Things you probably want to keep in-house:
Do You Need It?Edit
Be innovative. Look at these hoary old ways of doing things and decide whether or not you can do without something. Almost every committee I've been on has sat down at some point and said "do we really need the masquerade? It eats money and people, and it makes a mess of the room allocation." Of course, every time we've agreed that we'd get lynched if we tried to drop it, but it's always worth asking the question.
Rules For The ConEdit
One rule that should not be broken is this:
- No committee member gets to be on more than one programme item (not counting the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and the Gripe Session).
This means that you don't get to appear on all of those panels you always wanted to be on and you don't get to be chummy with the famous names you've put on the panels. Tough, you're going to be too busy and you have to be able to go deal with a problem at any time. This is not compatible with appearing on the programme which in any case counts as unnecessary work as far as you're concerned. Quite apart from anything else, it looks bad; give someone else a chance to make a fool of themselves in public. If you're short of a panellist, pick a random passer-by before putting a committee member on it. It's just too easy to get trapped on a panel. There is a second rule, which can be bent but which should still be adhered to as much as you can since it follows pretty much from the first rule:
- At no time should all the committee be in the same programme item (except, perhaps, the Opening and Closing ceremonies). Ditto all of Security or all of Tech.
Somebody should always be out dealing with problems and running the con. Wallyphones (walkie-talkie radios), portable phones and pagers make it easier to drag committee members out of the programme, but you can't rely on them being switched on (or being audible if, for instance, the programme item in question is a rock concert or a disco).
Oh, and don't forget Yalow's Rule which is:
- Everybody should get a minimum of two meals and five hours sleep every 24 hours.
Seems sensible enough, but you'd be amazed at how many people work through mealtimes and then stay up all night fixing problems or partying. Set up a system whereby each of you keeps track on whether or not the others have eaten and don't be afraid to send someone off to bed if they need it. Remember that lack of sleep inevitably results in poor judgement. The famous example here is Gytha North at Follycon in 1988, who somehow managed to stay awake for the best part of three days and ended up completely wrecked. Don't do it. If you need chemicals to help you stay awake, don't. Go to bed.