The average Eastercon has around 150 to 200 events/items on the four day schedule.
Programme tends to start early afternoon on Friday and continue through to late evening Monday.
The only event that is required at an Eastercon is the Bid Session to pick a future Eastercon committee (usually the one two years after the current one).
One person (usually) stands at the front of the room and talks about something. They may use a laptop and projector or other visual aids, or they might just stand there and talk about some subject. For example I've heard talks on the chemical and physiological effects of chocolate, on working on Star Trek, on getting published as a writer and on being trained as a NASA astronaut.
A level of audience participation may be involved, from just a Question and Answer session at the end of the talk, to inviting people up on stage to take part in demonstrations (like the Royal Society talks at Christmas on TV)
Three or more people sit at the front of the room (often behind a table) and discuss a topic. Often there is a moderator who keeps the discussion focused and makes sure everyone gets a chance to contribute, as well as keeping things moving if people run out of stuff to talk about. I've been to panels discussing Diet and Fandom, Military SF, Convention Organisation and many other topics (one topic per panel!) Often the audience chips in observations and it is not unknown for an audience member who has obvious experience/knowledge to be called up to join a panel, particularly if they are a panellist short.
Three types of panel
1. Expert panel The panellists are chosen for their knowledge of the subject and as a good spread of opinion and knowledge, and the audience is there to listen to the experts discuss the topic. The moderator is there to make sure the panel stays on topic, to make sure each panellist gets a fair chance to talk and to reply, and to keep things under control, including the audience. A good moderator should be there to get other people talking, not to take over the panel themselves.
2. Discussion panel The panellists are chosen for their ability to keep a discussion going and to answer points from the audience. Audience participation is encouraged, and sometimes this works better as a discussion "circle". The moderator's job is to make sure everyone gets heard and that the discussion stays on topic (and to dowse flame wars!). This kind of item is particularly suitable for things like Convention feedback sessions, what do you want to see at future cons and similar items where the content is mostly from the audience.
3. The "bar discussion" panel The panellists show up with little or no preparation for a panel which has a title and description that is so vague that no one really knows what they should be talking about. So basically it descends into the sort of chat you'd have in the bar at a con, but with a moderator occasionally trying to drag the whole thing back towards whatever interpretation of the title they think is correct. These items can indeed be fun, but are very frustrating to audiences that have shown up to hear about, say, "The role of 1960s US feminism in the science fiction writing of Eastern Europe" and find that the panellists haven't read any Eastern European SF, and that there isn't an expert on what "1960s US feminism" is either, so the panel spends an hour discussing Solaris and Barbarella.
A place for people to work on something, whether it is creating a Lego(tm) robot, or learning to do a Tarot reading. Writers' Workshops are particularly popular.
A workshop can be directed, e.g. a sock-knitting workshop, a choral workshop, or a Quarterstaff workshop. Or more free-form, e.g. a Dalek-cake building workshop or a chaos robotics workshop.
Directed workshops usually have a specific goal in mind that all the people taking part are trying to achieve (learning basic bellydance, writing an SF poem etc.), while undirected workshops usually just provide material and expertise and leave it to the participant to decide what they want to create/do (like chaos costuming and Decorate your own Dalek-cake)
Someone, usually one of the Guests is asked questions by an interviewer. This is a useful structure for a session because some Guests aren't comfortable standing up and just giving a talk ... so the interviewer has a set of questions (which the Guest may have already seen/heard and had time to think of answers to), and the interviewer asks the questions and teases out answers from the Guest/interviewee.
Quizzes and Competitions
Usually two teams, each team consisting of two to four players, plus a question master/host. It can be a standard knowledge quiz, e.g. How much do you know about the Hugo awards? Or it can be a silly quiz where being entertaining is more important than knowing the correct answer ... or it can be a totally silly one where there isn't a correct answer, just questions designed to let people on each team be witty/amusing. I've called them "radio quizzes" because there is usually very little visual about the item (unless there's a picture bonus round!) and they tend to be fannish equivalents of panel quizzes on BBC Radio 4, like I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue or Channel 4's Whose Line Is It Anyway?.
"Pub Quiz" Quizzes
Everyone in the room can take part, either individually or as a member of a team. Can be good as an ice-breaker to let people get to know others by joining a team and contributing.
Robot battles, poetry competitions and other events designed to let people present something they've found/created/done and this is judged in some way. Often there's an audience too. This ranges from costume competitions, to Design an SF Easter Bonnet. In particular this entry covers competitions that appear as actual programme items in the schedule, though there are also competitions that happen across the course of the convention, such as Hall Costume competition, wall quizzes etc.
A chance to see the Committee, meet the Guests, be told about any special events, reminded about any convention policies, and informed about things like breakfast times in the hotel and requests for people to volunteer. See Opening ceremony
Not every year, but moderately often, Eastercon plays host to a theatrical production from a fannish theatre group.
See Masquerade for details
See Bidding for details
A chance to thank the Guests and Committee for all their hard work, and for the Committee to thank all the people who made it such a great convention. Sometimes it's a chance to hand out prizes and awards as well. It usually includes a symbolic hand-over to the following year's committee. Not usually the last event of the convention, but held mid to late Monday afternoon to give people time to get home afterwards. There are usually other programme items after the closing ceremony, including the Dead Dog Party.
See Art Show
A room with either a video projector or a large screen television showing new and classic science fiction and genre films and TV epidsodes. There's usually a separate schedule posted up outside the video programme and often a printed version will accompany the ReadMe. Sometimes major films and premiers will be shown in the Main Hall instead.
A room with cloth, odds and ends, sewing machines, needles, thread, pins etc. for you to repair, complete or create a costume for wearing around the convention or to enter in the Masquerade.
Some years there are competitions for robots, other years it's just a room to build fun objects over the weekend.
An Eastercon needs a team of 3-4 to provide enough time and coverage, especially for the very busy period 3 months before the convention. While the ideas might seem the hard part, the logistics of getting bums on seats is key to a programme's success. Programme planning software like Grenadine makes the process much easier, but expect a torrent of emails, annoying characters and scheduling nightmares before the praise arrives, as a good programme is very much noticed.
Gender parity, across the programme as a whole, and even within individual items, is important, and organisers need to advertise their policy on the matter.
Panels work best with moderators, either experts in the subject or just with an interest in it, if they follow these guidelines
Most Cons have Programme Ops Team.
The Ops team work with Green Room, Tech, Guest Liaison and Hotel Liaison and sometimes Ops to ensure the programme is running to time, that the right people are in the right location with the right equipment and facilities.
The Prog Ops Team is traditionally when programme is running an Events Manager with a couple of volunteers who will check that rooms are in the right layout, that main guests are aware of where to be, that programme items are running to time, that mikes and other kit work.
The teams role is mostly give panelists and those involved in timed activities a heads up and count down 15, 10 and 5 minutes before the item finishes to keep the flow of the programme going.