Steve Davies writes about what can go wrong and what you might try doing about it.
Remember, things will go wrong, it’s inevitable. No matter how hard you’ve worked, no matter how much effort you’ve put in, something will screw up. Be prepared to hack things about if you have to. Don’t ignore problems just because it’s your convention and everything should be perfect. It won’t be. If you look for trouble and don’t find it, you’ll be happy. If you assume everything’s fine, the problems will get worse until they can’t be ignored and possibly can’t be fixed.
Six important pointsEdit
- Say "Sorry". Don’t be stiff-necked about apologising to people. If you aren’t prepared to admit that you, or someone else on the committee, screwed up then you should probably give up right now. The chairman’s mantra is "it may not be my fault, but it is my responsibility." If having you grovel is going to defuse a delicate situation, get right down there and start eating humble pie without even considering who was originally to blame.
- Keep calm. It’s very easy to get flustered, especially when you haven’t had enough sleep and someone is acting like a bloody idiot. Don’t let it get on top of you, go and get some sleep if you have to. The con won’t fall apart without you and you’ll be fresh and rested for when the real crises come along.
- People want to enjoy themselves. These guys didn’t come to the con just to make a nuisance of themselves, they came to have fun. Try and look for a solution where you can both win.
- It’s not the end of the world. When you get down to it, there are lots of things more important than fandom and running conventions. Whatever you do, however badly you screw up, isn’t really going to matter even in a couple of weeks’ time. More to the point, a single programme item falling over is not anything to worry about.
- Money solves many things. Keep a cash reserve and use it wisely. A £50 backhander to a strategic member of the hotel staff (but never, ever to a member of management, though you could try offering to top up the staff Christmas fund) can fix a lot of trouble. A bottle of champagne costing, say £20, will mollify an irate honeymoon couple who have had a drunken fan blunder into their room (Confabulation, 1995). A £10 box of chocolates in the right place can calm a lot of ruffled feathers. Remember, you’re not in this to make money. If you’ve got it, spend it where it’ll make the con run happier.
- Keep control of rumours. Don’t let the rumour mill get hold of what’s happening and distort it. This will only cause people to overreact. I don’t mean keeping everything secret, either. If something goes wrong, admit it, don’t conceal it. At one con, a couple of minor thefts rapidly became inflated into rumours that the hotel was full of thieves and that dozens of things had gone missing. A year later, people were claiming that rooms had had their doors smashed down and been stripped of everything inside them including the beds.
It's very easy to get into the trap of fiddling with the programme. Someone can't make their programme item and they ask if you can reschedule it to another slot. You do this, publicise the change and suddenly half a dozen other people jump on you demanding that it be changed back for equally valid reasons. If you do this, half the audience won't realise that it's back in the original timeslot and when they miss it, your name will be mud.
Remember that you've spent months massaging your programme into shape so that there aren't any clashes and so on. What's the chance that making a snap decision while you're tired and being hassled by people is going to be better than months of careful planning? Pretty slim, huh? In most cases, it's easier to scare up a replacement panellist than it is to reschedule just so one person can make it. People are far more replaceable than time slots and the audience will usually accept a change of panellist without griping. On the other hand, you can usually assume that every time you reschedule an item you lose anything up to half the audience. Just moving to another location loses maybe 10%, so if you've got the option of changing the room take it like a shot. If you have to reschedule, you can only do so once. After that, you probably ought to cancel the item. If you have left empty slots in the programme, you can consider moving to one of those, but in general it's much safer just to pull the plug than to increase the general chaos by hunting for a slot you can swap with. Cancelling a couple of items is always acceptable, though try not to make a habit of it. Don't get into a situation where nobody knows what's on when or where. Assuming you do make a change, you have to do a number of things:
- Notify all the members of all affected items. This means actively hunting them down, not just leaving a note for them.
- Notify Programme Ops of the exact change
- Notify Green Room, especially if there are changes in the people appearing on the item
- Ask the Newsletter to print the change in the next issue if that will be out before the new time
- Post a notice about the change on the notice board
- Post a notice about the change on the door of the function room that the item should have been in
- Announce the change in the function room at the time the item was supposed to happen - it's amazing how many people don't read notices - or remind Green Room to do this.
The high-pressure, crisis-rich environment of running a convention rapidly brings out personality clashes. Any con committee usually ends up with a couple of people who aren't talking to each other any more. If you're lucky, they aren't in critical positions. If you're unlucky, you're in deep shit.
- Try not to put known incompatible people together. Seems obvious? Sometimes this is harder than it looks. On one convention we went through unbelievable contortions to keep a certain person away from a particular programme item.
- Make sure that people under stress get hugs, backrubs, regular meals, drinks etc. Anything to stop them saying something they can't take back. The chairman should be able to provide a comforting shoulder for anybody to cry on - which means they can't take sides unless it's absolutely necessary.
- Get both sides of the argument before you actually take any action. Sometimes both sides are in the right, or the wrong, or whatever.
- Don't let people interfere in other areas unless you absolutely have to. Many people take their assigned responsibilities very seriously and will be terribly upset if they get the impression that they aren't trusted to do their job.
- Be tactful. Don't make things worse by being deliberately abrasive. There's a reason for habits like diplomacy and verbal pleasantries, they stop people fighting and dissuade them from storming off in high dudgeon. Fans tend to be bad at the social graces. Learn.
Don't be too quick to pull badges. Unless someone's been making a real nuisance of themselves and you have to make an example or risk losing control, throwing someone out of your convention means you've lost. This is very much the last resort. People don't get enough sleep at cons. They make a mistake, shout at someone and suddenly you've got an instant crisis on your hands. Always try and calm things down before they get out of hand. Be careful that Security know that they must work this way too, it's very easy for them to give the impression of trampling over everyone's feelings, even if they aren't. Negotiate compromises. If you have to, lie. Remember that you've got a thousand people's happy weekend riding on this.
Remember your brilliant guest of honour and how you couldn't understand why they had never been GoH before? This is where you discover that everyone has been steering clear of them because they have a lousy reputation. Unfortunately, a small proportion of people have appalling manners and every so often you draw a short straw.
- They are the Guest of Honour, you can't chuck them out
- Find out what they want and see if you can give it to them
- If you can't give them what they want, identify somebody who they trust and get them to negotiate