As promised earlier, here is Tera Fulbright's guest blog on Con Programming.
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Thank you, James, for letting me guest blog.
So today, we’re going to talk programming. I suppose first I should talk credentials: I ran Programming for UNCG’s StellarCon for 10+ years, RavenCon for 2 years and I helped set up the Special Events for ReConStruction 2010 (Raleigh NASFiC) before circumstances required me to step down shortly before the convention. The following are just my thoughts and opinions based on my experiences. As any good conrunner will tell you, there is no one “right” way to do anything. There is just the right way for your con.
There are two main aspects of programming that I recommend thinking about when you start your programming: your guests and your attendees. Related to that is your theme, if you have one. When it comes to programming, think about how your guests and your attendees interact with your convention and the theme (if you have one.)
Let’s start with the guests. First rule, ask them what panel ideas they have. Many guests have sat on more panels than you or I can dream up…they will have favorites that they enjoy and they will have suggestions for ones that came out of other panels they have been on. I also recommend asking if there are any panels that they do not want to be on or people they don’t want to be on panels with. There are two reasons for this. One – no one wants to be stuck on a panel where they have little to no knowledge about the subject. Two- putting people who dislike each other on a panel can make it uncomfortable for them, the other panelists and the audience if that animosity spills over into the panel itself.
Once you have a list of panel ideas, share all of the panel ideas with other guests and try to fill out as many as possible. I also recommend limiting the number of panelists to a panel. I like five but I have seen seven work as well if you have a strong moderator. You want enough panelists to give a variety of responses and opinions but not so many that not everyone has a chance to talk.
Speaking of moderators, your moderator on a panel does not have to be the most knowledgeable about the topic but he/she needs to be able to maintain control of the panel by asking questions and keeping the other panelists on topic.
If you find a panel that nearly every guest wants to do, I suggest two options. A) do a part 1 and part 2 and split the panelists. This gives everyone interested a chance to talk about the topic.
Or B) set it up as a round table and make sure the moderator knows to encourage the audience to get involved with both asking and answering questions. This will save you space in the program since you don’t have to block two sessions but it requires a strong moderator who is not afraid of making it clear that the topic isn’t just for the guests to give their opinions.
I also suggest that you do not add panelists at the last minute as it can throw off the vibe of the panel. Many panelists will try to get a quick idea of their fellow panelists by reading biographies or doing web searches prior to the panel. Putting someone on at the last minute also means that the moderators are unfamiliar with his or her work and have not had time to prepare themselves.
Also, make sure your program book lists the panelists. They are often who your attendees have come to see and panelists are one way attendees decide which panel to attend. Related, make sure your moderators know they are the moderators. Try to give them as much notice as possible as well, since a good moderator will want time to prepare questions and have suggested topics.
Next, think about your attendees, i.e. your target audience. If you are a general SF con, then you need to try to have a wide variety of panels in order to accommodate the myriad of fans you should be getting. If you have a theme (i.e. Steampunk or Paranormal), then I recommend a strong track with that theme but I would still suggest other panels as well to help fill out your event.
I also recommend keeping in mind that fandom is aging so you have to consider balancing the interests of older fans (Star Wars/Star Trek, literature, RPG’s, costuming) with newer fans (anime, urban fantasy, MMORG’s, cosplay). While you will have fans of all ages in all interests, keep in mind that older fans may have other obligations (i.e. kids) that preclude them from being up until midnight for a panel.
1. Be prepared for last minute suggestions, additions and changes.
2. Try not to schedule panels too early on Sunday morning. Many guests (and most fans) are still half-asleep until 9am or 10am at the earliest.
3. You also have to decide if there are events that you consider “Core” to your convention and decide if you want to try to limit scheduling something opposite them. For example, some conventions limit what panels they have at the same time as Opening Ceremonies or Auctions.
4. Be careful what you schedule at the same time as any loud events, like a dance. If the panelists can’t hear themselves talk, it’s not much of a panel.
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Thanks T for the guest blog! Since she's already asked for questions, have at it.