February 19, 2012

Review of SheVaCon 20

I’m going to try something new for 2012.  I’m going to review the conventions I attend, with an eye to how they were organized.   I’m starting with SheVaCon 20, because, well, that was my first con of the year.

SheVaCon was in Roanoke, VA.  This year, the con was held at the Hotel Roanoke (Double Tree by Hilton) on February 17-19. 
The Good
The hotel gets placed on both the good and bad list.  The hotel is, frankly, the most beautiful con hotel I’ve ever seen.  The layout of the consite is spread over 2 floors, allowing for lots of space for fans to hang out.  The panel rooms are spacious with good acoustics. 
The greatest feature of the hotel, however, is the main lobby of the hotel.  It has an old world feel, with a really nice fireplace on one end.
The dealer room was large and had a nice variety of dealers.
The art show had some very nice art, but the best feature was the kids track portion of the art show.  The con had some tables set up with coloring books and crayons/markers for the kids.  Once the kids were finished coloring, the art show staff would offer to hang the kids’ artwork on a spare art panel they had set up.  This was a really nice touch.
The guest list was interesting, covering Lit, Media, Art, Music, and Costuming.
Programming was typical for a southern con.  I’m going to count this as “good," because I like traditional programming.
Possible Areas of Improvement (The Bad)
I have to list this one first, because it happened to my wife.  The con misspelled her last name in the program book and on her badge.  This is not acceptable when they have her bio, and her web address, they can refer to if they want to check the spelling.  I’d suggest the ConCom proofread the program.
This next thing is simply a pet peeve of mine…  the names on the badges were small and hard to read.  Likewise, it was hard to distinguish the guests from everyone else.  (See my earlier blog post.)
As I stated earlier, the hotel was beautiful, it was also expensive for a con hotel in this area.  Sleeping rooms started at $125, and went up based on the number of occupants.  This actually prevented us from coming to the con on Thursday night.
Gaming was very limited, with tables only being set up in the prefunction area.   I also didn’t see any gaming guests on the website.  With the amount of space the con had at its disposal, they probably should consider dedicating better space to gaming.
Finally, the con sent Timothy Zahn to an off-site event for 2-3 hours on Friday evening.  I’m guessing they had hoped to generate some advertising for the con, but all it really seemed to do was deny access to Zahn, during the con, to the members who had already paid to be there.
Final Rating
I can only give the con 3.5 out of 5 stars as there weren’t enough great things about the con to offset the negatives (primarily the cost).  The con wasn’t bad, but there wasn’t much at the con to make me want to go back.

Okay, that’s it.  Feel to ask questions if there is something I didn’t cover.

February 11, 2012

Scheduling Your Guests

Okay, today’s blog topic is about how to schedule your guests.  It sounds straight forward enough, but as with most con topics, it’s not.  Most programming directors start with a basic schedule of panels and events, and then assign guests to participate in each one… that’s where it gets complicated.  For each guest, you must consider a number of possible issues.  For example:

  1. Do they know anything about the topic?
  2. Does the event conflict with anything else you’ve already placed them on?
  3. Are they okay with sitting on the panel with the other guests?
  4. Does the schedule meet the guest’s personal needs (food, sleep, etc)?
  5. Will the guest be present at the con when the panel or event takes place?
  6. Have you scheduled the guest for too many, or too few, events and panels?
The list goes on, but this should give you an idea of the kinds of things you need to be aware of.
As you might have guessed, it’s best if you contact each guest prior to beginning to build the schedule.  At that time, you should have asked for some panel ideas, asked about their scheduling preferences, and asked if they have any preferences as to who they sit on panels with.

Once you get the schedule created, you can go ahead and send it the print shop, right?  Wrong!  Each individual guest needs to receive a copy of their schedule to review.  It’s likely been a few, if not several, months since you received input from each guest.  It’s possible something may have changed. Not to mention that even the best programming people make mistakes, so it’s best to let the guests have a look at their schedule prior to the con to make sure they are happy with it.  You should also make sure you include a full description of each panel or event, a list of the moderators for each panel and a deadline for the guests to respond with any objections or questions. 
Experienced programming directors, by the way, understand that moderating panels is not as easy as it sounds.  As such, some guests are simply not fond of doing it.  You should make sure your assigned moderators are willing to perform this task.  It would also be a good idea to know enough about your guests that you are aware if a particular guest is not well suited to moderate panels.  The best moderators are prepared to advance the discussion with questions for each panelist, and will ensure that all of the panelists get equal time to provide their input during the panel.   A bad moderator will allow one or two guests to dominate the discussion or, worse yet, hijack it and change the topic completely.  That might be great for those guests’ egos, but it’s not much fun for anyone else in the room.
Once you have your schedule created, and all of your moderators set, you should send out a final copy of the complete schedule to all of the guests, as well as key convention staff members.  This allows everyone a last chance to see the schedule and bring up any conflicts or additions they may have.  Again, provide everyone a deadline and let them know that you will consider the schedule firm after that date.  The best programming people will generally not be very flexible on this final deadline, as other members of the ConCom probably need the finalized schedule to finish their jobs as well.
Assuming you haven’t received any additional changes, now you may send the schedule to the print shop.

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EDIT:  One thing I missed... make sure you spell the guest's name correctly on the schedule.

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[Also see this related blog post on Programming]