- Do they know anything about the topic?
- Does the event conflict with anything else you’ve already placed them on?
- Are they okay with sitting on the panel with the other guests?
- Does the schedule meet the guest’s personal needs (food, sleep, etc)?
- Will the guest be present at the con when the panel or event takes place?
- 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]