March 16, 2012

Know Your Guests, and Know Them Well

I decided it was time for a “soapbox” type post, so today’s blog topic will be, “Know Your Guests, and Know Them Well!”  

Okay, stop! I didn’t mean it like that! 
Seriously, though, I keep seeing one problem repeat itself, over and over again.  ConCom members do not appear to be researching their guests.  The only explanation I can attribute to this situation is the growing trend of conventions to invite large quantities of guests.  Frankly, with the size of some the guest lists I’ve seen recently, I suspect that the staff does not have time to properly review each guest’s qualifications.  And it’s not even a matter of whether or not the individual should be a guest in the first place (that’s a different topic), but rather what the guests sometimes get scheduled to do during the convention.

Here’s an example… Not so long ago, a friend of mine who has X professional job, was invited to be a guest at a convention.  When she received her schedule, it showed that she was to sit in on Y panel.  The Y panel topic was something my friend literally knew nothing about.  The only conclusion we could come up with was that the programming director had not done any research into what types of discussions would be best for her.  To make matters worse, the guest, who, as I’ve mentioned, has X professional job (listed plainly in her bio), was not asked to sit on any panels that dealt her job, even though that job was why she was invited to be a guest in the first place.    

The truly bad thing is that this situation isn’t limited to just one of the people I know.  I could easily be referring to either of two different guests at that convention.

So, what can be done to combat this trend?  Let’s start by having the ConCom, all of them, read the guests’ bios.  Frankly, there are a lot of benefits in having the ConCom know exactly who the guests are.  Not only does it show respect for the guests, it allows the staff to speak intelligently about the guests.  If you’re the dealer room coordinator, for example, you just might find a potential dealer asking questions about a specific guest.  Not having to say, “Um, I’m not certain, but you can look up that information our website,” makes it look like the ConCom knows what they’re doing.
The next thing I recommend is limiting the guest list.  If the guest list is too big, you are never going to get anyone to read all of the bios.  Besides that, there are other benefits to limiting the guest list.  I will offer one of my many mistakes as an example of why this is important.  In 2001, I invited over 50 guests to attend StellarCon’s 25th anniversary convention. That turned out to be far, far too many guests for a convention of 600 people.  We had some events where there were 7-8 panelists sitting on the same panel.  Many of the moderators had a hard time controlling the panel with that many guests wanting to contribute.

So I guess the next natural question is, “Where should you cap your guest list?”  Personally, I think no more than 5% of the expected attendance would be a good upper limit.  Keep in mind that by placing a cap on the guest list you are trying to make the guest list manageable.   It will also help you make sure that you have something for all of the guests to do.  No guest wants to be invited to a convention where they only sit on 1-2 panels during the weekend, nor do they like sitting on a panel with only 4 people in the audience because the con had to schedule too many panels in order to accommodate all of the guests.  And trust me on this last part, you really do not want to have to put 8-9 guests on the same panel.
Okay, I think that’s enough of a rant for one blog.  I’m going to put away my soapbox now. 

Feel free to make comments below.


  1. Good rant James! This has been a pet peeve for me for years. A few other suggestions: There is no tenure for guests. Just because they were a guest last year--for the last four years doesn't mean they automatically are a guest this year. Perhaps you want something new? Not the same guests year after year. We do review all the guest applications but unfortunately answer back too quickly. I think there should be an application period. Then the concom can review all the applications to make sure we select a guest list that properly supports the programming needs and interests of the Con. Often, you limit the amount of guests you accept, but accept them all too quickly, and then some really cool guest show up a few months before the con and you have to turn them down because you are full. Now you have me ranting!