June 12, 2012

Post Con

You’ve just spent a whole year putting together a convention.  You’re tired, relieved, and ready for a break.  That’s just about when folks start telling you everything that was great about your convention, and… what needs more work.

Let’s face it.  One of the hardest things in the world for convention organizers to hear is criticism about their con.  There seems to be an almost universal reaction to hearing your con isn’t perfect.  Specifically, we con runners immediately jump to the defense of our event.  Our initial reaction is to explain why things were the way they were.  We want folks to understand that we really did think it through ahead of time.  The fact is however, the person asking you to fix something doesn’t really care why it’s broken.  They want you to take what they say and try to find a way to make it work better.  It’s not that they hated the convention (okay, well, it’s possible they did), it’s just that they didn’t like that one little aspect of it.  Keep in mind, that person cared enough about your event to offer a suggestion. 

As you are probably already aware, a lot of your attendees will want a say in the next convention.  It’s probably best if you go ahead and ask for their input online and/or at a “Con in Review” panel during the convention.  By providing a venue for them to give their views, you can get a lot of those concerns dealt with early, instead of having to deal with fielding comments for several months after the con.

Now that you have been a dutiful con organizer, you will need to address all of the feedback you have received.   What’s my recommendation for how best to handle critiques?  That’s easy.  Write them down, make a note of any recommendations you receive, and let everyone know you will address their concerns with the committee. 

Then I want to you to promptly set it aside for at least a week.

The one week portion of this process is important, because that’s about the minimum amount of time that the entire ConCom should get away from each other.  After a week or so, reconvene the committee and hold a “post mortem,” so that the staff can review the convention.  This is best done using classic brainstorming methods.

If you are not familiar with how brainstorming works, here’s the one I like to use:

[You will need paper and pens (try to make these identical) and some way to display the suggestions where everyone can read them -- chalkboard, dry-erase board, flip chart, LCD projector… something.]

·         Begin by stressing to everyone that there are no right and no wrong suggestions; and that all issues submitted are to be considered as areas that need attention, even if the majority of committee doesn’t believe there is a problem.

·         Ask everyone to submit the problems that they saw in writing, and add in the ones you have collected from any outside comments.  

·         Randomly pick an issue to be read aloud, and then ask folks to write down a suggestion for alleviating the problem.

·         The solutions are collected and written up on the board (or whatever you are using) so everyone can see them.

·         A vote is taken and the top 2-3 suggestions are left on the board (erase the rest) and then, and only then, are they discussed. At this point, it’s best to remind everyone of the ground rules (there are no bad ideas).

·        Once everyone is finished discussing the solutions, a final vote is taken.  Write down the solution for the next year’s convention, and move one to the next issue.

Using this method helps to take some of the emotion out of dealing with the problem.  It also might allow for some problems to be brought forward where the person might otherwise be too intimidated to bring it up.

The final step in the process is for someone to hit the website, email lists, and various social media sites and let the world know what issues were discussed and what you decided.

Now, take another week off.  Or two.  Or three.