September 26, 2012

The Care and Feeding of Special Events

What are special events?  Well, most traditional cons consider things like concerts, auctions, dances, and even the costume contest (or masquerade) to fall into the category of “special events.”  Granted, special may be a bit of an overstatement, but these events are different than, say, panel discussions, which comprise the vast majority of many conventions’ programming. 

The problem I have seen at a lot of cons recently is that their Programming Heads (Directors, Coordinators, etc.) are very skilled at scheduling panels, but not so skilled at scheduling special events.  If you have ever run an event at a con, chances are you found yourself to be short on time.  That’s because Programming Heads frequently fail to allow for an adequate amount of set up and tear down time.  And, I guarantee the Programming Head didn’t do that to you on purpose.  They simply didn’t know to ask you how much time you needed before and after your event.

So, in an effort to help out the area cons, I’ve decided to present some known logistical issues for each type of special event.  With this information in mind, Programming Heads can approach scheduling with some questions in mind that may allow for a smoother running convention. 

I am going to provide some recommended times to handle some the logistics, but don’t take my word as “gospel.”  Contact the person who will be running the event and get their input as well.


Dances typically need time to have the room reset (move chairs), as well as set up any lights and sound that will be used.  It’s best to give the DJ no less than 30 minutes to prep the room before the dance.  After the dance, the room will have to be set back to the way it was, which will require another 30 minutes (at least). 

Costume Contest

The time needed for the costume contest can vary greatly with your facility and the number of entrants you have.  You will have to consider how long to allocate for each entrant (30 seconds, 2 minutes, 3 minutes?) and multiple that by the maximum number you expect and then add time for the MC to talk.  This last part is almost always longer than you think. 

If the entrants have to move through the audience, you will want to make sure to remove some chairs to give them adequate walking space, which will add to the set up time.

You have to provide time for the judges to deliberate, and then the MC has to present the awards.  This will be followed by folks wanting to take pictures.  Once pictures are done, you will need to reset the room after the event.

My best recommendation is to find someone who has run a costume contest before and work with them very closely.


I’ve seen well established cons mess this first part up.   As a rule of thumb, you need to allow no less than 30 minutes on either side of the event.  You need time to set up and to tear down.  You also need time to collect everyone’s money after the auction.

As for the run time on the auction itself?  Well, it depends on how much stuff you have to sell.  Do not make this judgment based on what you have collected before the con.  A good Auction Coordinator can double the amount of merchandise available for sale by hitting up the dealers prior to the auction.

If you have a verbose auctioneer, you need to allow time for that person to talk as well.

For a typical regional con that has less than 1000 people, I suggestion allowing 90 minutes for the actual auction.  If you’re keeping score at home, this means you need allocate the room to the auction for 2.5 hours.


This is the most difficult event to try to schedule because there is no good way to anticipate how much equipment the band will bring.  I highly recommend you talk to the band and find out how long they plan to play, and then ask if they have a technical director.  If they do, ask that person how long they need for load in and load out (use those words, trust me on this).  The Tech Director usually has a pretty solid idea how long this will take. Also, while you a talking to them, you need to find out what their technical requirements are.  They might be expecting you to provide some equipment, which may, or may not, need to be set up prior to the load in.

Additional Notes
Don’t rush your time.  If something runs late, you can’t plan to cut your costume contest by 30 minutes to try to get back on schedule.  Make sure that you continue to allow the time you have scheduled for your special events, even if that means everything starts a little later than planned.
If you are doing an event for the first time, add extra time.  As you do the event more often, your times will become more accurate.
Lastly, make sure you have enough operations staff scheduled to help around these events.   Moving 100 chairs takes 1-2 people much longer than it takes 4-5.  This also allows you to dedicate staff to watching the doors if you need to keep attendees out of the room for a few minutes.
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Okay, so that’s it for this blog.  I hope it helps.   And speaking of help, I hope to have a guest blog up soon on running Auctions (Hint to Everette!!!)
Special thanks to Tera Fulbright for her highly experienced help with the post