Steve Davies writes about some of the things which can help make a convention run smoothly
There are any number of things that help to make a convention run well. However, a lot of them have to do with circulating information to the average convention attendee. If you don’t tell people what’s going on, rumours will begin to fly and all of a sudden you are wasting time denying them.
A couple of large noticeboards is always a good idea. Consider sticking up a large copy of the programme grid (A3 per day or bigger).
If you don’t have one, you’ll regret it. Intervention in ’97 tried to do without one, and ended up needing to inform people about security problems and with no way to do so except word of mouth. The problem with newsletters is that they require a room, some equipment and a number of people. The good news is that the sort of people who do newsletters often aren’t people who would be working in any other area. Find someone who is sounding off about convention newsletters and thank them for volunteering. There’s always conflict between the "Newsletters should contain news and nothing else" school of thinking and the "Newsletters are for salacious gossip, occasionally sprinkled with news when unavoidable" school. I’m afraid I’m firmly of the latter persuasion. People should want to read your newsletter. However, try and avoid too many in-jokes. After a while they just become boring. If you get someone else to produce the newsletter, let them do it their own way. However as an ex-editor of con newsletters I would suggest:
- If you don’t plan to incorporate photographs, consider using Gestetners (stencil duplicators) for reproduction. It’s fast, cheap and reliable, but the quality is pretty basic
- If you do plan to use photos, consider using a couple of laser printers. High quality, high price, slow output
- Photocopiers are the technology of last resort. They always go wrong and you can’t get an engineer out over Easter. Also, the image quality is generally poor
- Use a word processor instead of DTP. It’s much easier for people to pick up quickly. Remember that you’ll have people wanting to come into the newsroom and type in stories. Don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be
- Don’t forget distribution. Make sure there are copies generally available instead of only in a few places
- Don’t print too many copies. As a rule no more than two thirds of the membership and possibly less. Remember, you can always reprint.
- You can run a newsletter on one laptop and one 16ppm or faster laser printer (as we did at 2kon in 2000). This is a fairly risky strategy, though.
- Decide beforehand what the policy is on fan repro (e.g. can other people use the copiers/printers while the newsletter are doing other things). Newsletter hate doing this, so don’t just assume that they will happily copy everything that comes their way.
I’ve done signage at a number of conventions. This is one of those things that is very easy for a committee to ignore and do badly. Done well, it can be a real asset. Even if you’re using a hotel that has been used many times in the past, remember that at least 20% of the convention members have probably not been there before. You should arrange for someone to put up signs on the Wednesday before the con if you can. This is because up to 40% of the membership now arrives on the Thursday. Signs should be clear and readable rather than cute, though a certain degree of whimsy is not a bad idea. Laser printing is infinitely preferable to hand-written signs since the latter will not stand out against the posters and flyers that they will be competing with. Arrange beforehand with the hotel as to what surfaces you can stick your signs to. If there are no appropriate surfaces in vital spots like Hotel Reception, use flipchart easels. When I did the signs for Intuition in 1998, I got through about 300 sheets of paper and 6 sheets of laser labels (with arrows on, for directional signs).
Invented by Irwin ‘Filthy Pierre’ Strauss, the voodoo board is an American innovation that has been adopted over here with varying success. The aim of the voodoo board is to allow convention members to leave messages for each other. It is not intended to be a place for advertising, though if there is spare space on the board, this is not uncommon.
- The board needs to be a large display board. It must be soft enough to easily press pins into, there is no point at all in using hardboard (though it has been suggested that one could use cork tiles on a hardboard backing).
- On the board goes a full membership list ordered by real name. Do not, as a number of conventions (whose blushes I will spare) have done, use a membership list in order of membership number or something else equally useless.
- Pins. You want about 400 coloured map pins (the ones with a blob of coloured plastic at the end).
- Filecards. You need a box of filecards and about 400 blank cards next to the board. The box should have a set of alphabetic tabs in it.
- Instructions. On the board should be a set of instructions on how to use the system.
When someone wants to leave a message for a person, they write out the message on a file card, putting the person’s name on the top of the card, and put it in the box under the correct letter. They then put a pin against the name of the person on the membership list. If someone sees a pin against their name, they remove the pin and look for a file card with their name on it. That’s all there is to it.
The information desk is a place for distributing useful information to fans at the con. Useful things to have on the desk are:
- Programme Notes
- Yellow Pages
- Guide to local restaurants
- Maps of the area
- Informative fliers and so on
- Back copies of newsletters
The commonest question asked at the Info Desk seems to be "Where do I register?" so it usually makes sense to put the desk right next to Registration. The next commonest is "What time is it?"
The information gopher is one of those optional extras which works if you’ve got a surplus of gophers and not much to do with them. They go around the con, from committee member to committee member, finding out what’s going on and circulating the word. Personally, I prefer radios.
Ops is an idea that, in the UK at least, has rather run away from itself. Conventions in the Eighties were often somewhat disorganised, especially Conspiracy, the 1987 Worldcon in Brighton. Out of this came a desire to make sure that everything was dealt with efficiently, problems solved and so on. Hence, Ops. Unfortunately, most of the problems have gone away, conventions run largely efficiently and to time, but Ops still hangs around trying to find something to do and desperately looking important. Gradually, the monster is dying under the weight of managers, deputies, assistants and so on; many of whom never actually get to solve or even touch any problems.
This is the form of Ops as practised in the UK at the moment. Ops tries to control everything, often down to a stupendously low level of niggling detail. There is no opportunity for creative solutions to problems. On the other hand, it mostly runs pretty well, every one knows what they can do and where they fit, and there is a consistency of organisation to the con. If there are problems in one area, Ops can throw resources at it until it’s fixed.
Ops as handled in most places in the US is reduced purely to a communications function, with responsibility being chiefly with the individual areas to solve their own problems. Since the competent problem solvers are in the areas instead of in Ops, they’re pretty successful at it. The downside is that areas without competent people may stumble along without anyone realising that there’s a problem. To my mind, Small Ops is the thing that we should be aiming for.
Oops was an idea that was tried out a few years ago but hasn’t been evidence much recently. They were effectively a mobile hit squad of trouble-shooters who tried to fix problems (originally programme problems) as they arose (much like the Ops Rover of the small Ops model). They seem to have been squeezed out by the increasing lack of trust in individuals and the tendency to try and concentrate all power in the hands of Ops.
This is a big, BIG bugbear. There are many people who feel that the very word "security" is going to act as an irresistible magnet, drawing all the power-hungry loons who want to tell people what to do. What’s worse, if one of the aforementioned loons goes and upsets your members, you are going to carry the can for it. In many conventions, particularly Worldcons, there is no "Security Division". Instead, what few security functions actually need to be carried out are actually done by Ops. The history of Security appears to be derived from early Star Trek conventions which needed people to protect their star guests from groupies and other hangers-on. Using the word "Security" was an amusing reference to the red-shirts of the TV series and their propensity for taking all the flak meant for the stars. Since Worldcons and Eastercons don’t go in for TV stars, there is no need for bodyguards. (Development of security role, local differences) The flip side of this is that where a security function is required, it’s easier to be able to tell the police "this is John, he’s in charge of Security" than to explain in detail just what the role of the "Pink Fluffy Bunny Division" is.
Case history: The Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool. The Adelphi is an excellent hotel for holding conventions. Unfortunately, it is also a prime target for the local thieves which has meant it needs an unusual degree of security awareness. The first Eastercon in the Adelphi was Follycon in 1988 and was marked by a number of pick-pocketing incidents and minor thefts from the main lounge. A clamp-down on on-the-door registration at Eastcon and Sou’Wester meant that the problem was improved. In addition, security gophers patrolled the main places where public areas (such as the hotel’s disco) gave onto the convention space and turned away non-members who tried to enter the convention by these means. Intervention in 1997 raised the level of security by attempting to patrol the whole hotel, checking doors, chasing intruders and generally trying to prevent anyone from entering the hotel space by any means possible. A small number of thefts from rooms still took place, and the security team ran themselves completely ragged chasing reports of intruders. On at least one occasion they spent 15 minutes chasing an intruder who turned out to be one of the security gophers doing the chasing. They also offended a hotel guest (whose room they had entered while checking the door) and do not appear to have deterred anybody. In fact, it was pointed out that during the gopher party, when all the security gophers were off-duty, there was less trouble than at any other time. The implication is that the thieves may have been attracted by the level of security, taking it to imply that there was something valuable to steal. It is noteworthy that the Dealers’ Room was broken into but that the thieves couldn’t find anything they were prepared to take (they disturbed over a dozen tables and the only thing missing was about £10 of jewellery from the last table—at a guess they just gave it up as a bad job at this point). This suggests that a high level of active security is, if anything, counter-productive. Badge checkers at the main entrance and a few other areas should be enough to keep out the pick-pockets. Room theft and other major problems are for the hotel to solve and should not be the convention’s responsibility.