Yuricon News: The Anatomy of an Anime Convention 101, Part 3

November 15th, 2002

Well, we had dates, we had a hotel, we had Staff – now we were getting into the nitty gritty. I needed people to take care of things that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do myself. First off, I needed someone who actually cared about the kind of events that take place at a con, I needed someone with some understanding of computers to get me a working registration and someone to do PR. I found people to do all these things, along with a liason with several Dealers, and a Video person…and on and on. These were all things that had to get started right off, or we’d never get anywhere.I figured we’d worry about guests a little later.

To determine what kind of Staff I needed, I looked at existing con hierarchies and made some decisions based upon reasonable expectation of our size, the functions I needed taken care of and what I could and could not reasonably expect to do myself.

When I look at the way a con functions on the actual weekend it happens, it breaks down into these basic functions:
Guests
Videos
Entertainment
Panels and Workshops
Registration
Dealer’s Room
Security/Safety
Volunteers

This list doesn’t include *alot* of what goes on behind the curtain, most especially PR, but these are what most congoers see as being “the con.” Public Relations is responsible for everbody and their cousin hearing about the con… frequently. LOL But for me, Entertainment was the key. Almost everything that comes under Entertainment are things that annoy me to pieces…cosplay, the dance, games, contests, etc. NONE of these hold an ounce of interest for me, so it was crucial that I find someone insane enough to take this on. I think I found someone more than insane enough and I can safely say that our Entertainment program rocks. LOL But this summer, as we pounded out descriptions and rules, it was alot of work – and there’s more to do.

Remember the motto – “everyone wants to help, but no one wants to help”? Welcome to PR. PR is a nightmare all on it’s own. It’s about cold-emailing and calling a gazillion people until one in a hundred gets back to you. And people freeze up and disappear before they will admit to being as scared of a “yes” as a “no.” So PR is what I like to call the “Home of the 100% turnover.” LOL

Dealers are great people, they really are. They are also overworked, understaffed and flaky as hell. This is another fear-inspiring committee. Who wants to have to play phone tag with an elusive dealer? Answer – no one.

And so it goes…committee after committee, we’re dealing with volunteers who’d like to help, as long as it means not being on deadline, or having to prove anything, or follow up on anything, or answer emails, etc. It’s not easy stuff, and it’s the stuff most people don’t think about when they think about building a con. For instance – Registration…I don’t build databases – do you? Do you know someone who can build a database with a searchable archive, that’s got adequate security? Do you think you could find someone to do that in about three months…for nothing? LOL You see what I mean.

What was I doing all this time? Promotion, promotion and more promotion. I set up a party at a lesbian bar in NYC, promoted it out the wazoo, and hoped for the best. Thankfully, the best happened. A Japanese woman came to the party and talked with us for a while. it turns out that she was a well-known Japanese lesbian mangaka – would it be alright if she came to the con? Not surprisingly, I was hornswoggled at this. *Of course* we’d love to have her! And, no kidding, that’s how we have one of our two Guests of Honor – she asked us if she could come.

All this time, up in Canada, Kathryn Williams was busting her hump promoting us too. Since Kat’s work is so relevant to us, we figured that she’d make a terrific addition as a GoH, not to mention the fact that she’s a powerhouse for Yuricon promotion. So there was GoH number two. The guests seemed to be taking care of themselves. :-)

Then con season hit. Almost every con I knew of had at least a Yaoi panel. I wrote to several asking if we could make it a Yaoi/Yuri panel, or give Yuri a panel of it’s own. Since, for many reasons, good panelists and moderators are very hard to find, I received alot of positive responses and started planning my traveling schedule for the Summer. In the meantime, we were promoting our NYC events and working to build our Committees.

I ended up with a schedule that looked something like this:

Con in Canada, week off, trip with friends, week off, con on West Coast, week off, film festival on West Coast, week off, host Guest and friend to local con, week off, con in Baltimore, three weeks off, local con. And that didn’t include the random other cons not during the “official” con season, or the festival in Florida, or my day job, or the night classes I teach. Or, just to be pissy, my writing.

It was pretty fun, actually, but I wouldn’t want to do it too often. I ran no less than a dozen panels, moderated some Guest of Honor Panels, participated in a dozen more, ran two workshops and talked to about a zillion vendors, guests and other con personel. I have to say that nearly every single person I met working for every other con was terrific. There is some serious talent and zeal out there in con land. If you haven’t offered to help out your local con, you really should – they are decent folks and always need the help.

And while I was doing all that, my Committees were reinventing the wheel and trying to figure out how to handle things like registration databases, running a live event, organize a Security team. LOL

Now, at the end of all that promotion, I’ve gotten alot of feedback praising my panels and speaking. (And one VERY long, diseased negative feedback.) I thought I’d offer my insight into what makes a good panel:

1) Moderators should moderate – you are not there to function as a doorstop. Come to the panel with several prepared questions. Don’t ask the guests to introduce themselves and then just say “go ahead and keep talking.” Coming up with ideas is *your* job – not theirs. I don’t know when the doorstop moderation technique became the standard, but it doesn’t work and makes for a sucky panel.

2) Instruct the audience, politely, that you are willing to entertain *questions,* not comments, rants or complaints. The panel is about the panelists opinions, based on their experience and expertise – not a time for some audience member to discuss the crappy state of fanfic and how different it was when they created fanfic in 4 BC. It’s boring and not fair to people who actually *do* have questions.

3) Direct questions to participants who are being overwhelmed by other panelists. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible when the moderator is the loudest person in the room. (She says sheepishly.) But it’s good to make sure that everyone gets a say. I usually direct questions to each panelist in turn, so everyone gets to talk and no one feels left out or overwhelmed.

That’s it, really. Just remember it’s supposed to be fun for everyone, panelists and audience. LOL

Next time: Ways to lose money

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