Programming without bugs

There are lots of things SF fans have learned about how to run convention programming smoothly. Here are some high points:

To reduce the load on the convention staff, recruit gofers. Ask convention attendees to help work the convention. Have a signup sheet, and a gofer monitor who tracks the hours they work. Here are some uses for gofers:

Recruit gofers with a pitch in your program book. Also, announce the gofer program (and its rewards) in your web pages so you get gofer signups early. Reward them with one or more of the following:

These perks can make gofer status a powerful lure for broke students. It's a win-win deal; they get a less expensive conference, the staff gets warm bodies to do gruntwork.

In general, if the core staff has to do much besides making decisions and managing gofers, that means they're working too hard.

Every program item needs a room monitor. The room monitor's job is to make sure AV equipment is in place, route last-minute requests from the speaker to the con staff, and give the speaker a high-sign five minutes before the time slot ends.

Typically you want two monitors per program track, alternating. While one is in the room assisting a speaker, the other is waiting in the green room for the next speaker.

You also need rovers. A rover is a troubleshooter not assigned to a specific area. Room monitors can be gofers, but rovers should be core staff with decision-making authority. Give them radios with a link to the convention operations room.

At SF conventions it's traditional to have a `green room' which is a staging area for speakers (the term is borrowed from show business, in which the green room is where actors wait for their turn on stage).

The green room should have water, snacks, places to sit. But it's more than a perk for speakers; it's also a way to keep control of them. Your speakers should be urged to check in at the green room ten or fifteen minutes before their talk. There they can be met by their room monitor and escorted to their talk venue.

If you run your green room and your room monitors properly, you'll find you can avoid the accumulating schedule slippage that's otherwise common at technical conventions. That never happens at SF conventions.

Another un-obvious friction cost is the time cost of finding people whose faces you don't know. Often (for the staff) these are people in special categories like core staff, gofers, speakers, press people, and vendor reps.

SF fans address this problem with badge ribbons -- one color for core staff, another for gofers, another for press, etc. This makes it much easier to scan a room and quickly locate (for example) the core staff members.

Plan for last-minute panics. It always happens, no matter how hard you plan for other things. To cope, show up a day early. Total up all the hours you think are needed for setup, then give yourselves the extra day.

If you do this, you'll actually have time to print programs, put up signs, and do all the other little things that you grossly underestimated the necessary time for. You'll also get a good night's sleep before the show opening -- that's important.