Any Con-Runners out there?

Science fiction, fantasy, gaming etc.-what cons have you been involved in, what did you do, what went right(or wrong), what advice would you give a first time co-chair.
I’ve been involved with conventions since RustyCon 1 back in 1984, done Hospitality for a few cons, but Orycon 30 is my first co-chair, and I’d like to avoid turning it into a disastercon(or worse, a vaporcon.)

I’ve been working conventions since around 1980, most of them in the Chicago area, and I’ve done almost everything from gofer to running various departments, including three Chicago Worldcons. The closest I’ve come to actually running a con was the year I was co-vice chair for Windycon, but that was a fluke. I’ve seen conventions succeed both because of and in spite of the person chairing them, and the best advice I can give is to pick good people to run the various departments, then let them do their jobs. Only step in if you have to, but be prepared to assert your authority if you have to.

I may have more specific comments later, but I need to get to bed. And this weekend I’m flying to Chicago to attend a meeting of a convention where I’m running the dealers room.

Would this be better in the game room?

I’ve been tangentaly involved in Plattecon (gaming con at UW-Platteville) which just celebrated its 20th year. The only advice I have is a) ask for sessions early and often. and b) trade fliers with other nearby cons.


Is it bad that I came in here expecting a thread about confidence artists?

Don’t do it. Run. Fan organizations are dysfunctional. Fandom is full of backstabbers with nothing better to do than bitch about your hard work and feel that they should be more important. Half the volunteers don’t manage to do what they said, and now you are dropping everything to try and pull together registration the day of the con. Put your effort into doing something meaningful where more than 10% of the people participating have a clue about how to interact with others. And 5% are not frankly terrible human beings that we accept out of some sort of non-judgmental value diversity. But as much as fandom values diversity - God forbid mention that you are actually a practicing Christian or - woe of woes, an active Republican. Sure we accept Mark knowing that the ops staff has to follow him around and separate him from twelve year old girls so we don’t get sued. But we don’t accept Bill - he’s a Baptist that voted for Bush and wouldn’t be tolerant of our Poly-Pagan-Furry marriage - not that we’ve ever bothered to find out.

(I’m sure all the Dopers who have run cons are in the 5%. Some of my best friends still run cons. And Brainiac4 ran cons and I married him.)

Yeah, I have some bad feelings about cons. But my experience was the peak of the Minicon dysfunction - when it was too large, too divided, the old guard wanted their convention back and the “never trust anyone over 30s” hippies that started Minicon were in their mid-40s and convinced no one under 30 had the maturity to tie their own shoes.

Too late to run, sorry. We don’t have too much of a problem at Orycon with politics, and just a slight problem with Old Guard vs. Fresh Blood-in fact our Old Blood would gladly welcome newbies to give them a some time off for good behavior, and I’m doing what I can in that direction. There’s always the old FIAWOL(fandom is a way of life) vs. FIJAGDH(fandom is just a god damn hobby) conflict, of course. And hotel rates are skyrocketing. And committees are getting too large to meet at anybody’s house. And the more people on committee, the harder it is to schedule meetings that everyone can attend.

I’ve been running Albacon (in Albany NY – GOH this year is Anne McCaffrey*) since its beginning in 1995. The committee has had turnover, but surprisingly little over the years and we tend to work well together. I was also con chair in 2005. In addition, I handled guest relations for last year’s World Fantasy Con.

My biggest problem as con chair is that I wasn’t involved enough in fandom to get people (or new people) into all the positions. I’m most proud of the fact that we broke even – the previous year the con had moved to a new hotel and blew through the surplus we had built up the previous nine years (it was necessary, and good in the long run, but if we lost money, we’d be on the hook out of our own prockets).

First rule is to get the guests in place early. Ideally you should be able to announce your GOH at the previous years con (to push at-con sales). Also, get the word out. Send mailings to all your attendees and run parties are area cons.

Albacon was a success from the start (Albacon 96, our first, has been pointed out as an counterexample to the statement “All first-time conventions are bad”).

Make sure your department heads have a background in what they’re doing. It’s ideal to have a dealer be in charge of the dealer’s room, for instance. This worked out great for us, since he understood what dealers want. He shut down the dealer’s room early, for instance, so dealers could attend the evening events, and was able to convince other dealers to try us out. Dealers are key, especially early on, when they may be the only ones buying memberships.

Keep a tight rein on finances and don’t spend what you don’t have. It may be nice to have a full-color program book, but if the money isn’t there, do it half size black and white photocopies.

One trick: If the hotel is charging for function space, see if you can make a deal if you buy food. In other words, if they hotel wants $3000 for space, but will give you the space for free if you spend $3000 for food, then buy the food (we’ve seen this at several hotels, but it may even be worthwhile if they offer a discount on the function space). That takes care of the con suite and green room and if you provide actual meals, everyone is going to love it. Win-win-win.

*Despite our small size, we’ve managed to get some big name GOHs, including Larry Niven, Hal Clement, Terry Brooks, Mike Resnick, Lois McMaster Bujold, Peter David, and artists Rowena, Jael, Bob Eggleton, Vincent Di Fate, and Barclay Shaw.

Most of the conventions I’ve worked at recently have included in their hotel contract that they can have meetings at the hotel, usually in one of the smaller function rooms. One of the items of business at the first meeting is to schedule all future meetings in order to avoid future conflicts. Obviously, not everyone will be able to attend every meeting, but that can be worked around.

The convention I’m working for now alternates their monthly meetings between in-person at the hotel and online in a chatroom that one of our staff has set up. It’s worked out pretty well. A lot of our business is also conducted via e-mail. (Og, I wish we’d had e-mail during Chicon IV…one of our co-chairs insisted on being copied on everything that came in the mail, and since I ran the mailroom it was my responsibility to do so.)

Central con-com should be kept to department heads - department heads should be expected to come, or co-chair their department so someone comes - to EVERY meeting - however, meetings should be basically updates - department heads should be getting their jobs done ahead of time and the meetings should just be so everyone knows what is going on. When you get to department meetings, if the department themselves wants to invite all ninety six Parties volunteers to every meeting, finding a space becomes their problem. Bigger cons seem to have subcommittees that meet, then larger volunteer groups behind those that really just function at the convention. Committees should be given guidance that organizations aren’t too mobile once you have more than about ten people on a team.

Each department should have a number of objectives. One of these objectives is to document how you did it for the next year and doing a post mortem.

However, this attitude (which was not inclusive enough and far too heirarchical and corporate) was one of the things that got me in trouble.

Watching budgets is critical (another problem I had, I felt Treasury should be a far more controlled situation - we had people making huge financial committments and not understanding someone needed to pay the bill).

(Convergence did a great job of getting off the ground running as well - Minicon is back to the convention the old guard wanted and all the media fans and furries can go to Convergence - they did a lot of pre-con fundraising parties.)

Dangerosa, did you ever have problems with people confusing Minicon with would-be conrunner Rick Olney’s Mighty Mini-con?

Not that I ever heard. When I was on staff for Minicon, it was one of the oldest and largests regional SF cons - 3000 + people (plus the folks that would just show up because of the huge party - which on Saturday night meant we probably had twice the registered attendees) and had been running since the early 1970s. We took three hotels for rooms, had 24 hour a day programming. But that was fairly long ago.

Orycon is only 1500-1600 people, but we’re having a hell of a time each year getting a hotel. They built a convention center downtown, but no accompanying hotel, and the few hotels in the areas that are large enough are looking for more “upscale” conventions.

I’ve been running MusicFest, which is part of the anime convention FanimeCon, for the past four years or so. I’ve been involved in “senior staff” situations, but haven’t formally been in charge of these things.

That said, I’ve seen a decent amount on the sidelines. A lot of it has been mentioned. I noticed that, in contrast to when I was lower on the totem poll, that a lot of what’s required is management type stuff: organization, planning, and people skills. Especially people skills. The hardest thing, IMO, is staff. They’re difficult to come by, hard to maintain, and tend to be highly egotistical.

Watch out, because staff has a tendency to do business without your permission. There’s been a bunch of times where some low-level staff invites a guest or brings in a sponsorship without telling you a thing.

In that vein, be careful of the pros. We deal with industry every so often and it almost always ends up more complicated and bitter than it needs to be. Typically that’s because industry is better at what they do and have much more free time on their hands; they’ll lure a novice staffer into getting the con into bed with a mediocre sponsorship, then further coerce the staff into worse terms. I saw one company negotiate thousands of dollars in perks for themselves simply because they exhausted our staff to the point of complacency. Either be very strict when handling these types, or have a lot of resources in reserve to accommodate them. This ESPECIALLY goes with the facilities. A bad facilities contract will kill your convention, and many hotels and convention centers have no problem being jerks toward our kind of event.

There are a few resources out there, if you’re willing to go through some long reads. I’m only on the Anime Cons Mailing List ( but there’s also a SMOF list and a wiki at I’ve found a good resource are the staff and conventions around you. You can get a lot of wisdom in a chat over dinner. Just bring your BS meter and many grains of salt. :smiley:

Hello! I’ve been on senior staff for FanimeCon for going on three years now. I’d like to chime in with staff incentives. It may seem like a huge price to pay, but I feel that it’s essential to have the con running well. A disgruntled and unappreciated staffer will do less than a staffer who receives perks and feels like their work is noticed by their department heads.

I believe that’s why we’re doing as well as we do with our convention. We had approximately 11,000 attendees last year and as we keep growing, we need to find ways of showing our staff that we appreciate and require their services.

You might also want to keep into consideration how to keep your staff motivated and disciplined. Those are hard things to pin down because the different techniques vary with each convention.

Sorry if everything is jumbled and not really focused. The Nyquil is taking hold and wooo am I feeling it!

Minicon has been traditionally held Easter weekend because most hotels don’t have a lot of traffic that weekend. When Convergence came in to let the old Fen have their convention back, they picked 4th of July. A good friend of ours has been heavily involved in Con of the North (which is a gaming convention) - Brainiac4 has been on their committees - Presidents Day weekend. Older hotels are generally a better bet as well. They’d rather be booked with a bunch of Klingon speaking geeks than not be booked at all.

I’ve been involved with some small genre cons, and also CostumeCon twice, so I can’t speak much to really large cons. One key point, though…

Control the budget strictly. Have your department heads submit budgets well ahead of time. Meet with them individually and as a group to discuss so there’s give and take - does the con REALLY need the expensive fancy badge holders? Does someone else in the group know where to get the same thing cheaper? Does another department head have extra budget that could be ‘loaned over’? Also, don’t give the shop away in comps. I have seen conventions that otherwise would have broken even kill themselves financially by comping everyone and their kid brother memberships, rooms, etc. Different fandoms have different cultural expectations on this. (the CostumeCons I was involved with, staff and concom paid their own way - and got reimbursed after the con IF the con turned profit. YMMV)