27 November 2009

The Right Convention, Part II

Let me begin by hoping that everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I am well aware that in this day and age, the holiday often gets lost in the pre-Christmas shuffle of Black Friday sales, advertising and a general sense of "let's just hurry along to the shopping season", but it is definitely important to remember that this, like any holiday, should revolve more around family and remembering what we are thankful for, rather than preparing for spending money. That said, I did partake of one of the Black Friday specials and got a new portable hard drive, as my current one is running low on space (48 gigs left I think) and I use it to backup all my data files and memory from my Mac. Plus it is also home to the majority of my anime collection, which is all fansubbed. I'd hate to need to delete a series or two to make room for new ones.

OK, so last time I checked in, before AUSA hit me like a ton of bricks, I was giving advice on choosing the right convention. I mentioned about space, location and cost, three main factors in selecting where you are planning to spend your weekend. Indeed, nobody likes cramped spaces, high prices and lack of outside things to do. These often form the core of the convention experience, especially for those people who choose to use the con as a way to escape from the world and see new places. This time I would like to comment on two of the most listed critical aspects of cons: programming and organization.

Unlike location and cost, programming and organization are the hallmarks of any convention. Often, a convention's success revolves around what going on, and who's setting it up. Bad programming will always lead to dissatisfied congoers. Bad organization can lead to worse. Allow me to extrapolate.
I previously mentioned that I attend cons not for panels, but for friends. This desire has its roots in Nekocon 2007, by all means a smaller con. If Neko had any flaws that year, it was the lack of things to do. There were not a lot of panels to attend, not a lot of workshops to participate in, not a lot of viewings that grabbed my interest. So, rather than sit in a room and be bored, I took time to explore. This is a common theme among congoers: lack of interesting programming will lead to bored attendees. Another example revolves around another con I attended with my girlfriend: she is an artist, but this convention had a very large lack of art and art related panels. The programming schedule was packed each day, with many different panels and workshops, but none of them seemed to revolve around art, with the exception of a "have an artist critique your work," which I believe was on a Friday morning. SO, while the convention had more to do than the last one we attended together, it did not pay attention to one of the things she liked going for.
This is my next bit of advice for congoers: check your programming guide. A lot of cons will have them posted long before the con weekend, so unless you have pre-registered for attendance, you can use this time to see exactly what you want to do over the course of the weekend.

Second only to lack of programming, organization and staff are the next major area of criticism echoed by attendees. This criticism, however, seems to flow from a lack of understanding. Many of my participants have complained about the strict rules, nonsensical policies and "attitudes" of the staff. I, personally, have never had issues with staff members, and I have never really been annoyed by certain rules (one exception: at a con I attended last year, a rather rude staff member told me I would have to walk a mile back to my hotel to drop off my Zangetsu before I could go into the dealer's room. End result, I never went to the dealer's room. I know this particular staffer offended a lot of people, not by what he was saying, but by the manner he said it. I also know from contacts that that year's DR was not very profitable for the vendors. On a related note, at some poijt during the rave I needed to get into contact with one of my friends urgently, as there was a medical crisis in the room. I saw him across the floor of the rave and began to run to him when another rude staffer told me that I could not pass through that area. When I explained it was a medical emergency and I needed to get to him, the staffer plainly told me he did not care and to go the long way around. I, of course, lost track of him in the rave. When I told this to the staffer, he said that it was not his problem. Needless to say, I reported him to the con chair and he was not working the con this year). The reason i say this is about lack of understanding is that many attendees do not know what goes into running a convention.

Wile it may be easy to blame staff for poor organization (and admittedly, sometimes there is some truly BAD organization) it should be pointed out that conventions have to make do with what they have. Much like when there is a sudden location change or a cancellation, organizers are on a constant watch to try to keep things running smoothly. WHile it can be tempting to blame them for last second programming changes, such criticisms are often armchair quarterbacking: you can't know about contingencies until you need to implement one.

The same goes for rules. This year a lot of congoers were grumbling about "No Signs" and "No Masks" policies at cons in the Virginia area. I know it irked me because the majority of my research needed to be conducted via signs. After speaking with security staffers at several cons, I learned that the reasoning for these policies came from a law in Virginia that stated that any kind of "Free Hugs" signs counted as solicitation for prostitution. That said, some of the cons were looking the other way, as long as the sign did not contain explicit or vulgar wording. The problem is, many of the congoers did not know this, especially if they were traveling there out of state. So, of course, they blamed the organization for bad rules. Admittedly, It would have made more sense to actually state in the programs why signs and masks were verboten, but hindsight is always 20/20.

SO, my next bit of advice is this: Check with the con rules, regulations and message boards before you choose to attend. If there is a policy you are not fond of, find out why it is there, and find a way to plan around it. Make sure you have something to do while you're there in case a panel gets cancelled or a guest doesn't show up. This way you can at least be prepared in the inevitable event that programming goes awry.

So, I guess that's it for choosing the right convention. Scouting is a plus, knowing the area saves you stress, and knowing the convention insures that you can always find something to do. These tips are invaluable for choosing your first convention, as well as for choosing a new one should you want to attend more. I know there is more to say than this, so my next entry will be a more lighthearted one about things to know once you have chosen the con.

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