Kevin J. Chase (thegreyeminence) wrote,
Kevin J. Chase

Free Advice for Con Organizers

I've been to a huge number of public lectures, game conventions, and training conferences this year, and I've been consistently amazed by the seemingly obvious things that can be overlooked by the organizers and speakers.

Here are a few helpful, irate suggestions. I have seen every one of them violated within the last twelve months, sometimes more than once.

  1. Your event should have a name. One. Don't advertise one name on your Web site and a completely different name elsewhere.

  2. Your event should have a Web site. One. Don't advertise one site in half your ads and another in the rest.

  3. Your event's Web site should indicate what it is, where it is, when it is, and who it's for. None of these are optional.

  4. Your event should have a timetable. This should be on your Web site, not hiding on someone else's Web site. Score double points if you didn't even link to it.

  5. If you have timetable grid and a list of talks, they should agree on what talks are being given and when. This goes double if you require that attendees chose their talks in advance.

  6. You should not reuse last year's schedule and hope everyone who showed up last time will be there this time.

  7. You should not reuse last year's directions if you're not at that location any more.

  8. Test your facility's equipment. The shorter your talks, the less acceptable it is to sacrifice the first ten minutes of each getting the projector working.

  9. Verify that your presenters are prepared. It really is better to put a “canceled” notice in the schedule than to have a presentation that was put together the morning of the event. Doubly so if your presenter admits this to the paying customers.

  10. If most of your high-cost “Professional Track” talks are repeated for free later in the same weekend, guess which ones I'm going to attend.

  11. If your event is only open to students at your university, employees of your government agency, or is otherwise members-only, don't advertise it to the general public.

  12. I will not create yet another account and password just to buy a ticket to your event, especially if your Web site has left me unconvinced of your technical abilities.

  13. If you advertised catered lunches, don't cancel them half-way through the week because the instructor didn't like the sandwiches.

  14. If you sell tickets for an optional dinner, tell the caterers how many tickets you've sold. I recommend selling no more than the dining room can seat.


  1. Your presentation's title should say what you will be talking about. Cuteness is allowed only after this fundamental purpose has been fulfilled.

  2. No matter how good your title is, your presentation needs an abstract. This abstract should, among other things, establish that you and I mean the same thing when you say “experienced”, “advanced”, “cutting-edge”, or (ugh!) “extreme”.

  3. Odds are, the first paragraph of your abstract sucks and should be destroyed. You will know, because it will look like this:

    Professionals have long been accustomed to passé technique or product. But in the fast-paced world of year, professionals are encountering new challenges coping with abstract problem while maintaining trendy buzzword without sacrificing mission statement.

    Try this shorter equivalent:

    You don't want to hear me talk about this.

  4. Your bio should not be longer than your abstract. It certainly does not replace the abstract.

  5. Your bio exists to assure us that you can speak authoritatively about your topic. With enough errors, of grammar or of fact, your bio will convince me of exactly the opposite.

  6. Number of times you can use the prefix “cyber-” in a single paragraph: 7.

    Number of times you can use the prefix “cyber-” without looking like a complete poser: 1… if your name is William Gibson, 0 otherwise.

  7. Your presentation has a time limit. Present something that has a prayer of fitting within that limit. (I am waiting for the day I see a grand-mal triggered by a speaker fast-forwarding through his last 93 slides.)

And, since I've got the momentum…


  1. We paid to hear the speaker speak. We did not pay to hear you argue with him for half the class.

  2. If you must play a game on your laptop during the class, please do so with the sound off.

  3. “Q&A” stands for “Questions and Answers”. Questions traditionally end with a question-mark. The best can be asked in under five minutes.


Yes, I said architects, God damn it.

  1. It is utterly unacceptable to build an auditorium with all the entrances up front next to the speaker. (I have now seen four auditoriums with no way to enter late without walking in front of the presentation. Three of them were at colleges, which should have solved the one-talking-to-many problem by now.)

  2. The gap between the audience's big, comfortable chairs and their long, United-Nations-style desks should fit one average-sized human being without injury.

  3. A classic problem in theater architecture is how to build a large enclosed space without turning it into an echo chamber that would make Rush Limbaugh proud. The modern architect may choose from a number of building materials to accomplish this goal. Cinder blocks are not among them.

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