How to run a Con: The Myths

There are several myths about running conferences. Some con planners, even after having many under their belt, never get over these myths. Con planning always goes better once the planning crew gets over these.

MYTH: Planning and Running is Hard

Cons are easy to plan, but people often think it’s hard, because there’s so much to do. Somewhere between gathering staff, planning food options, workshops, schedules, covenant groups, free time activities, rules, how to deal with rule infractions, staff meetings before the con, registration processes, communication with non-staff support people, facilities management, transporting people from local train and plane and bus station, and fixing the churches broken shower which was the biggest reason you CHOSE that location… it’s easy to lose track of it all.

But to paraphrase YRUU’s favourite actor-turned-bad-acronym, “Those are what a con NEEDS… but what a Con IS… is Spiritual Community.” The biggest role of the conference planners is to set the tone and stage so that the community members can bond, and to ensure that nothing gets in the way of the community building process. No one comes to a con for the food and access to a bath. We, the Con Going public, have a communal need to be with each other in search of our Truths.

It takes attention to detail, checklists, and a willingness to get out of the way when the community turns left when you expect them to go right, but for a confident team willing to think things through, things will go smoothly.

MYTH: The Importance of The Pre-Site Meeting

Unless you’re planning the General Assembly (which I do form time to time), you do NOT need a pre-site meeting. Especially not if it costs money to operate said pre-site meeting. You are wasting your budget, and living off the backs of the people you are supposedly serving. Most of your staff can easily arrive for the Con preparation in the hours or day ahead (depending on how long/large the Con is), and understand the logistics and caveats of the selected space. I say most because it IS imperative that you have someone/sometwo people who DO have a good, working idea of the area, its resources, limitations, etc.

If your team can’t operate without a pre-site, it must:

  • Not have a good local logistics person,
  • Not trust said local logistics person, if any,
  • Be full of control freaks who are in danger of micromanaging each other into the ground
  • All of the above

Depending on the location you’ve selected, and the area your group covers, it may be very simple to DO a pre-site. In the Michigan District, we’d have many of our monthly meetings at churches, and were thus pretty familiar with several places, and quite capable of having a regular meeting and pre-site all in one. If you’re planning an event that covers upwards of 5 hours driving in any direction (ala Heartland, and in fact any district outside the Eastern seaboard), and especially something continentally, it’s overkill. Let go and have faith in your local area crew.

MYTH: The last few weeks before the con are the most important

This is a HUGE trap, and one that many inexperienced planners and groups get into often. If you don’t have a VERY clear idea of what’s going to happen 4 weeks out, pack an extra espresso machiene because you’ll need it for the extra energy you’ll extoll putting out fires. A later post will get into models and timeframes, but I’m a firm believer in starting a cons planning 6 months out.

The more you plan ahead, the more you’ll be at ease when the con happens, it’s as simple as that.

MYTH: Me and my best friend can plan this ourselves

No one thinks of everything. No two people think of everything. The Best Friends as Deans model is a tried and true method of not being best friends anymore, or at the very least being so sick of each other by the end, you both end up wallowing in lattes listening to very angry music in different coffee shops for a month afterwards, cursing each others names, families and unborn children.

Moving forward

Next installment, we’ll look at proper communication practices, before your conference even begins.

1 comment
  1. hafidha said:

    Some good advice, and I have a little bit of feedback. Nanz and I are best friends and we co-deaned Opus this year. It didn’t mean i wanted to be with her every second of the conference, but we learned a lot about ourselves and each other during the process – and now love each other even more.
    I would agree that a big presite meeting isn’t that necessary. But at least in the case of holding a conference at a site that has never been used for that conference before, I would emphasize your point that at least SEVERAL folks do a presite visit. In the case of Opus 2005 our Facilitator did not end up attending Opus and Nanz could not attend the pre-site because she fell very ill literally the day before (could not get on a plane). I was the only member of Opus staff who was not CPC or UUA staff who had seen the site. Logistically speaking, this was crucial. Trying to arrange housing without having seen the location would have been rough.
    I agree that planning a conference doesn’t need to be hard. But it requires some skills that don’t come always come easy to all of us. There is just a lot of work involved.
    Also, I tried to convince myself that no one attends a con because of the food – but there are some folks who attended Opus this year who might disagree with you on that one.

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