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RonO's Ramblings

Nov. 3rd, 2009 08:23 am Musings on Con Scheduling

My mind has been digesting a discussion on the e-mail list where the people who often do a lot of work at Worldcon and other similar events hang out about scheduling of programming and key programming items.

Now, I've never tried to schedule or set up programming for any convention of significant size. (My one experience was for a con that never got off the ground, nor got to the point where we were actually trying to program our one track). So I'm talking without any experience, but here is how I might (in very broad strokes) schedule a Worldcon sized event -- that is a 3000-6000 person convention that runs over 5 days, with the first and last day being only half-days.

The first day, have only some activities open before noon or 1:00pm. These would include registration, and possibly children's programming, child care (two different things), and possibly the con suite. Dealer's room, art show and other related exhibits could be opened as long as there was sufficient time to set them up.

I would then gradually start programming in the afternoon. Probably only a few tracks going before 3:00, and then full tracks going until 5:00.

The last day would be similar but reversed, with full programming from 10:00 until 1:00 or so, and then a few key items against Closing Ceremonies.

On the middle days, I'd program fairly fully from about 10:00 until 5:00, with about a half-load or less from 5:00 until midnight or later. Much of this would depend on facilities and access. I'd also try to have special events each evening probably starting at 7:00 or 8:00, with even fewer main programming items against them. Evening events would include Opening Ceremonies, Guest of Honor special presentations (possibly all serially in the same evening, if there was enough time), the masquerade, and The Hugo Awards for a Worldcon.

Alternate programming, such as gaming, visual media programming, filk concerts and panels, etc., would make up the bulk of the programming against the major events. Children's programming and child care would probably need to run during these hours as well.

As far as how long to schedule panels, I might do what was done in 2005 in Glasgow by having a mix of 75 minute and 20 minute panel slots, and possibly have some 50 minute slots first thing in the morning and in the evening. One thing I would make very sure to emphasize is that the panels do not run back to back. If the start time is one hour apart, the panels are 50 minutes, and if it is an hour-and-a-half between panels, the panels themselves run 75 minutes. At a large event there needs to be time for both panelists and audience members to move from room to room between panels.

Of course, as I said, I've never actually done anything like this, so I'm probably just talking out of my hat.

5 comments - Leave a commentPrevious Entry Share Next Entry


Date:November 3rd, 2009 04:45 pm (UTC)
The challenge with the changeover time is that I've found that most of the time, if you don't have someone in the room explicitly telling people to stop at :50 (for example), they'll run right up to the top of the hour no matter what you printed in the schedule. With a handful of exceptions (usually moderators who have run programming themselves), people are simply too rude/inconsiderate/clueless to pay attention to the time and wind things up, and they simply don't care about the next group after them. So program operations needs to actively intervene with polite stop signs of some sort.
Date:November 3rd, 2009 06:50 pm (UTC)
I agree that it requires someone to stop the panels, or panelists will go on.

There have been a couple of times I've been on a panel and had to kick the previous panel out after my panel's start time, and then have people trying to kick us out before our stop time.

Should my role in a future Worldcon consist of running Programming Operations (or at least being senior in that department), I'll do my darnedest to make sure that stop signs are deployed to as many panels as possible. Alas, that my require press-ganging my family if other volunteers are short.
Date:November 3rd, 2009 07:06 pm (UTC)
The standard suggestion on this -- rarely followed, but it's a good one -- is to make sure that there is a clock prominently visible to the head table in every room, either by mounting on the back wall or by putting a small clock on the head table itself. I've been at a few conventions that did this. Personally, I take off my watch and set it in front of me when I'm moderating a panel, which makes it less obvious that I'm clock-watching and trying to pace the panel.
Date:November 3rd, 2009 08:28 pm (UTC)
I can see a mix of 1, 1.5, and 2-hour (minus break times) panels/slots, but I can't see the point of the shorter slots. It seems to me that if an idea isn't worth a full hour, it probably shouldn't be done on its own, at even a DucKon-sized convention, much less a ginormous beast like Worldcon. It *might* work at a very small/intimate convention, where the potential audience and venue are both small, so you can move people in and out quickly, but I'd be leery. Do you have some particular type of panel in mind for short slots.

As a Publications person, the idea gives me the heebie-jeebies from another point of view. Think of the grid, man; think of the grid! Are you going to have a mix of long and short panels in most rooms? That means every bloody slot on the grid needs to be sized so you can present at least the title in a half-hour-sized box. I don't wanna draw that one out! It's a recipe for madness. Even aside from the grid, I can see this making the job of room allocation crazy.

Capricon tried, IIRC, 1.5-hour panels this year. The problem was, they didn't all start/stop on the same point - so you had a couple panels starting at 9:00, some more at 9:30, and another at 10:00. And staggered like that thoughout the day. From what I saw the fen were not amused - a lot of times the panels people wanted had a half-hour overlap, so you had to miss either the last third of the first, or the first third of the next. The more panel lengths you have, the more complex the problems like this become (although you can simplify it by not doing staggered starts).

Another thought, the disruption to neighboring rooms could be . . . ugly. Think of adjacent rooms running a 2-hour panel and a series of 1/2-hour panels. That means three times during room A's program you get the noise of a room change in room B.

Now, the one place where short slots make some sense is film/anime rooms, because the slot length is being dictatied by the media - even there, though, the Programming person should be working with set time blocks of a half-hour.
Date:November 4th, 2009 02:25 am (UTC)
When they did the short panels at Interaction, they were used for things that didn't really need a full slot. They also kept it to a couple of rooms and at the same time.

If I were programming the con, with the possible exception of extra-short programing items, I'd try to keep panels of the same length at the same time. Just throwing some times out I might have slots start at:
9:00, 10:00, 11:30, 1:00, 2:30, 4:00, 5:30, 7:00, 8:00, 9:00

and then only overlap panels when necessary (like having big events run from 8:00pm until they are done)

Making the programming grid readable is also an important thing (albeit just having a grid would have been an improvement this year).