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Why Run Conventions?

by James Steel

OK. So I'm preaching to the converted but why should anyone want to run a convention? The diversity of Conrunners is staggering. People you would not believe seem to be an integral part of Cons these days, and the reasons they give for having got into the habit are as different as the Conrunners themselves.

Try an experiment. Find a Conrunner, any one will do, and ask them, "Why did you decide to start running Cons?". The vast majority can tell you how they started running cons but seem to have no idea why. They tend to say things like "I just sort of drifted into it" or "it seemed a good idea at the time". A sizable minority give no answer at all and simply mumble indistinctly into their beards.

Let us divide our little group up for a moment. There are a number of overlapping categories of Conrunners and a look at their distinctive answers may give us a clue to the real reasons for Conrunning.

The Workaholic

The Workaholic is always working on at least two Cons. Most will get on as many Con committees as possible by the simple method of "not refusing". If nothing is going wrong they will feel lost and out of place.

Typical Response: "I knew someone on a Con committee who asked me to help. What do you mean why? It's just something you do".

The Zealot

Although professing an interest in the Con as a whole the Zealot will press ahead with a highly specialised programme of activities and will quickly become morose and unenthusiastic if reined back by the committee. Treat them right and you'll get a couple of fascinating items. They don't seem to care about making enemies.

Typical Response: "I saw this convention once and thought "I can do better than that"", or "What Conventions really need is a good kick up the arse".

The Enthusiast

Involved from the start this Conrunner has wonderfully exciting ideas that will really make your Con different. The catch is that the Enthusiast is incapable of getting them to work. The ideas cost three times the entire budget of the convention and nobody can be found to run them. A source of boundless energy if harnessed and of incredible damage if left alone.

Typical Response: "I had this wonderful idea for a con..." or "I don't know. This is my first time. You asked me!".

The Depressive

Although initially enthusiastic the Depressive will gradually sink into despair at the thought that the Con will be less than perfect. Every item will be a potential disaster, every event a hideously expensive white elephant. At best the Depressive will tone down a committee of enthusiasts, pointing out the pitfalls and toning down the excesses. At worst they will break the committee spirit.

Typical Response: "I was dragged into the committee kicking and screaming, they had no idea how to run that con".

The Comfy Chair

The Comfy Chair will drift gently along with the convention. They will remain balanced and happy through thick and thin, doing their best to make the Con a success with no apparent effort. Their only danger is of lulling the committee into a false sense of security. Unusually, a number will be ex-Zealots.

Typical Response: "Well, I did it for a laugh." or "I thought "What cons need is a Kick Up the Arse!" so I gave them one".

The Willing Worker

The Willing Worker will spare no energy to help. They will plan for potential disasters, they will allow for the possibility of things and people not turning up. They will try to plan a feasible programme and will work until they drop if things start to go wrong, sometimes literally.

Typical Response: "I do it for fun!" or "I don't know why I started... it was so long ago".

Too Much Too Soon Too Little Too Late

This Conrunner will get involved as quickly as they can and begin to gather jobs. They will take on any posts abandoned by others and be loathe to give any up. They end up responsible for six or seven areas of administration and proceed to work themselves into a state of nervous exhaustion. Sometimes the jobs never get done.

Typical Response: "I just sort of drifted into it." or "I own a computer you see..." or "they needed me".

The Sleeper

The Sleeper will simply fail to do things. A first people won't notice but gradually the work this Conrunner has agreed to do will mount up until finally they disappear under a mound of angry enquiries and unfinished work. They will alienate large numbers of fans with their occasional promises to "get something out" and sometimes vanish entirely with half the paperwork.

Typical Response: "Can I get back to you on that?"

The Damage Control Expert

The Expert knows eveybody. If a guest fails to show or a panel loses half its members the Expert will step in to save the day. New people will arrive from nowhere. Equipment will have been brought along just in case. Everything will appear to run smoothly on the surface and only you will know that total disaster was so narrowly avoided. Many Cons don't have one of these.

Typical Response: "I like to see things run smoothly" or "I thought I'd better get involved in XXXcon just in case!"

The Cool Calm Efficient Type

No Conrunner is like this. Some think they are!

After all this the question "Why run a Convention" is still unanswered. Is Conrunning simply one of those things you fall into? The following suggestions are just that... suggestions, as to why people really start to get involved. I have met a number of people who say they began from a sense of Altruism, "putting something back" into the Fandom that had given them so much. Others did it from curiosity about what it was like to run a Con, or from a sense of purpose, deciding that Science Fiction needed a certain type of Con. Some simply did it for the excitement.

However, I suspect that many people begin Conrunning for a sense of belonging. Conrunning has become a kind of Clique and running Cons is simply the activity that defines them. If your friends begin Conrunning then you will get sucked in too for that sense of companionship. Conrunners gather in far corners of the Wellington in London to discuss plans and examine possible problems. The Conspiracy Gophers have almost turned into a group, united by their experiences. Groups like the BECCON crowd are known through the events they are associated with. We can almost ask whether running a Con is a form of initiation ceremony into the heart of the many Fandoms. (The other way is the ever popular Fanzine route to fame and fortune.) Conrunning itself has become such a major part of SF fandom that it now seems to eclipse every other activity but professional writing. It is the ladder by which the ambitious fan becomes known and the yardstick by which many measure themselves. It has become a profession within an amateur organization.

So when you next think of running a Con ask yourself why! Are you simply trying to give other fans a good time? Is there a real reason behind your con, a thread on which you can hang the programme or an idea you need to get across? Or are you simply paying your membership dues to the club?

As for me, who said I was ever involved!


This page updated on 09 July 1999