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How a Guest Likes to Be Treated

Mat Irvine

I suppose I don't really think of myself as a "guest" at cons, I've been to so many now that most people at them are old friends. However, the recent article in Conrunner 2 by John Brunner "On the Care and Feeding of a Guest of Honour", did strike a few chords, and I thought I might add a few comments of my own.

Firstly, I should point out that the majority of what follows is not neccessarily how I like to be treated as a guest, but rather on how I feel any guest, especially one new to conventions, should be treated.

Adequate information on the theme behind the con; the venue; the numbers expected and all those sorts of details help the guest to prepare him/herself. (From now on I will emulate John Brunner and stick to the male pronoun for convenience!) There are a number of cons I've arrived at not really sure of what to expect. Yes, I know I could ask, but really a guest shouldn't have to ask. Many convention committees prepare Progress Reports for their attendees, and it's quite a sensible move to ensure your guests receive them as well.

Having set the scene the next point is the nitty-gritty one of MONEY. As most, if not all conventions in this country at least, are staged on a non-profit making basis, with any proceeds that are in the black going to charity, no potential guest that I could imagine, is going to demand a fee. However, there is no reason why he should be out of pocket, and your guest should be notified in advance exactly what the convention is prepared to pay in the way of expenses. Personally I'd love to do it for free, but I'm not rich enough! This business of expenses will also include travel, and in addition, if the guest is not prepared to find his own way there, it's only courtesy to offer a lift, or at least ensure that he can get from station to hotel. Admittedly, anyone who invites me doesn't have that much bother as I invariably arrive with an entourage of slides, models and dog which do need me to drive them to the venue. (However, I do appreciate a parking place.)

I realise that some guests will possibly be getting publicity out of a con; authors especially, but I still feel that full expenses should be offered, even paying full expenses you should still get good value out of your average guest. In the big bad commercial world of conferences, guest speakers can command a high fee - as well as expenses.

It is a good idea to discuss with your guest exactly - or even roughly - what is expected of them before they arrive. This admittely applies more to new guests rather than old hands at the game who will invariably fit in with any situation. Having "filled in" for half an hour at absolutely no notice, and assembled a cabaret act in not much more, I'm well aware that once in situ, you go along with the flow.

Any special requirements that a guest might need sould also be noted, and here I do emphasise that I'm hinking of such items as slide projectors and the like!

So, with all this preparation your guest should arrive at the correct hotel (a map could help here), at the correct time, with any appropriate paraphenalia he might need. At this stage it's not a bad idea to make sure that someone's on the look-out and who knows who the guest is. I did arrive at a con to be met with "have you booked?", though admittedly this was only once. I will also echo the comment John Brunner made about registration and explaining to the management that certain rooms will be paid for by the convention, so not to ask for payment in advance. (This is a growing habit with hotels, which, although I suppose it is understandable, I cannot say I particularly like).

Having arrived your guest might have one of several preferences. If the journey's been long and arduous, the safest bet is to allow him to rest quietly for a reasonable time before unleashing the body of the con. This will vary, though, and some will quite happily be led to the bar and a quick reviving drink. Personally, I always like to be introduced to as many of the committee as practical as early as possible, as, although I will probably already know many, there will always be new faces, and they need not neccessarily know what I look like! I don't on principle like badges of any sort, though at a con I suppose they are a good idea, especially if the ones the committee wear are a distinguishing colour. I was asked recently whether I approved of the idea of having a "minder" at the con, or for that matter, whether I thought any guest would, and overall I think that it probably is a good idea to assign a particular member of the committee to "look after" one particular guest. Practicalities dictate that they need not be at their elbow for the entire con, presumably they have to sleep sometime, but at a period coming up to the guest's spot in the programme and at times during the "working" day, it's helpful for the guest to be able to relatively easily turn to someone for any queries. The minder should then know immediately exactly what is happening at any one time, and here this does bring me to what is perhaps the most important factor in any convention: it's absolutely vital that the committee is aware at all times who is doing what, which way up and to whom, for if they don't, who will! There have been some cons I've attended where some committee members haven't been totally informed as to all the moves, which doesn't help if a guest wants an answer to a question.

Rule 1 - Committees, get your act together first and everything else will fall into place.

My personal Rule 2 in any convention organisation is that it is vital to ensure that enough time is left between events. There is nothing worse than trying to get one lot of audience out, while anothe lot are trying to get in, or that a film in a completely different part of the hotel has started, but a panel is still taking place. I know it's easy for me to say this, but I have organised events myself in the past and I do regard it as being extremely important for everyone's sake - attendees, committee and guests alike.

With regard to the possible problem of food and drink, I think it is perfectly reasonable to ensure that your guest is adequately fed during his stay, and this should automatically apply to any spouse, companion or whoever accompanying. It still should mean that the overall bill is well within tolerances. There is the possibility of a guest abusing this, especially on the drink side, but I feel that this has to be crossed when it arrives, but I think it will be rare. As John Brunner commented, the offending person would probably not find himself invited to many cons in the future - the grapevine's pretty good. On a personal note, I invariably find myself overfed at cons, and with regard to the grape, I find that it's almost embarrassing that most people are only too willing to buy you a drink - I do emphasise I usually accept to be polite.

At this point I should really mention not how a guest expects to be treated at a con, but what he expects to do in return. Here I can only refer to myself as an example. Usually I find I'm asked to attend the con to do one particular talk, invariably, as it's my field, on special efects and models. However, once I'm at a con, and I'm assuming here I'm there for the majority of the time, and haven't just arrived to do this one event, I do expect to be used in whatever way the convention feels fit and within the bounds of decency! Judging art competitions, fashion shows and drama contests are all things an average guest would probably be only too delighted and willing to participate in. Plus, of course, panels, signing sessions and general chat. Personally, one thing I don't wish to happen at conventions is to be protected from the main body of the convention. If I'm there, and people want to talk and exchange ideas, that's what I'm there for. Obviously, I'm going to need a break at some point, but I don't like hard and fast rules to say that "I'll only do one hour here, one hour there" etc. With most cons I've found that they find their own level, and that usually works out fine. If it gets particularly exhausting I can always retreat to my own hotel room. I can appreciate the point John Brunner made about allowing adequate time for the guest to perhaps do a bit of sightseeing, particularly if the venue is somewhere new, though invariably I find that once arrived at a con I tend to stay there until I leave. Hopefully that's because all the cons I've guested at have been so interesting.


This page updated on 09 July 1999