Ian asked me to make a contribution to Conrunner because I happen to be the organiser of what Rog Peyton calls "not another mindless media con" - despite the fact that he was one of the people who talked me into running it! Well, it doesn't matter to me what people say about media fans as long as we're having a good time, raising money for charity and not annoying anyone! After a brief moment of indecision about which particular conrunning bugbear was the most important - i.e. the least "improvisable" as it were - I realised that it was past time something was done about stewarding, so I'm going to offer a few gems of wisdom on that theme.
First and possibly most importantly: the committee member responsible for stewarding (or the head steward if the two are separate entities) is not superhuman. He (or she, but I'll follow excellent precedent and make him male) needs to eat, sleep, go to the loo, speak to his friends, go away into a quiet place and scream etc. In short, he cannot supervise stewarding from the pre-breakfast setting up to the last corridor patrol, and he must have a deputy - preferably someone who is equally trustworthy and who, but for outside considerations, would himself have been given the job. These two must dovetail their working hours so that one of them is always available. If they are solving problems together (unless it's a major crises) then one of them is in the wrong place.
Secondly, the stewarding schedule must be worked out meticulously in advance and copies must be available for all committee members. In theory the individual steward only needs to know his own duties for which he turns up at the appointed time, but in the case of duty exchanges being necessary it's useful for him to know what his friends are doing so that they can arrange swaps amongst themselves. It goes without saying that the stewarding information must be clear and only capable of a single interpretation, and must also have the quality of flexibility if required.
Don't forget incidentals like auction runners, stewards for autograph sessions, spare stewards in the main hall and at the muster for the costume parade. There are various methods of working out your stewarding plan, usually based on a time/room grid. We posted a very large copy of this in a central place so that the committee/ stewards could refer to it, and gave each steward a list of his own duties together with a special information pack.
Thirdly, efficiency. By offering a supersteward prize we inspired extra enthusiasm in many stewards, but that didn't solve the problem of stewards who plain didn't turn up or who refused to help in an emergency. If anyone has suggestions about a remedy (bust them to the ranks? Firing squad?) please let me know, as I've spent the last twenty four hours running round covering for absent stewards at a con where I'm supposed to be a mere attendee. (I was promoted to the security team within moments of arriving and yesterday I did a twelve hour shift that ended at 2 a.m. and had to fight off drunks on the way home. Too much.) Anyway, someone must check changeovers and stewards who are not relieved at the appropriate time must send word to the head steward or other suitable person so a replacement can be found.
Volunteers for extra duties are usually recruited on a "you, you and you" basis and this is often cheerfully accepted. However, all stewards should be warned that they may be needed for extra unscheduled work and they should be willing to accept this. After all, the price for stewarding privileges (reserved seats, steward's party etc) is measured in blood, sweat and tedium! "I've just done three hours in the Art Room" is a good excuse. "I'm just going shopping" is not. Alternatively stewards should let the committee know if they are available for extra duties and where they will be if required.
All this said, the burden still seems to fall on a core of reliable "old hands" which makes it very unfair on any of them who may happen to have other plans for the weekend. There's no satisfactory way of thanking those who make this kind of contribution - or those who are urgently recruited into the ranks to cover gaps in the head steward's grand scheme. Equally there is no way to exact retribution on stewards who shirk their responsibilities - shouting at them may relieve the immediate tension but has detrimental effects on the morale of the con as a whole.
Stewarding ought to be simple, but it's the biggest headache and often the worst muddle of any con. I'd be interested to hear how SF conventions cope and if they have anything to teach us on the subject.
Now, you must excuse me... I have to go back on duty.