We had an introduction to SFF cons in part 01, now I’ll talk about things you might find at a ‘typical’ con.
Cons usually feature several Guests of Honor (GOH‘s). One or more authors top the list, but cons will invite GOH’s to support their other tracks as well. These often include science, literature, art, computing, game design, music (filk), and fandom. The GOH’s help bring a focus to the programming, and they’re kept busy participating in panels and discussions.
A con is usually a weekend event, starting on Friday afternoon, and ending sometime on Sunday afternoon. Fans sometimes drive an hour or two to attend, so scheduling is often light at the start and end of the con. Opening ceremonies start at 7 or 8, and Sunday may end with a closing ceremony, feedback session, and “dead dog party” (for those who don’t need to get home, and can’t bear to leave the con.)
As developing authors, the panels and workshops are our focus. Eventually we’d like to participate in these, but it’s a good idea to attend at least one con to see how they work. A few are powerpoint lectures done by one person- I usually see these done by the science guest of honor or a DIY presenter, who might do “10 Amazing New Things in the Field of Biotech” or “Make your own Japanese-style chainmaille.” In general though, it’s more interesting to hear more than one perspective, so two people may team up to do the same sort of program. (The purple sheet in the above photo is the Saturday schedule for Penguicon 2015. Each column is for a room- 21 rooms running concurrent programs!)
Most of the programs are panel discussions, with 4 to 6 participants. The goal of these is to be interesting and entertaining. Ideally, the moderator will keep things on track, give all the panelists a chance to talk, and keep things lively. At the end, there’s usually a short time for audience questions, and discussions can move to the hallway or other social space after.
You can also find open discussions and ‘birds of a feather’ sessions. These can run the gamut from a “Stitch ‘n Bitch”, where people work on their sewing projects and chat, to “Economics and Social Justice in Equestria” or “Python Programmers Talk About How to Get Things Done”.
Generally the panels slow down about 7 or 8 in the evening, replaced by a masquerade ball, geek prom, concerts, jam sessions, and other miscellany. At some cons, programming can continue around the clock, with adult-themed panels and workshops at 3 am! ( If a con has beyond-PG sessions, they check ID’s at the door, and they’re also strict about serving alcohol.)
We’ll talk more about con programming and features in part 3!