Crises and how to fix them
Remember, things will go wrong, its inevitable. No matter how hard
youve worked, no matter how much effort youve put in, something
will screw up. Be prepared to hack things about if you have to. Dont
ignore problems just because its your convention and everything should be
perfect. It wont be.
If you look for trouble and dont find it, youll be happy. If
you assume everythings fine, the problems will get worse until they
cant be ignored and possibly cant be fixed.
Six important points
- Say "Sorry"
Dont be stiff-necked about apologising
to people. If you arent prepared to admit that you, or someone else on
the committee, screwed up then you should probably give up right now. The
chairmans mantra is "it may not be my fault, but it is my
responsibility." If having you grovel is going to defuse a delicate situation,
get right down there and start eating humble pie without even considering who
was originally to blame.
- Keep calm
Its very easy to get flustered, especially
when you havent had enough sleep and someone is acting like a bloody
idiot. Dont let it get on top of you, go and get some sleep if you have
to. The con wont fall apart without you and youll be fresh and
rested for when the real crises come along.
- People want to enjoy themselves
didnt come to the con just to make a nuisance of themselves, they came to
have fun. Try and look for a solution where you can both win.
- Its not the end of the world
When you get down to
it, there are lots of things more important than fandom and running
conventions. Whatever you do, however badly you screw up, isnt really
going to matter even in a couple of weeks time. More to the point, a
single programme item falling over is not anything to worry about.
- Money solves many things
Keep a cash reserve and use it
wisely. A £50 backhander to a strategic member of the hotel staff (but
never, ever to a member of management, though you could try offering to top up
the staff Christmas fund) can fix a lot of trouble. A bottle of champagne
costing, say £20, will mollify an irate honeymoon couple who have had a
drunken fan blunder into their room (Confabulation, 1995). A £10 box of
chocolates in the right place can calm a lot of ruffled feathers. Remember,
youre not in this to make money. If youve got it, spend it where
itll make the con run happier.
- Keep control of rumours
Dont let the rumour mill get
hold of whats happening and distort it. This will only cause people to
overreact. I dont mean keeping everything secret, either. If something
goes wrong, admit it, dont conceal it. At one con, a couple of minor
thefts rapidly became inflated into rumours that the hotel was full of thieves
and that dozens of things had gone missing. A year later, people were claiming
that rooms had had their doors smashed down and been stripped of everything
inside them including the beds.
Its very easy to get into the trap of fiddling with the programme.
Someone cant make their programme item and they ask if you can reschedule
it to another slot. You do this, publicise the change and suddenly half a dozen
other people jump on you demanding that it be changed back for equally valid
reasons. If you do this, half the audience wont realise that its
back in the original timeslot and when they miss it, your name will be mud.
Remember that youve spent months massaging your programme into
shape so that there arent any clashes and so on. Whats the chance
that making a snap decision while youre tired and being hassled by people
is going to be better than months of careful planning? Pretty slim, huh?
In most cases, its easier to scare up a replacement panellist than
it is to reschedule just so one person can make it. People are far more
replaceable than time slots and the audience will usually accept a change of
panellist without griping. On the other hand, you can usually assume that every
time you reschedule an item you lose anything up to half the audience. Just
moving to another location loses maybe 10%, so if youve got the option of
changing the room take it like a shot.
If you have to reschedule, you can only do so once. After that, you
probably ought to cancel the item. If you have left empty slots in the
programme, you can consider moving to one of those, but in general its
much safer just to pull the plug than to increase the general chaos by hunting
for a slot you can swap with. Cancelling a couple of items is always
acceptable, though try not to make a habit of it. Dont get into a
situation where nobody knows whats on when or where.
Assuming you do make a change, you have to do a number of things:
- Notify all the members of all affected items. This means actively
hunting them down, not just leaving a note on the voodoo board.
- Notify Programme Ops of the exact change
- Notify Green Room, especially if there are changes in the people
appearing on the item
- Ask the Newsletter to print the change in the next issue if that will
be out before the new time
- Post a notice about the change on the notice board
- Post a notice about the change on the door of the function room that
the item should have been in
- Announce the change in the function room at the time the item was
supposed to happenits amazing how many people dont read
noticesor remind Green Room to do this.
The high-pressure, crisis-rich environment of running a convention
rapidly brings out personality clashes. Any con usually ends up with a couple
of people who arent talking to each other any more. If youre lucky,
they arent in critical positions. If youre unlucky, youre in
- Try not to put known incompatible people together. Seems obvious?
Sometimes this is harder than it looks. On one convention we went through
unbelievable contortions to keep a certain person away from a particular
- Make sure that people under stress get hugs, backrubs, regular meals,
drinks etc. Anything to stop them saying something they cant take back.
The chairman should be able to provide a comforting shoulder for anybody to cry
- Get both sides of the argument before you actually take any action.
Sometimes both sides are in the right, or the wrong, or whatever.
- Dont let people interfere in other areas unless you absolutely
have to. Many people take their assigned responsibilities very seriously and
will be terribly upset if they get the impression that they arent trusted
to do their job.
- Be tactful. Dont make things worse by being deliberately
abrasive. Theres a reason for habits like diplomacy and verbal
pleasantries, they stop people fighting and dissuade them from storming off in
high dudgeon. Fans tend to be bad at the social graces. Learn.
Dont be too quick to pull badges. Unless someone's been making a
real nuisance of themselves and you have to make an example or risk losing
control, throwing someone out your convention means you've lost. This is very
much the last resort.
People don't get enough sleep at cons. They make a mistake, shout at
someone and suddenly you've got an instant crisis on your hands. Always try and
calm things down before they get out of hand. Be careful that Security know
that they must work this way too, it's very easy for them to give the
impression of trampling over everyone's feelings, even if they aren't.
Negotiate compromises. If you have to, lie. Remember that you've got a
thousand people's happy weekend riding on this.
Remember your brilliant guest of honour and how you couldnt
understand why they had never been GoH before? This is where you discover that
everyone has been steering clear of them because they have a lousy reputation.
Unfortunately, a small proportion of people have appalling manners and every so
often you draw a short straw.
- They are the Guest of Honour, you cant chuck them out.
- Find out what they want and see if you can give it to them
- If you can't give them what they want, identify somebody who they
trust and get them to negotiate