It’s strange to see your home continuum through the eyes of strangers. MeetingNews.com, the online version of semi-venerable Meeting News magazine, has run an article—The Science Of Unconventional Planning—about the annual World Science Fiction Convention.
It’s not your usual Worldcon writeup. Forget surface weirdness like hall costumes and skiffy slang; what fascinates Meeting News is the really strange thing about the Worldcon, which is how it’s run. Nobody else does it the way we do:
What makes the World Science Fiction Society’s annual convention seem other-worldly isn’t so much the guys walking around dressed like Klingons as the way the event is organized. Despite some unconventional planning, the society presents a compelling value proposition to destinations—and as it happens, perhaps some lessons to planners of more conventional events.They noticed! That’s so cool.
What’s so unconventional? First, nothing pleases organizers of the World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon, more than scheduling the international meeting over what planner Ben Yalow calls “rotten dates”—Labor Day weekend.
Second, the legal entity organizing the convention changes practically every year—the society owns only the Worldcon name—not a move that normally instills confidence in suppliers that might need to seek legal recourse for nonperformance.
Third, the convention, which draws about 5,500 people, including upward of 700 presenters and 300 exhibitors, is organized completely by some 500 volunteers, except for suppliers such as printers and show decorators.
Other conventions and gatherings hire professional meeting planners to organize their events. That makes the whole proposition a lot more expensive. I’m startled every time I see the membership rates for non-fannish conventions.
I hadn’t previously known that fandom is part of the “SMERF market” —social, military, educational, religious, and fraternal groups. As I understand it, the hotel industry would normally be skittish about dealing with us because each Worldcon is run by its own separate organizing committee that’s incorporated solely to put on that Worldcon. On the other hand, we have a consistent profile from year to year, a sixty-year history of paying our bills, and are actually a well-behaved bunch.
Ben Yalow once told me once that the hoteliers have a dossier on us that goes back a long way. The organization putting on the Worldcon may change every year, but they know who they’re dealing with just the same. Short version of our rep with the industry, as strained through my memory of a long-ago conversation: “Yes, the fans in hall costumes look weird, but they’re harmless. Basically, what we do is fill our bathtubs with ice, drink every available can of soda in the state and maybe in the contiguous states, depending on where we are that year, and sit up until four in the morning talking.” Ben said they have us profiled in enough detail that they know the people who spend the whole convention sitting in the bar are the pros.
Er, yeah, that would be us. It’s nice to find out that Meeting News thinks being us is a good thing:
However much science fiction enthusiasts may appear to have their heads in the clouds—or indeed the stars—Worldcon organizers are meticulous in their attention to detail, and not only when it comes to negotiating hotel room rates.And:
Worldcon organizers are perhaps even more experienced than some may realize. When it comes to back-end administration, they pioneered computerized meetings management.And, talking about the Labor Day 2002 Worldcon in San Jose:
Beginning in the late ’70s, computer programmers in the science fiction community modified commercially available database software to create programs for managing registration, rooming lists and presentations. And they communicated via email long before most people had ever heard of the Internet.
“In science fiction, we’ve always had a high number of computer programmers and other people involved in science,” said Yalow. “We have a big pool of knowledgeable people to draw upon.”
“It ended up being a cool group for the city,” said the CVB’s Ponton, referring not only to the convention activities but also to the cool $9.8 million Worldcon poured into San Jose.From time to time I fall into thinking that non-SF types must be as much slicker than we are in their operations as they are in their appearance. There’s no reason for it; just cultural cringe. It’s nice to be reassured.
“The perception of that kind of group, science fiction, is people dressed like Mr. Spock, with pointed ears,” said Ponton. “But their money is just as good as suit-and-tie business meetings. They were lovely to work with, and it was a positive experience for everyone. We’ve asked them to come back.”
Additional crunchy goodness
Meeting News also did a sidebar article on Ben Yalow himself. It’s way too short, but yay rah Ben all the same.