ONCE UPON A TIME in the town where I grew up...

ONCE UPON A TIME in the town where I grew up, there was a bar by the side of the highway. There were office buildings nearby, and a playhouse, and a shiny new movie theater, and a hotel, so the bar never lacked for custom.

The drinks menu had eighty pages, and the food menu had eight. Many people celebrated their 21st birthday among friends there. There certainly were some tasty things on the drinks menu.

That was then, and long ago.

There are more offices and shops now, and two more live performance stages and another hotel, but no movies. There is still a restaurant at that address, and it has the same name, and it never lacks for custom.

And now the drinks menu has eight pages and the dinner menu has twenty-eight. The old patrons have grown up, and their children bring their kids to celebrate their 12th birthday.

There certainly are some tasty things on the dinner menu. But I remember the old drinks menu at T.G.I. Friday's as I remember anything from the Eighties.
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Little red book of conrunning #11: The back of the badge and other reg bits

A post on the art and craft of fannish volunteer-run conventions. These are my opinions and my experiences. As always, YMMV. All of these posts are available here:

I was at Ani-Jam in Fresno, in 2012 (their 7th year), and late Saturday afternoon they made an announcement over the convention center PA system. They were telling the members that if they had a one-day Saturday badge and wanted to come back tomorrow, they wouldn't have to pay the full Sunday one-day price. They could apply what they'd paid for Saturday and pay the difference as an upgrade to a full weekend membership. And two things hit me like a bucket of bricks.

First, that the policy they'd announced has been a standard registration option at many conventions I've been involved with, such as Loscon and Animé Los Angeles.

And second: in that 90-second announcement, they'd done a better job at publicizing the upgrade policy than we had ever done. If your convention has a policy like that, who's in on the secret? Is it published on the website, in the program book, on signs, on the at-con and pre-reg sign-up form? I've been thinking that a sensible thing to do would be to print the upgrade policy on the back side of the one-day badges.

There's a bunch of things that you could put on the back of the badge. Animé Los Angeles has a design that incorporates the year and the color coding used on the stripe on the front, so when the badge flips over you can still tell if it's a current badge and whether it's a full-weekend or one-day.

The Program Operations department at a number of conventions will print stickers to go on the back of the program participants' badges with their complete panel schedule. Something that I've done is print my own name labels, and when there's nothing more important on the back of the badge I can put my name there, so if it flips over you can still see who I am.

(I met someone for the first time at Sugoi-Con in Kentucky in 2007. He introduced himself, said he was on the board of directors that oversees the convention, and explained that he didn't wear a name badge because "everybody knows him." I don't think he saw the irony.)

Some conventions will print little slips with useful phone numbers and slot-punch them, so they can hang on the back of your staff badge. And if you can borrow the slot punch, that can be a convenient place to put your mag-stripe key card.

Sac-Anime in 2012 had saw some interesting uses of the space on the back of the badge. The regular attendees had a map of the facility. The staff badges had the same map, but some additional staff-only rooms were shown. And the dealers had the setup hours and operating hours of the dealers room on theirs.

A common thing I've seen is to have legalese boiler plate on the back of the badge. "This badge is the property of the convention until it's over" meaning they can take it from you if you break their rules but it's okay to keep it as a souvenir after. Or they'll have their Code of Conduct or TOS or EULA on the back, so you have them with you at all times. (I'll check my badge collection to see if I can tell you some of the conventions I've seen this at.)

Finally, if you're implementing any of these ideas, don't forget it consider whether to print it upside down or right-side up. Right-side up means it's that much harder to read the back of your own badge while you're wearing it.


Little red book of conrunning #10: Badges and Registration Ideas

A post on the art and craft of fannish volunteer-run conventions. These are my opinions and my experiences. As always, YMMV. All of these posts are available here:

Registration is a solved problem. There are multiple solutions to the problem. Comic-Con International in San Diego can register people as fast as they come off the top of a giant escalator. If you've got a "LineCon" situation where people spend a significant amount of time just to get their badge -- say, more than twenty minutes -- then you've got a problem and you should get help fixing it. This post isn't going to tell you what to do, but I will point out a number of different things people do with their Reg systems.

One common practice that can really help is to open up badge pick-up before any other scheduled events, such as on "Day Zero" during set-up for Dealers/Artists/Exhibits etc. Sometimes Worldcon will open pre-reg badge pickup a day or two before that. Even if there's a long line, there's nothing else going on that you'd be missing. I've also seen simple "MIMO" badges (or badge-sized stickers) for use during Move-In/Move-Out, where if you're setting up you can get tagged with that. (In the anime convention world, they might call it Load-Out/Load-In and use the acronym LOLI. I'm just waiting for a Disneyana convention to use LILO.) The person handing those out has a checklist of exhibitors, possibly a membership list too, and (this is key) is a long-time participant who knows most of the "usual suspects" by face and can issue the MIMO tags quickly.

Let's talk about what Loscon and Animé Los Angeles do with Reg. (And numerous other cons, for example it's often used by Worldcon. But I'm most familiar with these two.) Key to the system is having the badges pre-laminated (or produced on plastic). Issuing the badge means printing out a clear name label that goes on top. Unique badge numbers are automatically printed on the badge, along with your city if provided. And there's an option to have two lines for your name, which can be handy if you want to put your organization or affiliation or web-page or Twitter handle printed under your name.

The system gives attendees the chance to update their mailing address, and to decide at the last minute what "badge name" they want. This also means that it's automatically transgender-friendly -- it doesn't matter if the government thinks you're Walter and you're really Wendy, we can fix it when you pick up your badge. We generally don't prepare the pre-reg badges ahead of time, so any station is capable of issuing pre-reg badges.

It's deliberately set up to run on cheap laptops that aren't networked together. Each station has its own printer for the clear labels. Every computer has a copy of the database and they keep in sync via "sneakernet." Therefore, there's no danger of a network failure taking down Reg, as happened once to FanimeCon. (Which is held in Silicon Valley. Insert ironic comment here.) As Wi-Fi enabled laptops drop in price, this may change, but expect the principle of "if any computer breaks it doesn't kill Reg" to remain.

On the other hand, a networked registration system (provided you have a reliable network and good Internet connection) does make some interesting things possible. Tom Croom's WasabiCon in Florida puts up signs in their at-con registration line, saying "Pre-reg with this QR code, save five bucks, and go to the Pre-reg badge pick up line right now" and it is very successful in shortening their queues. (Tom Croom reports he saw them do something similar to Anime Expo and copied their idea, so credit to AX for some innovation.)

There are a lot of things you can do to differentiate "Staff" badges from the rest. Color-coding them, either the overall color scheme or a solid stripe at the bottom. Vertical-format "ID card" style badges, with either special art as FanimeCon does or with a mugshot photo as Gallifrey One likes to do.

At Anime Banzai in 2016 (their 12th convention), everybody got a lanyard with the convention logo on it, and Staff get a different color from everyone else. This means you can identify staff people from across the room. (Note to my friends in the sci-fi world, badge clips are rare in anime fandom -- almost all anime conventions just issue lanyards.) Also, Anime Banzai prints their staff badges with the person's name on the first line and their primary department on the second line. Brilliant.

At Animé Los Angeles they've started changing up their plastic badges, where everyone gets a preprinted colorful badge that's wide enough to hang badge ribbons from, but the Staff badges as of year 14 (this year, 2018) are three times as tall. Again, you can spot staff from across the room. They also have event hall "Backstage passes" which are conventionally sized, and which allows participants something smaller to wear when their regular badges have a hundred ribbons attached. (No, I'm not exaggerating.)

I've also seen some badge decisions that I offer as a horrible warning. FandomVerse Expo issued card-stock badges in their first year (2015), on lanyards. And people started accumulating badge ribbons, weighing it down, with the result that a lot of them ripped. Yet they still thought it was a good idea to do in their last year (2016).

Your name badge is your introduction to the rest of the members. (It's also useful as an access credential, and a souvenir. But your name is the most important thing on it.) If a convention doesn't put names on badges -- or if only some of the members get badges with names on them -- then that's an event that doesn't care about community. And if they print them, can you read them?

Bak-Anime in 2010, their first year, had vertical-format badges with the same design on both sides: the convention name (just that, no year), some art, and and all-black background. It's my opinion that not putting names on badges is bad enough, but deliberately designing the badge with no "white space" is just mean. And as someone who keeps a number of convention badges on display so I can look at them all from time to time, leaving off the year seems like an odd choice. Or maybe they use the same design every year? (I didn't go back, so I don't know.)

Anime Vegas in their fourth year (2007) had business card-sized badges on heavy cardstock that used 1/2"-by-2" name labels. (The 80-per-sheet return address labels, if you're familiar with the Avery product line.) They learned from that, and had slightly better badges next time, but they didn't include the year in the design until the year after that.

Something I've just started seeing in the last few years: Introducing yourself with your pronouns. For example, mine are he/him. Some conventions make badge ribbons available. What they did for Girl Gamer Gathering (2016) is put a 3/4"-diameter circle on the badge, and make matching circle stickers available at Registration. She/her, he/him, they/them, and blank stickers if you wanted to write in your own. It helped to normalize it -- everybody had one, it was just what you did.


Little red book of conrunning #9: Recruiting ideas

A post on the art and craft of fannish volunteer-run conventions. These are my opinions and my experiences. As always, YMMV. All of these posts are available here: </p>

Here are some ideas I've seen for recruiting new staff and volunteers. Let's start with one of the behemoths of the anime world: Anime Expo. The convention's 25 years old, their warm bodies attendance count as reported to is over a hundred thousand, and they're recruiting this weekend at an event in a La Mirada park. (Facebook event page:

This "AX 2018 Volunteer Recruitment Event" is listed on their website under the "Volunteer" page, so it's not targeted just for Facebook users. Their FB event for Saturday, 2018-03-17, says, in part:

Save the Date! We're having a volunteer recruitment event for Registration, Ticketing, Access Control, Programming Operations

More info about volunteering at AX can be found via our website:

This isn't the only recruiting/open house event I've seen Anime Expo announce this season, either. In addition to the open events on the occasional Saturday, they've got an easy-to-find entry point on their main web page. You can get to that "More info about volunteering" by following "Get Involved: Volunteer" on their home page.

There's a lot of information on their site, a fairly comprehensive application form, and in general they're hitting all of the marks I've been talking about. They have capsule descriptions for 62 named departments, with requirements and operating hours for each and what they'll do for you depending on your volunteer hours, from four to 40+. I'm going to capture what some of their pages look like so I can file them away for future reference.

Up by Salt Lake City, Anime Banzai is looking for volunteers too -- their website has a number of items that say "(XYZ) Team Needs YOU!" for their Events, Photo, Medical, and Security teams. Some of them then link to, or various Google Forms.

Something that we tried at Animé Los Angeles was a "job fair"-style recruiting meeting. We had each division represented at their own table, and had a table at the front to allow people to fill out printed or web-based application forms. I thought it went pretty well, but it is a fair amount of work to get every division represented. (Note that Anime Expo's recruiting event just covers four of their 62 departments. Probably more manageable that way.)


Little red book of conrunning #8: Recruiting and the ten-percent rule

A series of posts on the art and craft of fannish volunteer-run conventions. These are my opinions and my experiences. As always, YMMV. All of these posts are available here:

A few caveats about what I'm about to say.

This is my own opinion, about the sort of conventions I like to be involved with. They tend to have more features as they get larger. I think this applies up to about the 5000-person size of conventions, as above that you can benefit from some economies of scale.

Make a list of everyone who's making the convention happen. The directors or chair(s), the division and department heads, the assistants and seconds, the staff and the volunteers, the artists who contribute to the convention. (I like to have that list anyway, because I want to thank each of them, but that's not important right now.) Count the names.

Now consider the total number of attendees. All the unique badges issued. If one person gests a badge for being staff and a different badge for being on program, that only counts as one person, not two. Divide the first number by the second, and express it as a percentage.

I think these conventions work best when that ratio is around 10%. Eight percent to ten percent, anyway. World Science Fiction Conventions tend to have 10% or more — a brigade of volunteers, many of whom have staffed Worldcons before, and when they get to town they get moving and things happen. For most of the years I was chair of Animé Los Angeles, we were running close to 9%.

If your ratio is closer to six percent the convention can still function but you're going to start seeing a lot of burn and churn. If you're down around four percent, your convention is on life-support and fixing your recruiting and all of the other systemic problems are your top priority. Case in point, by Anime Conji's second year they were at 6% and falling and the cracks and fault lines were clearly visible.

I'd like to emphasize that I think the ratio can drop off when you get in the neighborhood of ten thousand or so. You should still be mindful of the overall numbers, though. And if your staff and volunteer numbers (possibly including hired outside contractors such as tech or security) are declining, even as your overall attendance is rising, I would view that with alarm.

Now growth patterns are wildly different in the anime convention world vs. science fiction fandom. Most anime conventions have a disconcertingly steep growth pattern to them. If your first three years you hit 600, 1300, and 1800, then you have to put a lot of care and attention into recruiting to support the convention's increase. You also have a significant task in socializing the newcomers, educating the barbarians at the gates as to the convention's norms and etiquettes. It's a wild ride.

You should always be on the lookout for good staff people.


Little red book of conrunning #7: The first time

A series of a posts on the art and craft of fannish volunteer-run conventions. These are my opinions and my experiences. As always, YMMV.

It’s always someone’s first time. For every convention, there’s someone there for their first time. And it might even be their first convention. (There’s also someone there for the last time, but you won’t know that right away. People have a limited attention span, though, so you should realize that attrition happens.)

Same goes for being a volunteer, or being on staff. There are people signing up to help who haven’t been involved before, and probably someone who’s not going to be involved anymore.

How easy is it to get your bearings the first time? A lot of first-timers will immediately take their program book and schedule out of their reg bag, and sit down to start reading it cover to cover, or at least for as long as it takes them to find something they want to stand up and go see. Do your printed materials help them to do that? If you’ve decided not to have printed materials, what do you have instead, and is it as easy to use as what it replaces?

And for people who have decided to volunteer for the first time, either at-con or premeditatedly. Can they figure out what steps they should take to be useful? What about people who want to join the staff, what should they do first to get into the system? You should also convey what volunteers and staff get. This is doubly important if those perks have changed since last year, because you should be thinking of how to let returning staff know that the deal has been altered.

Do qualified staff people get comped badges, rooms, meals, t-shirts? Do volunteers get credit towards a pass-on badge or a reimbursement? Valuable prizes?

What do you want the staffer or volunteer to do, and what do you do for them?

Little red book of conrunning #6: More thoughts about the staff roster

This is part of a series of a posts on the art and craft of fannish volunteer-run conventions. These are my opinions and my experiences. As always, YMMV.

In my previous installment, I emphasized that a complete staff roster tells you what’s happening and who are the people making things happen. And a couple of things follow from that. Not just who’s at the top, and what organization (if any) is in charge, although that can be very revealing and should be easy to keep current year-round.

The staff roster tells you if the convention is ready to announce who they’ve picked to run something they want to have. Maybe it’s someone you know and it’s an area you’d want to help with. Or, it could have no announced people and there’s a chance they might like you to take charge of it.

(Sometimes the staff list will even list subcontractors, like “Badge production: Admit One.” If you like the plastic badges the convention had, and you’re in charge of another convention, you can see who to call.)

And, of course, respect for all the people who are volunteering their time and energy. Egoboo is the coin of the realm. Recognition on the digital and printed page, that’s something you can refer back to, and it’s another way to say “thank you.”

List the names. My preference is to list people consistently. Depending on the fandom, their fan name may be how everyone knows them. (It’s amazing how many people have the same last name of “Cosplay” these days.) You want the name that they’re listed under to be how you would recognize them.

So if you’re in charge of the published staff roster, try to make it as accurate and complete as you can. I suggest putting it online as soon as you know the overall organizational structure, and fill it in as appointments and recruiting happen.

I have a few ideas about recruiting, but for now let me just say it’s important and it’s ongoing.

Little red book of conrunning #5: The most important page

This is part of an occasional series of posts on the art and craft of fannish volunteer-run conventions. These are my opinions and my experiences. As always, YMMV.

I believe the most important page on your convention website, and in your program book, is the page that lists the staff roster.

You might disagree. You might think it’s the secondmost important page. Or third, perhaps. But surely you see how many things this page does.

Who is running this event? It’s not the chair, or director or whatever title the person at the top has. They recruit the people below, they set policies and direction and articulate the vision of the convention and so forth. But I never ran the convention I was in charge of, now, did I? And it’s never just one person’s ideas and actions, either. Hundreds of staff people and volunteers ran it.

A convention is a group effort. There is no way I could have come up with all the ideas that went into it. Parent-in-tow badges? I adapted that from another convention’s “family of staff member” system. Parent’s Lounge? That was Sarah Goldberg’s “Adult Daycare” room. How to run a good Masquerade? We mostly followed the International Costumers’ Guild Guidelines. And gods bless Lindsay Tallman, 12-year Masquerade Director, for her steady stewardship and grace under pressure.

(Okay, I came up with the idea of having art benches, but they were inspired by a trip to the Los Angeles County Fair ca. 1995. And the individual artists brought them into being from their own creativity.)

So the chair recruits people, and those people recruit more staff, and they bring in their ideas and their time and energy. Listing all of the departments and divisions and tasks that needed someone to do them: that tells the world, These people make this happen.

It also tells the world, These things are happening, did you realize that?

You can look at Loscon’s staff roster and see there’s an “Ice Cream Social” department. Now you know that Loscon has such an event. Look at Baycon’s roster, they’ll mention their DIY Room. Oh, a place where you “do it yourself” — perhaps I’ll see what they do there.

Does the convention have a Handicapped Access Services department? How about Children’s Programming, or Cosplay Chess? Teapot Races? Food Truck Wrangler? The staff roster is an overview of the entire convention.

I have a few more thoughts and ideas about this, but let me reiterate for now: This is the most important page of the website and the program book.

Little red book of conrunning #4: Take care of your people

This is part of an occasional series of posts on the art and craft of fannish volunteer-run conventions. These are my opinions and my experiences. As always, YMMV.

More from HanaLena Fennel:
“For my Staffers a lot of times I'll bring reusable water bottles so they’re staying hydrated throughout the convention. Also I fill them full of candy because it's fun.”

“In addition to treating a volunteer well being the right thing to do, it also sets the tone for the convention. Volunteers who feel respected turn around and respect your attendees. They're generally more happy to be there, which creates a more successful convention experience.”

That’s a key thing. Take care of your volunteers during the event. On a convention-wide basis, I believe in providing food for the staff is important, not just so that they don’t faint from hunger, but also because it shows you care about them. I know of one department head who puts meals together for the staff of the department, so they don’t have to go across the street to pick up and use the “meal tickets.” (Cf. the UK convention scene’s Gopher Refreshment Tickets aka Groats.) And more than once through the years I’ve seen departments where a couple of different people including the dept. head will bring in things to share.

At FanimeCon in some years, the convention provides a budget to each department to cover feeding them. Some of the departments disburse the monies in the form of meal tickets that can be redeemed at the venue’s food outlets. The Operations department, however, would put together a massive take-out order each day, for example they might get Thai food one day and Mexican food another.

It’s not necessarily always about free food, though; in some situations, esp. outside of cons, it may not be as appropriate. My lovely wife Lynn was President of her genealogical society, and at the end of her term she gave the board members high-class Moleskine notebooks. I was president of a middle school PTA a couple of decades ago, and I gave them all plastic lawn flamingos.

Treat your volunteers well. If the staff enjoy being a part of the action, they’ll make the convention worth attending and they’ll come back and help you again.

Little red book of conrunning #3: Your volunteers

This is part of an occasional series of posts on the art and craft of fannish volunteer-run conventions. These are my opinions and my experiences. As always, YMMV.

HanaLena Fennel writes:
"...If somebody is volunteering their time, resources, or experience to help further your dream you need to be respectful of the gift they're giving you and actually value their contributions. If you are running something that is dependent on volunteers, you are in a position of power to sculpt their experience. If you are not honoring that, you shouldn't be in charge."

Beginning lesson: Say "Thank You." Say it early, say it often. Having a meeting? Thank the people who are giving up their afternoon to attend. Doing an end-of-the-convention dinner? Stand up and thank everyone who made it happen. And so forth.

I was founder and eleven-year chair of a convention, and most years here's what I did. I would buy a large number of small stuffed animals, usually from Ikea. I'd go around the convention with a printed copy of the staff list, and give each staff person and volunteer that I could find one of these little thank-you presents and give them a short little speech thanking them for making the convention happen.

And then, after the convention, once we'd compiled a complete list of everyone who'd been on staff or had volunteered for an hour or more, I would hand-write a letter to each of them. I'd thank them for the thing they helped with, and mail it off. I set myself a goal of completing and mailing at least six a day. It might take two or three months, but everyone would get a thank-you.

They made the convention happen. The least I can do is thank them for it!

(I did say these were my opinions and experiences. I'm not saying that if you're in charge of a department, or a convention, or are organizing a bunch of donations, that you have to thank them the way that I did. But you better be doing something to live up to HanaLena's charge!)