A continuation of Saturday's report…again, probably forgot people and events, blah blah blah…you know the routine. Before we begin, though, some singing to kick things off (the first 10 seconds…the remaining 40 seconds is just crowd noise, which may or may not be better than the singing. Thanks to Gibson Nichols for all of the video in this post.)
Sunday was the most relaxing breakdown we've had since I've been involved. Having storage space on-site until Monday allowed us to clear the function space to staging areas then regroup before the business of packing out began. It was not without its hiccups, but in all it went brilliantly. We went about the business of closing ceremonies, seeing many of our guests off, and the feedback session, then everyone collapsed into a pile somewhere to be revived only when it was time to again load a truck and get out of Dodge…
I'm really glad that I got a chance to say goodbye to theScrub Club guys before they had to take off. They were fantastic guests and seemed to really enjoy the convention—Empyre could not have match-made better when he pointed them out as music guests. Now, if only we can get them to move to Detroit…I mean, Motown would be a pretty great fit for a record label renaissance!
There were quite a few parts of this year's closing ceremonies that were notable for me. One was our inefficient method for giving out our door prize, an Ubuntu-running gaming laptop we purchased from MYTHLOGIC. After compiling the registrant list, then adding the various lists of participants in qualifying events (a very small addition…I want to make sure we do a better job of that next year), I had a numbered list of participants. I had a 10-sided die. I figured, “Hey, it's pretty compelling when the lottery shows the drawing of each number one at a time…let's do that!”
So I showed Chuck what I meant, and we enacted my clever plan.
It didn't go as planned.
It went better than planned!
Chuck rolled out the first set of numbers after a brief explanatory preamble and, as predicted, the owner of that number wasn't present. Chuck moved on, giving the person a few minutes to arrive, then rolled another number. The owner wasn't present.
No doubt feeling self-conscious (I would have), Chuck passed the die to his left and started letting the ConCom roll. Once, twice, thrice, four (fource?) times more we rolled out numbers of people that weren't present. At this point, I was doing the mental arithmetic and noting that with only about 150-200 people at the closing ceremonies and just over 1000 valid numbers, we could roll a lot of times without getting a single hit.
John Scalzi, at this point, saved us. After rolling one more time for a winner, John stood up and whipped the ineffective prize-recipient selector out into a random spot in the crowd. After the laughter settled down, John asked who in the audience had the die. A young lady held it up in the air, and Scalzi declared her the winner.
You can watch a (very dark) video of the whole event on YouTube…the final moment of selection starts around 14:40.
My favorite part of closing ceremonies, though, was the staff collaborating to give Sarah Slovik (our chair for next year) an award for basically single-handedly keeping the convention running during the 80%+ of the planning year that we found ourselves without a ConChair (or with a ConChair who was not actually chairing the con, which amounts to the same thing).
The goal had been to get Tux to give Sarah the prize on behalf of the staff and concom, however, timing interfered so Matt made sure to get the award up to her (around 4:25 in the above video). To be entirely honest here (and this is a moment of ‘how the sausage is made’ to be sure, so I apologize in advance), it was a rough year inside of programming. As head of Programming, Sarah was given marching orders that included a much more rigid manner of managing the tracks…then the chair went radio silent for many months before he finally stepped down. In absence of that, Sarah did an admirable job of continuing to try to adhere to the chair's guidance on how to run programming while simultaneously stepping up and helping make sure that the convention was even still happening.
When Trevor finally stepped down, Sarah continued to help steer the ship while trying to undo the damage that was done between the track heads and the convention…at this point, the damage was already pretty done though. Many good people were frustrated, and some are probably not going to return.
Through it all, though, Sarah was active in seeking advice as to how to fix things, sought feedback more voraciously than any department head that I've ever seen, and has earned a tremendous amount of respect among her peers that know what it means to do what she's done. I am really excited to see what she can do when given the wheel and allowed to steer for the WHOLE planning year!
I love the feedback session. Without a doubt, it is one of my favorite parts of any convention year. Who doesn't like getting a quick pat on the back after putting in thousands of hours on something? Really, a sizable percentage of what is said at the feeback session amounts to exactly that: ‘this is a thing that you did well, please do it again’ or ‘this is a thing that I enjoyed, please keep up the good work.’
Even many of the complaints are of the constructive, ‘here is a thing that I enjoyed, but here is a way to make it better’ or ‘here is a thing I didn't enjoy, please make it go away’ variety. I would say that probably 80% of the things said at the feedback session are either congratulatory or are constructive complaints. It is telling, I think, that most of the complaints that we hear are things we already know about…a reality check as to how we're doing is essential to making this a great event.
Both of these are important factors, but the main reason for my enjoyment of the feedback session is purely selfish: I love to banter with our staff, concom, and attendees. Being able to make good-natured jokes at our own expense (Shasta Cola in the ConSuite…LITHIE!) in the face of constructive criticism, explain the reasons for critiques that are generally not fix-able (the ‘infinity dollars’ that it would cost to host the ConSuite in the function space), snark at people straying off-topic or into me-too territory (like 12 total minutes of ConSuite planning committee happening mid-session), and mocking the crowd's outrageous fickleness (this year, we want a central gathering place despite two years of complaining about the central gathering space at our last venue…which is okay, because we complained about the variety at the venue before that!).
Basically, if you ever are curious who the ‘real‘ Jer is, it's the guy with the microphone joking around with friends that you could find at the feedback session for the last few years. If you want to see a thoroughly light-deficient version, you can watch the two-part video here and here. Revel in all 94 minutes of complaints, congratulations, and snark.
Load out went medium-smooth. The main convention stuff was on the truck and ready to roll by 11:30am. The ConSuite took quite a bit longer, but in fairness, there was quite a bit more to move from there (and there was considerably more sorting that had to happen). We do need to tighten that up some next year, but I think part of that can be handled by staging things differently. We have a year during which to manage that, though.
While the ConSuite sorting and load-out was going on, I met with the hotel and finalized our bill. My rough estimate of costs, as it turns out, were within $500 of our final costs; I like when my mental tally matches, it means that I was keeping track correctly. The final bill also happened to be within $250 of my budgeted guess from 18 months ago; this, however, is not skill…it was pure luck that got me that close (but I'm taking credit for it anyway).
After all of our equipment was out of the building, our rooms had been inspected out, and our business for the convention year was done, it was time to finally pack out my room and leave. I'm not prone to getting depressed all that often, but the post-convention let-down that hits immediately following managing an event this large is pretty depressing. This time it was especially bad, because I was so behind on packing up my stuff that I had an additional 30 or so minutes of just moping about the hotel room putting my stuff into bags and boxes on my own. Exhaustion plus post-event let-down equals one bummed Jer.
Now Penguicon 2013 is just around the corner! Well, it feels like it's just around the corner, considering the amount of planning that has to be put together in the next 11 months. If you'd like to get involved (or if you, like me, just want to ease your way out of the post-con funk by seeing everyone again), come to the hand-off meeting May 19th at 5pm at the Hyatt. We will be serving food and drink, doing a quick hand-off ceremony, then relaxing and having fun (and probably talking about planning more than a little).
I hope to see you there!