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How To Start a Convention

This is an ongoing attempt to build a solid guide for anyone to start their own sci-fi, gaming or anime convention. Trae is a co-founder of No Brand Con and has over fourteen year of experience working conventions.

Also, if you like conventions, you should check out my web comic UnCONventional

Part 1: Introduction
Part 1: IntroductionOne of the questions I get asked quite a bit when I go to conventions is "How do I start my own con?" Apparently, since we managed to make No Brand Con somewhat of a success over the years, I'm supposed to know a thing or two on the subject of starting Scifi/Gaming/Anime conventions. While believing me to be the font of all convention knowledge would be a mistake, it is true that I do really know what I'm doing (at least a little) in this department.

So with that said, and my desire to no longer keep repeating myself when people ask (and you'd be surprised how often they ask) I thought I would start dedicating part of my site to the subject.
Part 2: Building an Organization
Part 2: Building an OrganizationEvery convention, big or small, starts with some sort of planning committee. This dedicated group of staffers are the core backbone to making a convention work, and if you can't get that to pull together, you aren't going to be able to run a convention. If you can pull that together though, you just might be able to pull things off.

...and have an excuse to wear matching T-shirts.
Part 3: Location, Location, Location
Part 3: Location, Location, LocationSo you've considered your assets and started building your organization. Now it's time to move on to Part 3: Finding your location. Now, this actually goes hand in hand with Part 4 (Choosing your date), and I debated long and hard as to which I would tackle first in this series. In truth, Location and Date are two things you need to figure out at the same time, but the amount of information to cover would be so imense, the article would be far too long. So, here we go.

Choosing a location requires balancing a number of factors, but for the most part it's going to boil down to suitability versus cost.
Part 4: Picking a Date
Part 4: Picking a DateIn part three of this series I talked about choosing a location, which is a fairly important step. While you're researching potential locations though, there is something you need to simultaneously keep in mind while planning your first convention: What the heck weekend are you going to put it on?

There are two factors that will dominate this decision -
1. When is the best date in contrast with other cons?
2. When is your desired location available?
Part 5: Work Other Cons
Part 5: Work Other ConsNow, ideally you're starting a convention with a bunch of veteran con staffers who know exactly what they're doing... but if that's true, then you probably aren't reading this article either.

There are some kinds of experiences you can only really get by being on the long term, year round staff of a convention. Nothing really can compare to that in truth, but unless you're really lucky, most new groups just aren't going to have that. What you'll have to settle for (and often this is what happens the most) is just having a staff that's experienced in working the convention itself.
Part 6: Beg, Borrow and Steal
Part 6: Beg, Borrow and StealMost of what we've gone through in this series has been basic logistics, from choosing a location to building and training your organization. In this installment we're going a different route. It's time to get down to the central philosophy which will help you equip your convention, get your policies in order, and make your life generally easier.

Some people say never buy anything you can rent, never rent anything you can borrow. Personally though, I've always preferred the line "Beg, Borrow and Steal."
Part 7: Fun With Advertising
Part 7: Fun With AdvertisingAt this point you may have a location and dates, but those don't do you any good if no one has ever heard of you. That's right, it's time for some crass commercialism and blatant self promotion! In this installment I'm going to talk about advertising and branding. Since you're a first year convention, it's highly unlikely that you're going to be able to put together a large advertising budget. In fact, it's highly unlikely that you'll have an advertising budget at all. That said, here's how you get the word out for as cheaply as possible.
Part 8: Staffing Structures
Part 8: Staffing StructuresIn earlier installments of "How To Start a Con" I've covered the basics of building an organization and getting them experience, but I haven't really talked about how you should actually structure said organization. In this installment then I'll talk about how to setup the structure that actually runs the convention machinery.

...or something. I can't really come up with a better metaphor right now.
Part 9: Getting Vendors
Part 9: Getting VendorsAs much as many of us like to think that our unique programming and excellent panels bring in the crowds, there are two things a lot of congoers are coming for: Guests and the Vendor Room. Since an entry on getting your guests would end up being "Find a Guest you want, invite him or her to come," we'll be covering the latter in this installment rather than the former.
Part 10: Guests
Part 10: GuestsIn my previous installment of this series, I mentioned that two things the attendees are coming for are the Vendors and Guests. While I covered Vendors in that last article, I joked that "an entry on getting your guests would end up being 'Find a Guest you want, invite him or her to come.'" Since then, I was reminded by my wife that (as I've been doing this a while) I might just be taking a few things for granted on the topic.

So here we are.
Part 11: Your Website
Part 11: Your WebsiteOne of the most powerful tools for any first year convention is the con website. It's your public face, it's going to be where most people look to find out more about you, and it's going to be your best way to communicate information to the masses.

And it's really easy to get wrong.

In this long delayed entry in starting your own con, we're going to talk about what your website needs to have, what it shouldn't have, and most importantly -- how you're going to pull it off. I'm also going to talk about social networking, and how to use it along with your website to promote your convention.
Part 12: Programming
Part 12: ProgrammingA large part of your convention, quite obviously, is the actual programming. Programming is a large category which includes major events, panels, scheduled games, demos and sponsored tournaments. Your convention's programming can honestly make or break your event, which is why this installment in How To Start a Con is going to to dedicated to this core topic.

Now there are three primary types of programming - programming put on by your staff, programming put on by your guests and programming put on by your attendees. We'll tackle these in reverse order.
Sidebar: Damage Control
Sidebar: Damage ControlThe basic inability of geek orgs to handle talking to the public isn't always super surprising, and it isn't new - but it kind of bothers me that it's still an issue. Now I'm no PR expert, and I don't claim to be the smoothest operator out there - but there are things that I think of as common sense that (for reasons beyond comprehension) seem to elude my brethren.

After any convention for instance, someone will be dissatisfied. Someone will have a complaint. Maybe this complaint is justified, maybe this complaint isn't -- but either way, if a con handles this wrong, it can be a disaster.

Trae Dorn
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