SmofCon South 3-4 December 2016 Looking Back

Summary Document.

This is my take on a Summary Document for Smofcon South. Held 3-4 December 2016.

It may not be your idea of a Summary Document but these are mine (and others) thoughts, notes and takeaways from the sessions.

Please note, my takeaways are likely to be different from yours as I arranged the sessions, so have a slanted idea about them in the first instance.

I would like this to be a living document, if you feel you want to add anything feel free to contact us.



How is a Worldcon different from a NatCon? (What IS WSFS?) Bidding – the road so far. (Fannish Inquisition, Table manning, Parties. Smooging.)) Sequing into Perry Middlemiss on bidding. What is "expected practice" and how do we put our own (nz) spin on it?         Rose Mitchell and Perry Middlemiss Legal Stuff They will also cover DH duties.       


The first sessions on SATURDAY •merged thanks to the wonderful contributions from Rose Mitchell and Perry Middlemiss. Once they started we did not want them to stop, As former co-chairs their knowledge was invaluable.            •         


MP: Get our ducks in a row. Get a Board together, a vision statement, and legal protections in place for financial liabilities. Hire a lawyer, an accountant. Make sure we have legal advice, not anecdotal hearsay but up-to-date legal advice from retained professionals.

RY: This thing is huge (turnover around $1M). Need to think of it like a business. It's very different from the typical small NZ con where one or two people can pretty much do it all. Will need a change of mindset from those involved. It's a team sport. At a high level, there needs to be suitable governance and steering.
Each division is about as much work as a Natcon. Division heads should ask to shadow the same div head at a preceding Worldcon - they are very likely to agree and welcome you.
There will be pressure on division heads to run things in a particular way. This may run counter to accepted NZ practice. Be strong and resist this pressure!
There are many traditions in Worldcon circles. Most of them have good practical reasons behind them. Who are we upsetting, and how are we stitching ourselves up, by deviating?
The bulk of voters are US based; need to spend most time and resources on them. Like an election. For locals (NZ & maybe Aus), this is the cheapest Worldcon they will ever have the opportunity to get to - put resources into getting them to volunteer

NW: How can we make it uniquely New Zealand in flavour, without being tacky or tokenistic? I noted that the Dublin presentation started with a brief speech in Gaelic. Where are our te reo speakers?

Rose Mitchell: My takeaways were: pleasantly surprised how far along the bid planning is, what smart, dedicated peeps are involved, all highly experienced both fannish and in real life. Just a few things for New Zealand in 2020 to sort out, then get on the hustings next year.

Motivation of staff, what demotivates YOU

This was the Toaster and Grater exercise. What things irritate, not enough to make you throw your toys out of the cot but it’s like a cheese grater on your nerves and then what things make you want to ‘buy a Toaster for someone’s bathtub’.


I’ll take that as a YES.

I’ve been to lots of HR sessions, none properly address problems. This exercise brought up a lot of triggers. What really annoys one person may just be ‘meh’ to another.

Please note all the examples were brought up by attendees and were based on actual experiences.

Examples: (in no order) Misogynistic language, Secret squirrel deals (phoning up committee members after a meeting to get them to overturn a discussed and voted on, item.) Casual swearing. Assumption of guilt before facts are known. Special Snowflakes, you know people like this. You arrange an event for the long to mid future and if they haven’t been contacted PERSONALLY IN WRITING, after a few weeks, they go around telling everyone who will listen, that’s it’s all cancelled or a disaster or both. Note that they have not made any effort to check in with you or the website first. There were more. Please feel free to add to the list.


MP: Do not assume that what is a grater for some, is not a toaster for others. Now you know what these triggers are it is time to get ahead of the game. Make sure that people are aware they MUST communicate what triggers their irritation AND there must be a willingness to be open about accepting that there are triggers. Can be as simple as:

“By the way I don’t like the casual and frequent use of the F-bomb, can we save that for a REAL crisis?”

“Ok, did not know that was a problem for you but I understand, I’ll watch it.”

New Zealanders, in particular, have a reticence about speaking up about what irritates. This is why you can lose a lot of people, especially in a volunteer situation. They would rather just bow out than “make a fuss”. Set the expectations early. Your section should be a place where people can speak up if they have a problem, big or small.


Technology– what is needed? (And what is available, programmes on phones?) A discussion of what we need the technology to do leading up to the vote, during the 2 years as a seated worldcon and during AND after the Worldcon.          

Badge, Hugo, T-shirt Design


MP: Looking at examples of previous Worldcon publications and ephemera, it struck me how most of the design aesthetic was not cohesive. Someone does the cover of the conbook, someone does the badges, someone does the signage BUT very few show a readily identifiable “brand”. I feel you should be able to look at a piece of NZin2020 bumf or swag and recognise it because as well as a stylish cover or design, it should have a logo that is present in each piece.

Health and Safety. (What are RAMS and do we have to have them?)

We did not get as much time to discuss this as I would have liked. I am including the link to the form that was handed out at the time.

Risk Assessment Management System – RAMS

Use you imagination to fill out the form with all the worst case scenarios you can think of. Now write down how you are going to deal with them.

It is a fact that in a crisis people always reference the last thing they wrote down.

We have had some wonderful and generous advice and guidance about the new Health and Safety regulations that have kicked in. This means things like having signs in the lobbies of the venues clearly stating what to do in case of emergency.


MP: You guys imagined THAT? You guys worry me.


Perry Middlemiss How to Chair a Worldcon – see first session above.            

The Game. -“If I ran the Zoo.” (A team game for conrunners.)

Win or lose people points, finance resources and good will points, as you navigate your way through this roleplaying team game based on REAL events and disasters from former cons. Some names have been changed.


MP: Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. Sometimes the best thing to do is SOMETHING, - be seen to be making an EFFORT.

Walk Around Venues

Thank you to the Positively Wellington people for making this possible.   •         


This is where we had the SKYPE hookup with the Smofcon 34 in Chicago.

This actually worked reasonably well where there was clear and moderated speakers. It gave an insight into how bidding conventions are viewed overseas and allowed our fellow fen to see us as a group.

Social networking for cons (Getting the signal out) Including Communication Cross Culturally


RY: Running an international event, you need to be aware of your cultural blind spots. In other words, what do we take for granted as Kiwis that would be surprising or upsetting to foreign visitors, and how do we make for a better experience for them? This is a hard question, as many of us aren't well travelled. Much of it comes down to knowing your demographic. For example, tour operators in NZ have recently become enlightened that Chinese people culturally do not consider a meal to be a meal unless it's hot. They've had to rethink: a pack lunch as we know it is simply unsatisfactory. Putting this into our context, it's going to be important to think very carefully about our official food provision. How many of our guests are going to expect to be able to find convenient hot snacks late in the evening? Another flashpoint will be provision for special diets and judging how far we should go in working with our venues to enable this. What else? Clothing, personal space, eye contact, how we greet people. The Kiwi way of communicating and what this will mean for how we manage our volunteers - especially with department heads from overseas. It cuts both ways. What might the travelling circus do that weirds out our venues? (It wouldn't be a convention if there wasn't at least one incident.) What if somebody turns up with a pet chicken as a service animal? (Assuming they get through biosecurity... facepalm, and write it up for the Zoo Game?) Speaking of biosecurity, what else does the travelling circus need to know before they get here? How to pay in a restaurant, not tipping, where to buy alcohol, and undoubtedly other things ought to get a mention in the PRs. We all know about Drop Cover Hold; should we hold an earthquake drill in the opening ceremony? Can we even run one without scaring people onto the next plane home?




MP: You can’t do a Worldcon budget on the ‘back of an envelope’ anymore; if indeed that ever was the case. I include a link to a budget spreadsheet which shows the kind of things we would be budgeting for. This is just an exercise spreadsheet with arbitrary numbers. We need to budget for our expected attendance.

The SmofCon South Budget Worksheet that Kelly put together for SmofCon is on the Budget section of the Google site.

If you want to add numbers, then make a copy of it to your Google Drive, and you can change whatever you like.


When fans go bad at your convention and other disasters

This was kind of covered by The Game and the RAMS exercise gets you thinking about contingencies.


MP: At some point you have to acknowledge that you did all you could.

Forward Planning and Feedback


MP: Yes, we must acknowledge and think about these things BUT we also don’t want to second-guess ourselves into paralysis. Many non-profit organisations in NZ host conventions of around 2000. DO NOT OVERthink this.