The local fandom scene is wonderful in many ways, and that was reflected in much of what I saw at the con. The cosplays were fantastic; vendors, staff, and my fellow patrons were on the whole delightful; and I came home with a ton of local art.
I would like to say that Nina's Q-and-A was the high point of my entire day. She was brilliant and incredibly gracious, patient with the audience even when we were frustrating (or in the case of one kiddo, screaming directly into the microphone).
So I would like to say the Q-and-A was the high point of my day... but I can't say that. Frankly, I spent much of that time feeling second-hand embarrassment that the headlining guest was treated to such a ludicrous display during her brief time here.
Not only that, but many ticketholders didn't actually get what they paid for. I for one paid for a package that included a "professional photo" - and it's a testament to how many things went wrong, that I was so upset and unsettled the whole day I didn't even notice that there was no companion-package photo station at the site until I saw other unsatisfied patrons bring it up.
All-in-all, I had a terrible time at Time Lord Fest. And I know I'm not the only one.
Before I say more, I want to make it clear that I know and like Ken Spivey. I'm sure he worked his ass off to make this convention happen, and I appreciate the hell out of that. To quote someone who wrote publicly on the Time Lord Fest facebook event page, "You took on a big project and... It's not easy to do what you have pulled off."
I elided one part of that person's quote with ellipses, because I disagree with what they said: that you "handled it very well."
I'm not just talking about making sure the badges arrive before the convention starts, or separating the vendors from the stages to reduce crossover noise, or providing better signage, maps, information sheets, and/or announcements so that people know where everything is and how to get to it. Not to say those things aren't important, but those are details. I want to talk about the bigger picture, and that necessarily involves talking about Ken Spivey.
I'm going to switch to the second person for a little bit, as if I'm addressing Ken Spivey himself, because frankly I hope I am. I hope you're reading this, Ken. I believe you want Time Lord Fest to be the best con it can be. and I believe one of the best ways to recognize those areas that need improvement is from listening to critical feedback.
I'm not writing this to "be negative" for the sake of "being negative". I'm writing this to provide constructive criticism in the hopes that your future conventions, of which I hope there are many, could be better than what I saw yesterday.
Nina's Q-and-A was held in the room listed as the "Ken Spivey Presents:" ballroom, which is the biggest room and essentially the main stage. I only attended one other panel in this room (plus the end-of-event concert - more on that later) and Ken Spivey sat on both of those events at the head table in the role of MC/moderator.
Unfortunately, it seems as though Ken was simultaneously taking on the role of volunteer coordinator and social media coordinator, as he was on his phone constantly throughout both events. He did explain, as politely as one person doing the work of three people could possibly do, that he was on his phone in order to take care of convention business.
The problem is, one person cannot do the work of three people simultaneously. Trying to make one butt fit in two seats mean that both are inevitably going to get half-assed... and the more seats you're trying to fill, the worse any one person can be at covering all of it.
This lack of coverage manifested in lots of ways. In the first panel about women in the show and the fandom, I watched two panelists basically take over, leaving two others mostly out of the loop and struggling to get a sentence out - something an attentive moderator would have caught immediately and fixed as a matter of course. At both panels I saw announcements blurted out at inappropriate moments, interrupting panelists and patrons alike - something a well-prepared MC would have incorporated into the beginning and ending of each panel as a natural transition. I saw stage shows and panels pause to wait for the host to call over a volunteer to give them instructions or cue them into action - something a volunteer coordinator could manage behind the scenes (or at least adjacent to the scenes), allowing the main events to flow smoothly.
Each time I saw something like this happen, I cringed a little bit on your behalf, Ken. Because I've seen you masterfully lead a panel. Hell, I've sat on panels that you've led, and I've been glad to do it. And if that were the end of it, I probably wouldn't have written this, because I hope that some or all of this stuff came up (or will come up) during your post-con debriefing process.
But what happened at Nina's Q-and-A really crossed a line.
About a third of the way through, the other headliner Sophie Aldred crashed Nina's Q-and-A to say farewell before leaving to catch a plane. She asked to speak with you for a moment, so you got up and left Nina to handle the crowd.
Though it wasn't a terrifically managed situation, I understand that sometimes duty calls. And like I said before, Nina handled the audience with incredible patience and grace. I hate to say it, but I couldn't help but notice that the focus and flow of the panel actually improved.
Nina did seem to be less comfortable flying solo than she was with a host. The longer you stayed away, the more frequently and insistently she asked after you. I think we were all glad when you finally reappeared, with about 20 minutes left in the Q-and-A.
I for one was less glad when you said that the reason you'd left, and the reason you'd been away so long, is because you'd previously asked Sophie to sign your guitar, and this was her last chance to do so before leaving. It was kind of rude to ditch a responsibility for a recreational activity... but still, understandable. Coulda-shoulda-woulda is easy to say after the fact, I'm sure you've had a whirwind of a week, and if that's the last chance you have for this once-in-a-lifetime fanboy moment, I can't fault you for taking it.
What crossed the line is how you then interrupted Nina's panel to ask her to sign your guitar too.
Especially since you followed that by pressing attendees at the Q-and-A to be brief with their questions due to limited time. During this same Q-and-A, you took precious limited time away from the headliner to tell us about how you went out for dinner with her the previous evening, and then again to attempt to convince her into performing with your band later during the convention.
You seemed to notice that the autograph interruption chilled the atmosphere in the room, and you tried to play it off and fill time by saying something to the effect of, "I'm allowed to be a fanboy!" This is where the big-picture-problem started to click for me, and this is what spurred me to write this huge long post.
Throughout the day, I noticed a pattern that started with "Ken Spivey Presents," ran through each panel during which you multitasked poorly and publicly, and ended with you taking center stage for a longer duration than any of the headliners were allotted.
That pattern was fully manifest when you put the main stage itself on hold, during one of the headlining events, to get something for free that we attendees have to pay extra for.
It's a pattern of centering the convention around yourself, and trying to be the one point around which all things revolve.
And I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, but... it's not about you.
More than that, it shouldn't be about you.
That probably sounds mean and personal, and I get why. But what I mean by that is to remind you that the point of a convention is to provide a positive experience for those who attend. You cannot do it all, be it all, and experience it all while maintaining a positive experience.
If you're going to do the bulk of the minute-by-minute organizing, coordinating volunteers, and taking point on responding to attendee complaints, that doesn't leave a lot of time to attentively direct panels and host Q-and-As. If you're going to sit front and center at every main stage event, that doesn't leave a lot of time to schmooze with invited guests.
At least not with a convention this size, and not with an expanding base of attendees who come primarily to see the invited guests. This is no longer a few hundred folks who come mostly to see the Ken Spivey Band, like it was in the beginning - and that's a good thing! It means the con is growing and expanding.
I'm not saying that you shouldn't be the primary organizer - because you've done a great job securing talent and promoting the event, and I'm certain that you'll continue to do good work. I'm also not saying you should stop fanboying, because I am not actually a cold-hearted jerk who wants to take away all the fun parts of running a convention.
I am saying that in the run up for your next convention, you should spend more time sorting out your priorities for the actual day of the convention and coming up with a schedule that can accommodate those priorities and meet the needs of attendees.
If your priority is to spend one-on-one time with an invited guest (like, for example, to get your guitar signed) then build some "guest management" time into your itinerary and some gaps between guest events, even if it means sitting on fewer panels and handing off complaints to your awesome team of volunteers.
If your priority is to sit on as many main-stage panels as you can, then make sure that your volunteers are willing and able to manage whatever issues pop up while you're occupied, and prepare to sacrifice some schmoozing time.
If your priority is to maximize attendee satisfaction by personally addressing every SNAFU that comes up, then let others MC the panels and chaperone the guests so you can really dedicate your energy and attention to the task.
As yesterday showed, even the best organizer cannot do it all and do it well.
I'm not big on pointing out problems without offering solutions, so I'd like to offer what aid I can. You might not know this about me, but I've previously acted as a volunteer coordinator for a large psychology conference in the area. My duties included
- Drawing up schedules for multiple teams of 10+ volunteers to cover a three-day weekend
- Setting up and managing a registration desk
- Assembling and distributing information packets
- Ensuring that speakers and volunteers are where they should be, when they should be, and equipped with whatever they needed
- Assisting attendees with minor customer-service issues, including politely listening to attendee complaints, and helping to make sure other volunteers were able to do the same
If you're still reading this - and you're not so pissed off that you don't want me anywhere near you or your convention - I am glad to offer my assistance in whatever area you could use the most help, to take some of that convention-day load off your plate and let you focus on what you really want to be doing. You know how to contact me.
If you'd rather not, I hope you take some of my advice into consideration in the coming years anyway.. If my complaints mean that fewer people have experiences as poor as the ones I had yesterday, it's worth it.
And for the fans' sake, don't try to sell them things you can't or won't provide.