The Puzzle of Programming

The Puzzle of Programming

All conventions have something in common, panels. Panel content, presentations about everything from the history of Sci-Fi, to the latest blockbusters from Hollywood, to the evolution of pop culture are a common element of today’s conventions. While the content will vary from convention to convention, that content is the result of hours and hours of work on behalf of the programming department, the presenters, and the convention as a whole. But with every convention having panels, how do you ensure your convention has unique and interesting panels that your attendees will love? First you must know what your attendees want.

For fan conventions, knowing the mind of your attendees can be a tall order. Especially when keeping in mind new releases and trends in your industry. Not to mention age demographics, personal tastes, and a million other factors. Programming directors do not have an easy job. Especially when much of their content is submitted and run by fans.

Figuring out the best Content

One of the easiest ways to figure out what content your convention’s attendees are craving is by running a survey. This could be in the form of mobile app, a survey emailed to attendees after the event, slips of paper available after panels, or a social media campaign for feedback. Whichever method you choose though, make sure you advertise it to your attendees. Announce at panels how to give feedback, on your social media, and any printed materials your convention hands out.

Having data to base your next moves on are just as important as the content itself. Because when planning for the next year you want to make sure you’re including suggestions from the people going to your convention’s panels. But if you are a first year event, this can be close to impossible to gather. First year events can still gather information from nearby events, their community, and staff. Talk to possible attendees, record the information, and use it to make educated decisions about what programming to schedule.

Fan Content vs. Industry Content

When planning programming for a fan convention, many programming heads are up against the fan content vs. industry content conundrum. A good ratio for one convention may not work for another. So finding a balance can be a difficult thing. Again, the best way to know where that balance lies is by polling your attendees. If most of your responses are calling for more industry content, then the next year you should probably be talking to more industry about programming.

Also keep in mind that ‘industry’ can mean a lot of things. While it can be the companies that publish comics or books, or license anime, it can also be Universities with classes and programs related to comics or pop culture or film. Draw from your local artists and authors to run content on getting published, or learning the basics of the craft. Consider inviting groups that focus on costuming, acting, or producing. Many professionals are more than willing to come talk for an hour about their passion, or share tips of the trade. So don’t be afraid to ask!

Reaching Out

So while knowing what content you are after is step one, step two is actually getting that content. Many fan conventions rely on submissions from their attendees as the bulk of their panel content. But that can lead to, in some cases, years of the same content. What’s the best way to combat having the same content year after year? Reach out to new panelists.

One of the best ways to do this is to attend other events in your area and go to panels. As a programming head, you should be keeping an eye on new trends at other events, and always be open to new types of programming. By taking the time to attend other events and seeing the types of programming they have on their schedule you may be able to gets ideas to apply to your own convention. It also will give you a chance to talk to panelists and invite them to apply as a panelist to your convention. Recruiting your panelists, just like you do with staff, can help keep your programming fresh and new every year.

Submissions and Rewards

Another important piece in the programming puzzle is making sure that panelists know how and when to apply. When it comes to programming submissions you want your form to be simple and easy to use, even by people unfamiliar with your convention, or computers. Having paper copies available at meetings or out reach events, or an easy to remember link, or flyer can make submitting easier for your potential panelists. You’ll also want to make sure that any deadlines, expectations (bringing their own computer for presentations, or needing to request tech, or a materials budget), and contact information is clearly listed. Clearly spelling out what your convention’s panelists receive in return for providing content is also important. It could be a discounted or free badge. Access to a chill room or green room. Whatever it might be, including the information in the submission area will help prevent confusion.

Originally published on 10/8/2015 at

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