Smofcon 35 or what do you do when you are not organizing a con

Smofcon 35 was an important experience for me. It was the first time that I was able to attend a convention in the USA. The nature of the con was, however, not typical for US, as Smofcon is a convention dedicated to conrunners and the programme is circling around conrunning and not any SF/F issues. Still, it was a great opportunity for me and I am really, really happy I was able to attend it.

One does not simply go to Smofcon

I’ve known about Smofcon for some time, but wasn’t able to attend it. The trip was too long and too expensive. This year, however, I realized that CanSMOF is offering scholarships to attend Smofcon and I decided to apply for it. As some of you know, I already participated in two similar conventions this year – Conrunner and KONgres and I thought that Smofcon might be a valuable opportunity to broaden my theoretical knowledge of conrunning. Once I sent my application for the scholarship, I had to wait for some time and I was a little bit nervous what would come out of it.

People are sitting around the round tables. Two man are standing near the door and talking. In the background christmas tree is visible. Lobby between consuite and one of the programme rooms

Finally the day has come and CanSMOF announced who received the scholarship and I was one of the three individuals who received it. Of course I was really joyful and slightly panicked at the same time. I managed to get a visa, buy tickets to Boston, reserve shoulder nights at a hostel and I found someone to share the hotel room in the convention hotel. And when the day has come, I took off to Boston and enjoyed both the con and the city.

Well-fed fans are happy

The first and the most obvious difference when comparing Smofcon to European cons was the consuite. It is a place where the food is being served for the members. On Smofcon there was a lot of sweets and snacks but sandwiches or cereals where also available. Food availability made the consuite and the nearby lobby a good place for socializing, as lots of fans where there. During Conrunner 4 in Nottingham, lunch was also available but it was just around one hour during the day and the atmosphere was simply different.

People are sitting around small table. People talking in the consuite

When talking about consuite, I must mention that part of the meals were sponsored by Dublin in 2019 and by Arisia (and I am almost sure other cons as well). Still, one of the best things available to eat were the awesome pies prepared by one of the members of the con – Deb. She baked terrific rolls with almond, lemon, cherries and other tasty fillings. I would like to take this opportunity and thank her for her hard work once again. Those rolls really made my day 🙂

Picture shows multiple cakes on a table covered with violet tablecloth. Delicious rolls baked by Deb

I could write more about the food during Smofcon, I could describe the journey I took with a couple of fans to have a chocolate lunch at a hotel nearby in a great detail. I will stop here, however, to show you this picture and I will move along to topics that are more convention-related.

Studying hard

Smofcon is about meeting people, sharing experiences and learning. One of my current goals is to develop my skills in the area of programming. It is not a completely new topic to me, but I do believe that there is plenty to learn for me in this area. Out of the items I have participated in, two were important in this regard.

Diversifying programme was a long and interesting discussion. Of course it was not an easy to do list. Panellists were rather concentrating on showing their approach and reasons behind it. I have a small issue here with the fact that the discussion, though interesting, was trailing off to topics not necessarily strongly related with the topic of the panel. The two hours inspired some thoughts and ideas in me. The most important (even if obvious) take away message is that we should treat diversity as a goal, but we shouldn’t fall into the pitfall of tokenizing programme participants. The second pitfall mentioned by the panellists is tagging participants instead of trying to understand them. It is way better to remember that writers are not only writing books – they also have their hobbies and passions that we should consider while creating programme.

From left to right there are two men and woman sitting behind a table. Diversifying programme discussion

Handling Feedback panel was not related to programming only, but the programme feedback is important for the development of the convention. There were some discussions concerning the methodology of collecting feedback, but one thing that got stuck with me the most was how to determine whether we should resign from inviting a panellist for the next year. It is obvious what to do when we receive negative feedback about the panellist’s skills. It is more complicated if we have a good panellist who is not behaving properly or who makes racist or homophobic comments during the panel. Nchanter’s solution of checking the negative feedback with co-panellists and finally basing our decision on the reaction of the person in question is a really good and fair approach. It makes sure that we verify the situation and it allows us to predict whether the same situation is likely to happen again in the future.

Two women and two man are sitting  behind the table. In front of the table there are a few rows of chairs with some people sitting on them - you can see only backs of their heads. handling feedback session

Nobody expected the fannish inqusition

Before going to Smofcon, I had the feeling that the Fannish inquisition is one of the items one should really participate in. At the same time the comments and discussions on the internet suggested that this item may not be very pleasant. I got the feeling that the whole inquisition is rather not nice and that fans may want to try to prove to concoms that they are making mistakes or having issues. Despite that, I decided I want to see it with my own eyes.

Two women and two men are standing in front of the microphone. Behind them you can see a white screen on their right ans a table with woman behin dit to their left. In the bottom left corner of the picture there are people sitting on chairs. Worldcon 76 and Dublin 2019 an Irish Worldcon making announcement about Retro Hugo ceremonies

How wrong I was! The whole item was definitely nice and I enjoyed the atmosphere. Of course I do expect that people being questioned were stressed, but I saw a lot of positive feelings in the audience. I really liked it how the inquisitors were wording their questions and lightening the mood.

You can see one row of attendees sitting on the chairs and in front of them there is a table with woman and man sitting behind it. Inquisitors at work

Thinking back, I am not sure why I had this false impression of the Fannish inquisition before I was able to attend it. Probably, apart form some of the discussions I have seen on the web, it was the name itself that suggested it wouldn’t be too nice. Now I am really happy I was there. I learned some important stuff about future conventions and bids. I also had the opportunity to see a hoax Worldcon bid in action and it was awesome.

5 people are standing in front of the microphone. Four of them are wearing sants's hats. In front of them some people are sitting on chairs. Boston in 2020 Christmas Worldcon bid

‘If I ran the zoo con’

Back in 2015 I heard that there is a role playing game for conrunners. Being a gamer and conrunner myself, I decided I have to test it. I was quite happy that on Smofcon I had the opportunity to not only buy the game but also play it.

Woman is standing behind the table presenting two books. Behind the same table a man is sitting looking to his right. On the table there are two stands with some points. Leslie Turek presenting the game

On Friday evening, instead of going to the party in one of the rooms, I played the ‘If I ran the zoo con’. It was really awesome. The game was really funny and the explanations of some of the situations that came afterwards were… somehow terrifying, but also funny.

‘If I ran the zoo con’ is not a typical roleplay I am used to, but it is worth the time you’re investing into playing. I find it also educational. It doesn’t show you how to organise a convention or which decisions are good. What it does gives you is the opportunity to learn how to make decisions in a limited amount of time. It also helps you to realize that good decisions are not everything that makes the convention.

One man is sitting and looking into a book. The second one is standing reading drom a book and laughing. Everyone were laughing during the game

All around me are familiar faces

As stated before Smofcon is a great opportunity to mingle with other fans. As I was about to go to Smofcon, I knew fewer than five people who were supposed to come there as well. I tend to be shy sometimes and I was slightly afraid how the interactions with others would go. Fortunately, the fellow fans were really open and it gave me strength to overcome my shyness. Now I know that when I attend the next Smofcon (and I really want to do so!), I will have more friends to talk to and it will allow me to meet new people again, and so it goes…

Man is standing on the scene and talking to microphone. Below the scene there is four rows of chairs with people on them. Icebreaker on Friday evening

I only regret that nobody tried to drag me into a concom of any convention. Maybe it is related to the fact that the only one I can attend geographically is Dublin 2019 an Irish Worldcon, and I already discussed whether I could join the team.

Having a great time at Smofcon

All in all, I had really a great time in Boston. It was worth to attend the con from both programming and social perspective. I really want to visit some Smofcons in the future. For sure I won’t be able to do this each year, but I certainly hope it was my first but not last convention from the series.

Few tables with chairs behind them. One woman and three man are sitting behind the tables. One man is just sitting. Audience during one of the panels.

I do see some ideas that we may “steal” from Smofcon to make Polish KONgres a better experience for all attendees. Here I am thinking mainly about the ludic parts of the con – as it certainly helps to build the friendly atmosphere and openness. So I already let my friends from KONgres team know that I would like to have some time in the evening for ‘If I ran the zoo con’ and I also think that an icebreaker programme item may be worth adding.

Here I would like to thank the whole CanSMOF team thanks to whom my trip was possible. I also would like to thank them for some encouraging discussions during the convention itself.

You can find more pictures in my FB gallery.

My next post will treat about Nordcon XXXI and will appear in close to the end of December.

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