May 4, 2012

Five Things More Anime Conventions Need

by Elizabeth O'Malley, Editor

No matter how great and successful, all conventions have room for improvement. Here are five things more anime conventions should be doing, but aren't.

Schedule time for panels to clear and set up
Many conventions schedules have panels running back to back, for example "Cosplaying 101" is from 2pm - 3pm, then "I Don't Understand Evangelion" is from 3pm - 4pm. This is the easiest way to show timing on a schedule, however if "Cosplaying 101" ends at 3pm like the schedule implies, there is no way "I Don't Understand Evangelion" can possibly start at 3pm. The "Cosplaying 101" panelists need to pack up, attendees need to gather their stuff and leave, and often attendees want to talk to the panelists afterwards. At the same time, attendees for "I Don't Understand Evangelion" will need to come in and find seats, and the panelists need to set up. The bigger the panel room, the more time this takes.

Programming staffers need to put a buffer time in between panels. It can be as short as 5 minutes for small panel rooms, or as much as 15 or 30 minutes for huge panel rooms. This also gives time for attendees to go to another part of the con to attend another panel. Also, if there are tech issues (for example, computer won't connect to projector), this gives staff a chance to get it fixed without cutting into the panel time.

If it's easiest for a con to make a schedule and not include the transition time, that's fine. If you have panels on the hour, it looks strange to have tiny spaces for just a five minute break. Just be sure to tell panelists they will need to finish before the actual end time, whatever time the con feels appropriate. They will need to adjust their presentation as needed. This should also be printed in the schedule so that attendees are aware of it as well.

Ticket the masquerade and other big draw events
Chances are the space you are holding your main events will have fewer seats than your number of attendees. Not all attendees will attend the masquerade or other big events, but it is very likely that you will have more butts than seats available. Also, people will line up early for these events. They don't necessarily want the best seats; they want to make sure they actually get a seat. Also in most function spaces, maintaining a queue with hundreds of people makes cat herding look easy.

An easy solution to this is to give out tickets or tokens ahead of time to those who want to attend. However, if you are going to use this method, make sure you put this information in as many places as possible. Even if you did it the year before, not everyone attends every year. Put it on your web site as an announcement before the con. Put it in your program guide and if you miss the printing deadline for this, put it on the printed schedules you give out. Put up a sign at registration so people can see it while they get their badges.

Have more adult oriented programming - but not that kind
Even though anime conventions seem to be dominated by teenagers, there is plenty of adult oriented programming at conventions. However these usually mean it will be something with hentai, lots of cursing, or both. These are definitely popular panels and a mainstay at conventions. And they should definitely be there.

However, there are other types of adult programming. Think more thought provoking, not just discussing which characters are most awesome or cutest. Perhaps some panels that the parents of attendees can attend where they can learn about what their children are watching. Look into inviting local Japanese or Asian history professors to talk about what Japan was really like during the time of Rurouni Kenshin or Inuyasha.

Provide your host hotel with more business by creating 21+ events with cash bar services. This can be just a lounge area or there can be music and dancing, comedy, or even something like speed dating. (However, beware that adding alcohol to just one event at your convention may significantly increase your event insurance fees.)

Defy the notion that adult programming is only sex and swearing. Give your older attendees something new and interesting to do, instead of bored because they don't want to go to panels aimed at fangirls.

Set up areas for photos and lounging
Nearly every convention has problems with crowding at some point. Function areas can have bottlenecks areas, a line can take up traffic space, people want to take pictures of cosplayers, and friends want to chat. For those last two, conventions can help out by provided space so it's not done in the middle of the hallways.

An area for photos can help with two things. First, it can be a place for cosplayers who want to have their picture taken to just stand around and pose and people who want to take pictures know to go there to find cosplayers. Also, in the weeks leading up to a con, attendees will plan times and places for cosplay groups from certain shows to gather. These are really fun ways to meet other fans and cosplayers with like interests, but they can also attract dozens of attendees. Although these gatherings are often done by attendees and not convention staff, make sure your attendees are aware if there are places they should be doing this or places they shouldn't be doing this.

It's not just cosplay groups who want to meet up, but old and new friends need places to chill, sit, and chat. Identify areas of the convention where this works, like a lobby, or where it doesn't, like a busy hallway. If the con is at a hotel, make sure off-limits areas, such as lounges where they serve food, are well marked. However, negotiate with the hotel to see if attendees can use the areas to hang out anyways so there aren't crowding issues. If there is a specific area in the convention that can create bottlenecks, like a narrow hallway, make sure there are signs that indicate that this is a no stopping, no picture taking area so that traffic doesn't get tied up.

Thank attendees via the web site
It's disappointing to go on a web site a few days after the con is over and the first thing on the page is a last minute announcement that was posted the night before the con started. It's even more disappointing when it's been weeks and there is still nothing new posted.

Attendees spend lots of time and money going to a con. They need to take time away from work or school, plan hotels and transportation, save money for food and the dealers room, and make their costumes. If they had a good time, they also want to attend next year. This is your chance thank your fans for coming, and to provide dates and location of next year's con so that attendees can plan to come back.

You're tired. Your staff is tired. You all just had one of the busiest weekends of your life, and there's still loose ends to tie up after the event is over. However, it looks unprofessional when two months after your con the most recent information still says "Schedule updates!"

Take 30 minutes at some point before the con and make something ahead of time. Simply thank your attendees for coming, thank your guests for coming, mention next year's dates and location, and provide a method for attendee feedback (feedback@ is a good email address to use for this purpose). Work with your webmaster to get this in place before the con so that it goes to the web site with a push of a button.