If you are just joining, may I suggest you start at the beginning?
If you recall, when I first started writing this series, I wrote the following : this is a "series of pontifications on the different relationships at events (producer-presenter, presenter-producer, presenter-attendee, attendee-presenter, producer-volunteer, etc..) and my opinions about ways to create harmony, good sportsmanship and happy events."
Please note that these are my opinions and that I'm writing from my own experience. Your mileage may vary.
The Presenter-Attendee relationship and the subject of being interested v. being interesting:
I invoked Be Interested when writing about the Philosopher-presenter, and Be Interesting when writing about the Performer-presenter. It's a distinction that has been tremendous in my personal growth as a teacher and public speaker, and it's something that isn't always shared among mentoring circles.
Part of it may be that, to do so, will make other presenters/teachers stronger and better and that creates competition. Personally, I'm just fine with competition. I want to be in and among groups of the most effective and dynamic presenters possible. Everyone wins. Especially the students, and at the end of the day:
It isn't about you, it's about them.
I repeat - as a presenter, regardless of the mode you are in, you are in service to those in your room. Period. It matters not how dominant you are, or how in charge of things you are - the only reason you have a job is because there are people who are present.
If you're performing, then you need to be interesting - you need to capture attention, to be dynamic, and to hold that attention. That takes something interesting, and it's a mindset I see a lot of presenters take hold of.
Here's the thing, though, and remember this is my opinion. If you are doing anything other than performing/demo-ing, then you best be interested, and what I mean by that is this:
No matter how much material you have...
No matter how prepared you are...
No matter how much mastery you have over what it is that you're sharing...
No matter how many times you've presented in the past (or not)....
If you aren't paying attention to the people in your room and teaching to them specifically...
If you aren't ensuring that your students are with you at each milestone you've identified (you do have learning objectives, yes?)...
If you aren't more attached to the people in your room getting it than you are to delivering all of your material....
If you don't stop the thought pattern of 'I just need to get through these next N pages of notes...
If you are more concerned with your story about how you're supposed to be received than what's actually going on...
You will be mediocre at best
Unless you grow some humility and make it about them
Does this mean you become an automaton and stop thinking about your affect, voice, tempo and the like? Of course not. It does mean that you make decisions about changes to your work based on the people you are serving.
Another way of considering this is you must be willing to be anonymous - crazy as that sounds. Offer up what you have, just as a server in a 5-star restaurant does, and hope that the morsels of food you share are consumed and enjoyed. Ironically, if you do that, people will remember you for how amazing an experience they had and not for the bitch or asshole orator you might be otherwise.
That's what I have to say about that :-)
On Panels as Education Vehicles
I'm on a lot of panels. I've been a presenter at Arisia, which is a ginormous convention comprised solely of panels. I've also been on panels in many other contexts. Aside from that, I, along with the rest of the programming team for NELA, work to staff panels (and sit on a few) at the Fetish Fair Fleamarket.
I must confess that most of my perspective in this is less expert than that of teaching. I do have enough to share some of what I've noticed work and not work.
What Works for Panels
- 5 speakers for a 90 - 120 minute slot
- A facilitator who actually knows how to facilitate
- A range of genders, ages, and perspectives
- A group of people who represent your audience
- Harmonious energy
- If you have 'big' energy in one person, you best have it in all
- If you have a soft talker, then have others who can draw them out
- People who understand that agreement isn't necessary
- People who can demonstrate mature disagreement
- People who already respect each other
- Some upfront work
- Asking the panelists what they want to cover
- The facilitator sharing any agenda s/he might have
- Having the panelists share with each other what is likely to 'set them off'
- Ground rules for the conversation
- Soliciting questions from your intended audience for any "Ask The Expert" topics, especially if the subject is potentially triggering, such as abuse v. consent
- A topic that has specificity
- "Sexuality in the 20th Century" is somewhat broad, whereas "Technology and Sexuality in the 20th Century" is a bit more specific
- "Spirituality" is somewhat broad, whereas "Spirituality and BDSM" is a bit more specific
- A Topic That is Compelling
- People care about politics, spirituality, technology, social justice, identity, etc.
- People probably don't care as much about which way to have the toilet paper hanging (unless they are interior designers or something)
- A Topic that is Timely
- What's happening in your community that you can leverage?
- What's happening in the media that you can use?
What Doesn't Work for Panels
- The inverse of any of the above plus:
- A Panelist who is someone like me
- Can easily bogart a conversation without meaning to
- Accustomed to being in front of rooms - and in charge of those rooms
- Whose energy is often bigger and more invasive than those around her
- Unless you have balance in others on the panel (which is possible)
- And/or you have that person moderate (which keeps him/er occupied)
- You are doomed if you have a panelist who is like me and not aware of it
- Doomed, I tell you
- 7 or more speakers
- Unless it's the cast of Firefly (or equivalent)
- Giving every speaker a chance to answer every question
- Ineffective facilitation
Some Words on Volunteers and Events
Let's face it. What we do - the events we run as kinksters - they wouldn't be possible without volunteers.
It's the volunteers who are going to help registration at the event
It's volunteers who are going to help you stuff envelopes for presenters
Load in and load out your vendors
Collect feedback forms
Refill water in the rooms
Tell presenters when they have 10 minutes left
The Relationship of Producer - Volunteer
- Your volunteers are the only game in town
- Volunteers are a finite resource
- Volunteers are amazing promoters
- Volunteers are your commUNITY
- Volunteers are not 'free labor'
- You best be giving your volunteers something for their effort
- Some people feel that volunteering should be fun and treated as such
- Some people feel that volunteering is work and should be treated as such
- Figure out what kind of person you are, and when you do your negotiations with your volunteers, let them know
- Why? Because volunteers have the same tendencies, and if you're a work-based producer with a fun-based volunteer, you might have some challenges
- I'm a work-based producer, whereas my partner, P, is a fun-based producer. We work well together because we can spread the effort
- To be clear - he does a lot of work and is committed to doing so, but he will look to find matches for people based on their appetites, whereas I will look to find matches for people based on their skills (which might not be their appetites)
- Both ways are valuable
- If you are asking your volunteers to do significant work (more than 6 hours over the course of 2 days), be reasonable about scheduling their blocks
- DO schedule someone for a chunk of time and then give them a bunch of time off (2 hours on)
- DO NOT schedule someone for an hour on, an hour off, ad nauseum. They may not want to work for you again (this happened to a friend of mine at a major East Coast event a couple of years ago. She had a total of 12 hours of volunteer time which took something like 36 convention hours to complete, because they were so piecemeal. She wasn't able to attend even one full class - SUCK)
- If you are asking your volunteers to do significant work, have a good reason for it
- Less volunteer time to get comped into the event can often lead to more volunteers
- More volunteers means more bodies
- More bodies means more fallbacks
- More fallbacks mean less holes if someone isn't able to complete a task
- Never scream/holler/bitch at or otherwise yell at volunteers
- If you are crabbypants and can't be polite, at least tell them that while you are trying to communicate
- The exception to this would be if a volunteer is doing something that could get your event shut down
- Or someone arrested
- Or is assulting someone
- You get my drift?
- Treat volunteers as though they are doing important and valuable work, no matter what the work is that they are doing
- You wouldn't have a working event without them
- Let your volunteers communicate constraints before you start assigning tasks
- Constraints come in multiple forms
- in time
- in physical abilities
- in preference for 'how public' they want to be
- in preference for with whom they want to work
- Yes, my friends, when couples volunteer, they like to have their hours together
- Why? because then they can enjoy the event together
- Honor the constraints
- If the honoring of constraints impedes a volunteer's ability to meet minimum requirements, then negotiate
- On compensating volunteers
- comping the event is obvious
- a thank you note isn't so obvious but goes a long way
- Say "Thank You for helping"
- when they are working
- when you are walking through the event
- when they do something extraordinary
- when they look tired
- when you are tired
- And mean it
- give them something - doesn't have to be big - a token of appreciation
- you will spend less on the tokens than you would on paying for the labor
The Relationship of Volunteers - Producers
- In some very real ways, you have producers by the balls
- Don't be a dick about it
- Communicate your constraints as early in the process as possible
- when you can/can't work
- what you can't do physically
- who you want to be scheduled with
- You may not get exactly what you want
- Them's the breaks
- You deserve to get what you need
- Be clear about the differences between needs and wants
- If you commit to it, do it
- Be on time for your shift
- Know that things might change at the con, because others aren't as responsible as you are
- Producers love loyalty
- Producers love responsiblity
- Producers love it when you are pleasant
- Producers need you to be sober
- And not on pot
- All of this makes the event run more smoothly, and at the end of the day, you are a part of whatever event it is for which you are giving your time
- Saying you will volunteer, coming to the event, getting your event comp, not honoring your commitments, and staying anyway makes you an asshat
- Are you an asshat?
- If so, then don't volunteer
- You will likely be banned from the event
- This will affect your standing in your community
- It's not good
- Ask friends to volunteer with you - it's fun!
When you think about it, just about everything you need to know about working on and in a Con, you learned a long time ago. Kindness will always be more effective than asshattery; if you consistently honor your word, you will be trusted; we are all amazing and incredible; each of us has something unique to share..
And what we value most doesn't have a price tag on it, because it is something you *know*, not something you *own*.
So get out there, gentle readers. Get out there and share your wisdom, offer your services, receive your neighbors' good will, and have a hellofa great time!