Acquiring program items
It's common to have several open programming meetings, at a convenient spot such as the Moon Cafe, where interested parties can propose suggestions for the program. Additionally, you can solicit suggestions via the Swancon list. You may also wish to buttonhole individuals who are known to be good value on program items, and ask them what they'd like to be on.
Figure out how many timeslots you have. Figure out how many program items you have. Sort program items into ones you plan to run, and ones you plan to keep on the reserve list. Make sure each item has a blurb, and a type: is it a presentation, a panel, a discussion, a hands-on workshop?
Laying it into a grid
If you are lucky, you may have useful software that helps with layout of the program. Christopher Phillips developed a web based version for Swancon 2009, that may be available.
Otherwise, use your favourite spreadsheet tool, or print the program out on bits of paper, guillotine it up, and move the bits of paper around on your kitchen table. (A table is much larger than a computer screen.) A group session may be necessary, where you start with the program as drafted by the head of programming, and then argue about what goes where, what items get brought up from the reserve list onto the program, and what items get pushed down.
Clashes vs. dead spots
If you have, say, four streams running in parallel, then, for each fan, there will be times when they want to go to all four of the items running, and times they want to go to none of the four. Since every fans' tastes are different, these times will be different for each fan. Live with it.
That's not to say that there aren't obvious clashes you can avoid: if your program contains two Buffy items, don't schedule them both at the same time.
Other forms of clashes to watch out for are clashes of equipment: if you've got two data projectors but a particular timeslot requires three, then you've got a problem.
And, of course, clashes of participants: an individual person can only be in one place at a time. Beware of unwritten clashes: for example, there are people who show up at the WASFF business meeting each year, but it is unlikely that you've attached their names to the business meeting. If you have scheduled them on a program item which clashes with the business meeting, this would be unfortunate. Same goes for the auction and the awards ceremony.
Bonus points for checking the program from the point of view of each participant: make sure you haven't programmed them on many items in a row, or that you haven't put them on the last panel at night followed by the first panel the next morning.
Remember that some items will run even if they do not appear on your program: room parties are one example. Gynaecon is another.
In some venues, you have a large room that can be broken down into two parts with movable partition walls. Often this takes some time, requires intervention by hotel staff, and requires rearrangement of chairs. (The All Season's Montana Room is one example.) Try to avoid doing this more often than necessary. In particular, try to avoid breaking the room in two for just one hour and then recombining.
On the other hand, you may not want to schedule all of your "big" items back-to-back.
Informing the participants
In the rush as the convention approaches, this is something that often gets done poorly, so plan it ahead of time. You need to contact every person who you've written in for a program item, telling them when it is, and if possible where it is, and giving them the blurb. Email may be a good medium, because you can cut'n'paste the blurbs. (But there will be some people you cannot reach via email.) Some participants will be unable to make the times you have scheduled. You should ask participants what gear they will need: some will need a laptop and data projector; some will need a VHS player and data projector.
To meal break or not to meal break, that is the question. For the vast majority of participants, there will be spaces in the program where there is little or nothing on that they want to see, and they can duck out and get food at these times. But this is not true for everyone: there are a small number of people who are highly in demand (such as your guests of honour, and a few good value fans), for whom there is almost no break other than meal breaks. Additionally, lots of fans like to go for meals in groups: if there are program items running continuously, it is much harder to assemble meal groups.
If you decide to have meal breaks, you must decide how long to make them. One hour and one and a half hours are popular numbers. One and a half allows for time to assemble a meal group, explore for a restaurant, eat and return without feeling under pressure. But of course it detracts from time available for program items.
You may wish to synchronise any multimedia programming streams with meal breaks: for example, the last half hour of each meal break could synch with a series of short items in the multimedia stream, so people coming back from meal breaks a little early can watch something short.
Some items need setup time. The masquerade and next year's Swancon launch are examples. Anything involving moving audiovisual gear or other special equipment, or darkening a room for AV might be others. Consider programming these items immediately after a meal break.
(Conversely some items might like to run long. Programming these immediately before a meal break would enable this.)
Most conventions incorporate the program into the same book that contains all the other stuff: facilities map, guest bios, convention rules, boring bit from the committee, etc. Some separate it out into a cheaper-to-print booklet, so that extra copies can be printed for fans who lose theirs.
Most print a grid for each day, usually with time running down the page, and rooms in columns across the page. Separately, there are text descriptions of each program item. It is best to order these blurbs alphabetically while you working on the program, and by time once the program is layed into the grid and frozen, as everybody who is a mere user of the grid (rather than an editor) wants to read the four descriptions of the four things that are on now, in order to decide which one to go to.
There are a few items which show up year after year. These include:
- Opening ceremony
- Art show
- Guest of honour speech(es)
- Guest of honour reading(s)
- WASFF business meeting
- Natcon business meeting (if you are a Natcon)
- Awards ceremony
- Next year's launch
- The Doctor Who panel
- Trailer Park: upcoming big-screen movies
- Closing ceremony
There are some inobvious constraints as to what goes when on your program:
- The art show must be before the awards ceremony, because art show prizes must be awarded there.
- The auction should be before the awards ceremony, but I don't remember why.
- The awards ceremony should be late enough in the convention that voting for Tin Ducks can occur at the convention, and those votes can be tallied.
- The auction must be late enough in the convention that people can bring stuff to the auction logistics point (which might be the front desk), and get the paperwork filled out. Remember that some fans won't attend the first day of the convention.
- The auction must be early enough in the convention that you can process the money and paperwork, and return money to people who sold things at the auction.
- The auction should be early enough in the convention that potential buyers will still have money.
- The WASFF business meeting is normally held on the last morning of the convention, and you should allow 3 hours (though hopefully it will be shorter). But it will move if the convention is a Natcon.
- The Natcon Business Meeting should occur after the WASFF meeting, so the winning Swancon bid has the option of bidding to become the Natcon. So normally during a Natcon year, the Natcon meeting is held on the Monday, and WASFF on the Sunday. You should allow at least 3 hours for the Natcon meeting, though hopefully it will be shorter. The convention chair has the right to choose the Natcon business meeting, and chair it themselves if they want, but in practice the convention chair almost always someone with experience chairing Natcon business meetings, or at least chairing other fannish meetings.
Of course, you can avoid any of these constraints by being creative if you so desire.
Some program items may include some material not suitable for children. Figure out how you are going to handle this. Popular solutions include segregating such items into an out-of-the-way programming room, segregating such items to late at night, and posting signage on the doors of the room in which the item is running, while it is running.
Software is frequently suggested as a solution to the problem of creating and ordering a program, and tracking and informing participants. If you know of any good software for this, let us know.