Inside Skepticon – Signin’ on the Dotted Line

Inside Skepticon – Signin’ on the Dotted Line

For our first adventure in making a Skepticon, let’s take a look at the contract with the hotel and convention center that we sign (not in blood, honest!). Exciting! After choosing a weekend to party, this is the first real step in getting this show on the road. In a later post I’ll say more about our home of the last three years, the Springfield Oasis, and why we keep coming back.

So, what’s in the venue contract? It lays out what convention and hotel space Skepticon is reserving. It says how much Skepticon needs to pay for that space, and when. On the convention side it’s easy, we just take over the whole place! It’s comfortable to have it all to ourselves, and not have to worry about sharing with a holistic crystal faire or finance industry festivale. (We’re sure they’re nice people.)

On the hotel side, we promise that we’ll bring in business. (That’s you, attendees!) 

These are the rooms we promise to fill., 224 in all.

Section of Skepticon contract, giving rooms we promise to fill for each night, 224 room-nights in all.

The hotel actually sets aside the entire hotel (173 rooms) for us on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, until October 9th (yep, that’s in the contract, too). After that, reservations are opened up to the rest of the world. If we don’t fill up at least 80% of the 224 room-nights, the “Attrition Clause” kicks in, and Skepticon has to pay to make up for their losses.

Along with the contract, Skepticon needs to send the Oasis a non-refundable deposit for $2000. Together, these mean that we’re put on the calendar in ink. Reserve the dates, people: November 10-12, 2017!

The next big section of the contract is the agreement on which conference rooms we will be using, when, and for what style of setup. Most of the different room setup styles are illustrated on this page from the University of Chicago. There aren’t any real details here — that comes when we prepare the Banquet Event Order over the summer.

SK10 conference room use

Section of Skepticon 10 contract illustrating conference room use.

We pay a flat fee for all of this roomage, which is due a week before Skepticon starts. Of that fee, we are allowed to use a part for banquet food. We use that to feed our generous speakers, and hard-working volunteers about once a day.

Under “Decorations and Displays”, the Oasis prohibits us from attaching anything to any part of the conference center “with nails, staples, tape, or any other substance”, and won’t allow the use of “sand, glitter, or confetti”. After the first couple of years, when the Oasis had gained some confidence in Skepticon, some of these rules were relaxed slightly at the discretion of the conference center’s staff. Still, it’s a challenge to put up signs and decoration. Most signs are on easels, or are hung from the ceiling grid with specialized clips. When you get to SkeptiProm, take a look around to see what we did.

Now we get to the most interesting bit for Skepticon, the “Special Instructions and Comments”. This isn’t where we demand the green M&M’s®, but we do have some unusual needs. Some of these have to do with our penny-pinching ways – the Oasis agrees to let us have food trucks in the parking lot instead of requiring us to buy hotel food, and waive the A/V technician fee (because we have Awesome Bart!) Others are fairly standard bits regarding vendors, A/V equipment fees, and where we can stash our stuff before Friday.

We are also required by the hotel to hire security for SkeptiProm night, one uniformed security person per 100 expected attendees. At SK7 they showed up armed, despite our requesting unarmed security. We complained about that, and required them to be unarmed in their contract for SK8. When they showed up armed again anyway, we had the conference center disarm them. (Yeah, we called security on our security!) For SK9 we went with a different security company and had no troubles.

But the “Special Instruction” that stands out is the agreement for the gender-neutral restrooms. Our first year at the Oasis we neglected to let them know our plans, and we had to take down our signs. Oops. Since then, we’ve negotiated to have this in our contract:

Gender-neutral restroom agreement

Section of Skepticon 10 contract letting us have gender-neutral restrooms.

Lesson learned for us was to not surprise the hotel and conference staff with anything out of the ordinary. They really have been ready to help in any way they can, no matter how unusual our needs.

Finally, the contract specifies a cancellation fee schedule. If we had to cancel Skepticon (or move to another venue) more than 90 days out, we’d still need to pay 25%. After the 30 day mark we’re in for 100%.

After some corrections and haggling, we signed the contract and paid the deposit on January 21st. So Skepticon 10 is on! You’ll be there, right?

P.S. Your donations are what make Skepticon 10 possible, no matter what the contract says. And if you really want to lighten our stress levels, please donate to our legal defense fund!

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