Inside Skepticon – Venue Need a Place for a Conference

Inside Skepticon – Venue Need a Place for a Conference

Hello again, Skepticondoleers! The work of making a Skepticon is divided up into 12 roles. Let’s take a good, close look at one of them: the Venue role. From the job description:

The Venue role is responsible for finding and booking an adequate venue within Skepticon’s budget, and for working with the venue to provide for the needs of the organizers, speakers, workshoppers, and tablers.

It sounds like the Venue work should be all over pretty early on: pick a place with nice rooms and comfy chairs and an available weekend and you’re done, right? As will become a theme with these roles, no flippin’ way — you are just getting started. You will be the one to coordinate the needs of all the other roles for the venue, and you’re going to arrange for those needs to be met by calling your venue contact and begging groveling negotiating just like an adult. What other needs could they have, you ask? Well….

  • Activities is going to need space to have SkeptiProms, game nights, blood drives, art contests, food pantries, community rooms, and more. You will need to make sure that space is available, with the seating, power, A/V, and data connections needed for DJs, woozy donors, art judging, mini-meetings, and roaming dinosaurs named Tinkerbell. You will need to help decide which activities go where based on time, space needed, and the noise that they generate. You do not want the hotel shutting down prom due to noise.
  • Art will need to know what directional, restroom, and other signage is needed, based on the layout of the venue, how the signs are going to be mounted, and how much space is available. You will spend a lot of time getting measurements and other information from the venue: How high are the ceilings in the ballroom? Can we use grid clips, and is there a lift we can borrow to hang a banner? What is the heaviest weight we can hang? Can we have dinosaur/unicorn hybrids riding scooters through the halls? (Art gets a little excited sometimes. Do your best.)
  • Attendees is going to be working with you during the venue selection process to be sure that all needs of attendees are adequately met. You will find out about accessible rooms, stairs between the hotel rooms and the conference rooms, and on-site vegan options. You will find space for a childcare room, not too far from the conference rooms, and a quiet room, not too near the childcare room. You will rearrange places for things until you want to tear out your hair. You will get it all just perfect, and then have to start again when you think of a problem in the middle of the night in October. Then just have to wing it when something unexpected turns up on Skepticon weekend.
  • Publicity will want to know what they can say about the place in all the marketing literature and interviews they will be doing. You will need to find out for sure what the place is like, if the restaurant is really open 24 hours a day, and if the hallways are really plated in gold, before they start shouting it to everyone they know.
  • Speakers role will be granting free rooms to the speakers. You need to coordinate with the venue to be sure that adequate rooms are reserved, and that the bill comes to Skepticon, instead of to them.
  • Tables needs enough space to have vendors and other tablers in the midst of con traffic, but where they won’t make it difficult for attendees to get by. They may also need power and an internet connection with adequate bandwidth for each table.
  • Tech will need to know exactly what type of A/V equipment is available, and will probably want access ahead of time to play with all the toys soberly assess the technological capabilities and challenges. You need to provide accurate information, and arrange for an introduction and tour.
  • Workshops needs to have smaller conference spaces reserved for simultaneous tracks of programming. You will coordinate with the venue for chair and table setup for each workshop, according to their needs. During the conference you will be responsible for checking that the planned setups are done correctly.

The past few years have been pretty stable ones for the Venue role. We’ve been happy with our choice of the Springfield Oasis, so it’s mostly been a matter of working with them to schedule a weekend, and negotiate the contract. But it hasn’t always been that way.

The first two Skepticons were held on the lovely campus of Missouri State University. For student groups, university space is a great option, since it’s usually cheap or free. Universities are also good at accommodating disabilities. SK1 was at the student union theater, but SK2 grew too big and needed to move to a larger theater in one of the school buildings. The downsides of universities are that there may not be much in the way of accommodations for out-of-towners, and the facilities are set up more for formal lectures rather than for full conferences.

For Skepticon 3, the expected 1000+ attendees was just too much for even the largest hall on campus. The organizers found the nearby Springfield Expo Center, with the University Plaza Hotel right across the street. It certainly had the room for SK3, but was both very expensive and had an impersonal, industrial feel about it. Another fun feature with the Expo Center is that proselytizers and protesters could stand at the entrance and hassle everyone.

Next, the organizers tried the “classiest theater in town” for Skepticon 4, the Gillioz Theatre. It is a beautiful venue, much better aesthetically than the Expo Center, but at 1100-ish attendees SK4 strained its capacity. Also, it was built in 1926, and though it was remodeled extensively in 2006, the bathrooms were weird, there was no room for vendors, and it was hot. Hot, hot, hot. And not in a good way. Everyone baked in that venue, and a local source of cool refreshments was surprisingly hostile. It just wasn’t going to be viable, no matter how good it looked.

So, Skepticon 5 and 6 returned to the Springfield Expo Center. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. Because of the size of the place we often had to share with not-quite-compatible events, like a quilting convention that hated SK with a burning passion. Additional problems piled up, and after the noise level in the hotel’s atrium got skeptics kicked out around midnight at SK6, there was a general feeling that a better solution was needed.

And that’s when someone found the Oasis. It can seat 1500+ in its grand ballroom, has a suite of separate workshop rooms, and many more small meeting rooms scattered about the property. The technology for putting on A/V production meets our needs nicely. The rates are affordable, and best of all it has glittery teal floors in the lobby!

The people that we work with at the Oasis treat Skepticon very well. They’ve been very flexible with accommodating our sometimes unusual needs. (Giant bowl of whipped cream? Enough caffeine to keep a small army awake? Disarm the security guards? They got you covered.) Many of the staff have expressed enjoyment with having the conference at their venue. Some will use their off time to listen to lectures or watch some of the silliness go down. We have built a level of trust with the Oasis that makes everybody’s life easier.

The biggest downside that we have with the place is that the hotel is an absurd maze, complete with secret passages. The organizers have become very familiar with the layout now, but we recognize that any first timer is going to have difficulty navigating. (Okay, the sinks in the restrooms are weird, too, but that’s a minor point.)

All of this work is worth it when we end up with a really cool place to get our Skeptic on. Join us there in November, won’t you?

P.S. Your donations are what make Skepticon 10 possible, so you are where it’s at for us! And if you really want to lighten our stress levels, please donate to our legal defense fund!

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