Crowdsourcing the Convention: Guests are the Bait, Community is the Hook

In the past few weeks, CtC has asked a couple of pertinent questions: What makes a convention worth going to, and what did you love (and hate) about WorldCon, DragonCon and PAX? The feedback was intriguing, and it gave this rookie convention programming director some actionable (but painful) insights into running a successful con.

Bottom line: It’s a big-name guests that get people to a convention, but it’s the sense of community that keeps them coming back…


Poster bearcat summed up the main power of Guests for the average fan:

“For me, it’s the guests. In my neck of the woods we have cons in Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Lousville, Nashville… Way too many to try to hit even just the closest. So, the guests are the main deciding factor.”

Here’s the money community quote from Kev who echoed sentiments made by many others:

“For me, what a makes a convention worth going to? Like Wil Wheaton said in his PAX keynote, we’re home. We’re around like-minded people. We may not have the same politics or beliefs, we may not enjoy the same types of geekiness or play the same games, but we are all geeks and for those few days we’re all together, we’re family.”

These are the two schools of thought on the value provided by a convention. Programming made a number of mentions, too, but the prevailing sentiment was that attendees wanted lots of programming, which was mostly an asset of larger conventions.

So, is it the guests, or is it the sense of community. What I’ve gleaned from your feedback and personal experience is that, for fans that have been to a convention before, community is what gets you coming back. Most of us remember our first time at a con, surrounded (perhaps for the first time) by like-minded geeks with shared interests and experience. That’s irreplaceable. But it’s also hard to sell.

Guests, meanwhile, are the bait. They’re a known quantity, and human beings have an innate desire to meets the famous — especially the famous who create or are associated with our favorite pastimes. For someone who has never been to a convention before, guests are what get you in the door to discover that unassailable feeling of geek-belonging.

Thus, I’m on the hook to find, secure, and promote an Author Guest of Honor for Conglomeration 2011 that’s going to bring in the newbies by the boatload and convince regular con-goers like bearcat that ConGlomeration is worth adding to his 2011 list.

Any suggestions?

(And if you yourself are a big-name author and are free next Easter weekend, please feel free to suggest yourself.)