So I was recently asked by ConCarolina’s ConCom to write a blog on how to run a track. I guess I’m getting the credit for the fact that our Science Track was so successful this year. Would that this were true. All I really managed to do was to surround myself with quality guests and send them off to do their thing. Still, I will capture as much of the process as I can in the hope that others can glean something from it. I’ll try to emphasize the things that seemed to work best, as I go.
Feb 28th - Invitation to Submit Ideas.
As with most things, an early start is best. As soon as I had a finalized list of guests, I fired off an email (below). And as with most of my writing, I chose an fairly informal style of addressing my team. More than anything, this communication was meant to be an invitation to ask others what they wanted to see and do with the program. Let everyone know what your parameters are. If you’ve got 8 hours of programming to fill, tell them. I knew there were certain people that were natural moderators, so I made my intentions clear. Unless someone volunteered, I was going to assign moderators. Leave no one out, but make your intentions clear. It’s a subtle way of letting people know that if they don’t ASK, they don’t GET. And if someone doesn’t speak up about what they want to do, then they don’t have a right to complain when they get something they don’t want. Tell people early the kind and amount of work you expect them to do. In more general terms, try to identify strengths, but let people tell you if they think you’re wrong.
ConCarolinas Science Track
Dr. Ben Davis <email@example.com>
Wed, Feb 28, 10:05 PM
Greetings and welcome to the ConCarolinas Science Track.
We have 8 hours of programming to fulfill. We've acquired a larger room than last year because I'm cool like that. I'll get projectors if we need them for some coordinated panel.
I have lots of ideas for panel topics, but I'd rather hear from you guys. I figure if I let you talk about the things you love the most, it'll make for even better panels.
Please send me your ideas for panel topics, and your willingness (or aversion) to moderating. We've got a couple of people that I think are natural moderators, so I'll make assignments if you don't step up.
I plan on the CC Science Track entering a new era, and I'd love to see you guys make it as much yours as anyone else's. This is your chance to do that. Go! :-)
Thanks in advance.
ConCarolinas Science Track Manager
Also baked into the above email, is an emphasis on NEW ideas. Avoid reruns or preconceived ideas when you can. Encourage dialog and ignore no one. As I went, I also began to identify certain anchor topics. For the science track, that turned out to be space exploration, futurism, robotics and AI/Computer tech. These are things that regular con attendees expect you to offer. Make sure you hit all the bases, if you can. I missed the AI/Computer tech angle, and I was certainly told about it on Sunday afternoon.
Keeping the Ship on Course (With a Light Touch)
After a few days publish a list of ideas and suggest working titles for panels and workshops. Even if you’re forced to offer mostly reruns of last year, keep the conversation going. After a few more days, start adding individual names and descriptions to panels. Subtly let your guests know that you’re working on things, and a plan will move forward whether they contribute or not. For the most part, keep YOUR name off of the panels. You will likely be needed to fill last minute gaps in programming, or be required to manage other things. After a few more days, or as needed, publish a new list. Start ranking the titles but emphasize that you’ll put the final list to a vote (if you’re going to). Start adding detail and naming moderators. Don’t be pushy or annoying, but don’t let the conversation die either. I made sure to send out a new list with refinements whenever the conversation waned. I did this less than 2 days from the last response. By Mar 7th, we were well on our way. The process was literally started and done in 1 week, and I don’t think it felt like it felt like a real effort to anyone. The process should be fun. The email below was by no means my last one to the group, but it shows where we were and what we were all thinking. If we were to go back and look at the final program, we’d see that this is already very close to what we actually implemented.
ConCarolinas Science Track
Dr. Ben Davis <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Mar 4, 2018, 12:20 PM
OK. Latest update...
I've made an attempt at ranking/listing the panels I think would work best fit, based loosely on whether we've done them to death in the past, or they'd spark a lot of audience interest. The current ranking are there so that you know what I'm thinking. We WILL put it to a vote in the end. We've only added one new panel topic since the last pass: Moon Vs. Mars. I've tentatively put it in slot 6. Maxey rightfully pointed out that we had no space discussions... which is very popular at CC. Plus we need to make sure we have something for Jim Craig to do. ;-)
Those who have offered to moderate particular panels are listed. The rest is currently divided between Jim Beall and Steven Cobb. Even if you don't want to moderate, speak up if you want to be on a particular panel, and I'll put your name on it. I really like the way this is already shaping up! In my mind, the math works like this: if I recuse myself, there are 8 of us. And we're doing 8 panels total. I don't want to overload anyone, nor do I want to neglect anyone. I figure we should all do 4 panels and there should generally be 4 panelists on each panel. Of course we have 15 choices right now, so if you're particular about the panels you're on, you might want to chose 7-8.
1) Ask a Mad Scientist - Rob Hampson (M), Jim Beall, Ben Davis, Darrin Kennedy, Charlie Kaufman - Late night, no limit on number of panelists.
2) Party Like It's 1899! - Phrenology! Aether! The Brontosaurus! Vulcan! Miasmas! Martian Canals! Science is littered with the corpses of ideas that were once widely held to be true. What might these disproven ideas tell us about our current theories? Are any of them overdue for revival? - James Maxey (M)
3) I'm Dating an Android! -Robotic partners are coming, both the creepy sex kind and the perhaps even creepier digital friends who hang on your every word and provide empathy and support. What will the future look like when you can order your custom made best friend (with benefits) off Amazon? (Perhaps a late night panel.) - James Maxey (M)
4) Nobody Knows Nothing Anymore - I red wine good for you? Does an electric car really have a bigger carbon footprint than a gas engine? Is your cell phone giving you cancer? Some days it's seems like there's more information than ever before, and far more uncertainty about what's true. Is this just the growing pains of the information age, or are some questions simply unanswerable? - James Maxey (M), Firekeeper
5) A CRISPR View of the Future - Steven Cobb (M), Mindy Mymudes
6) The Moon versus Mars: Which is the Best Target for Our First Permanent Off-World Settlement? - Jim Beall (M), Jim Craig
7) Mad Scientists for a Better Tomorrow - What are the most outlandish ideas in science today... and would they really work? - Steven Cobb (M)
8) Who Needs Science Anyway? - How does science affect our everyday life – from chemistry and physics in cooking to “Augmented Cognition” displays in cars, planes, helicopters and Control Centers? - Steven Cobb (M), Firekeeper
When Science and Ethics Collide - Steven Cobb (M), Firekeeper
Citizen Science in the New Millenium (SETI@Home and other projects for the layperson) - Jim Beall (M), Jim Craig
3D Printing, How Far Has It Come? - Jim Beall (M)
Can scientists travel without baggage?: Objectivity and the pursuit of knowledge - Steven Cobb (M)
The Brave New World of Life Extension - Steven Cobb (M)
Trans-humanism - Steven Cobb (M)
The Year In Science - Jim Beall (M)
*We're in negotiations with the hotel for The Science of Explosives, Dr. Ben Blows $h!t Up! If I do that and Mad Scientist Round Table, I may recuse myself from all other panels. I do not yet know if that will take one of our 8 slots or not.
**We're working on getting a Dewar flask for the con. There's no budget to buy one. But if we can get one loaned/donated, we'll look at a Fun With Liquid Nitrogen panel/presentation.
***Post any videos you'd like us to see here: http://cloud.kryptonserver.com/
The current discussion is about Year In Science, but feel free to add subfolders and make submissions for other panels as well.
Bullet points :-)
- Actively recruit experienced people that you know can help you.
- Start sooner, not later.
- Let everyone know what your parameters are.
- Identify you moderators (but encourage everyone to volunteer for whatever they like).
- Try to identify strengths and let people tell you if you’re wrong.
- Tell people early the kind and amount of work you expect them to do.
- Emphasize new ideas.
- Encourage dialog. Ignore no one.
- Identify anchor topics.
- Stay in touch. (i.e After a few days publish a list of ideas and suggest working titles for panels and workshops.)
- Keep your name off of the panels, at least in the beginning.
- Regularly publish new list with refinements.
Here is my list of "suggested presentations" for cons. The ones in blue are completed talks that I've already given at least once. The red titles are currently scheduled and under development.
What other subjects would you like to see presented/discussed? If I know anything about it, I'll add it to the list.
50 Years of SETI, Where is Everyone
Can Electric Cars Save the World?
The Case for Math: Why It's So Important
Dr. Ben’s List of the Coolest Things He Knows.
Fun with Liquid Nitrogen!
The Future of Robotics
Global Warming, How Bad is It? What Can We Do?
Industrial Robots: What it Really Looks Like
IGY - Where's My Flying Car, Dammit?
Junk Science, How Does It Start? Why is There So Much of it?
Killer Asteroids. How Big is the Threat, Really?
A Lifetime of Armageddon Scenarios. When Can We Finally Relax?
Paranormal: Fact or Fake?
Quantum Computing, When/Why/How?
Nuclear Fusion, We’ll Be There in 15 Years… Right?
Nuclear Power, Is It Worse Than Choking in Greenhouse Gases?
Nuclear Power, the Next Generation
Self-Driving Cars: Sooner, Not Later
The Science of Explosives (AKA Dr. Ben Blows $h!t Up!)
The Science of Science Fiction
The Singularity: When Will We Get There?
Space Colonization - How and When?
Space Travel Options for the Near Future (and Beyond)
Understanding Relativity (General and Special)
What Everyone Should Know About Basic Astronomy
What Everyone Should Know About Basic Physics
What Everyone Should Know About Quantum Physics
What Everyone Should Know About Relativity
What the Hell has Happened to the Documentary?
Also, here is my latest con resume:
Big Fandom Greenville (2016, 2017)
ConCarolinas (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 Science Track Manager)
DragonCon (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019)
LibertyCon (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 Science Guest of Honor, 2017, 2018)
MonsterCon (2013, 2014)
RavenCon (2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019)
And my current bio/pic :-)
Cons are a great place to promote science, logical think and futurism. These popular venues are usually attended by bright, enthusiastic, young people. There's no better place to encourage continued education and an optimistic outlook of the future.