Programming is the function that creates the various panels, workshops, demonstrations, lectures, and events at the convention, recruits program participants, pairs the participants with ideas submitted from outside or generated by internal brainstorming, to create and maintain a weekend-long schedule and to communicate that schedule to the participants, the Publications division, the Guest of Honor Liaison and all other departments.
At con, Programming distributes packets to participants, staffs a solutions center (often referred to as Program Ops) for handling expected and unexpected occurrences, and monitors volunteers for A/V equipment and for counting panel attendance.
The Programming head recruits staff to assist, and may also organize programming into "tracks" following the theme of the convention, if there is one. Finally, the Programming head is responsible for communicating with other staff for scheduling and thematic purposes.
There are two main strategies for creating programming:
- Start by generating or collecting Great Ideas, then find people to participate in them.
- Start by looking at the people who are available and your knowledge of who plays well together and how their areas of knowledge and interest overlap, and then produce ideas for your program that build off of these synergies.
This is analogous to the process of cooking, where you can start with a recipe and then go shopping for ingredients and hope you find them, or you can start with the ingredients you have and then figure out the best things you can make with those ingredients. Note that you can combine the two approaches in both cooking and programming. In either case, the more you know about the characteristics of your ingredients, (i.e. your people), the better you are able to produce a pleasing result.
If there are program participants, including your Guests of Honor, with whom you are not familiar, try to recruit into your process someone who does know them well. This can include that person themselves. A simple though not always helpful way to try to find out what they would like to do and talk about, what they don't want to talk about, who they do and don't want to be on programming with, and what topics and program formats they really shine on, is to ask them. These days that is commonly done with a survey by email. You may or may not want to ask these questions of all your prospective program participants, but you should always ask your Guests of Honor.
Note that you should recruit or assign a Moderator for any panel that has more than three people on it. Some say every panel should have a moderator, but at the very least every panel with more than three people should have one, preferably someone experienced at Moderating Panels.
Programming at a large regional has the following staff requirements:
- 1 or 2 division heads, 1 or more direct assistants
- Up to 1 track head per program track (set of similar-themed sessions) to head up brainstorming and recruiting program participants in that area
- Several people to staff Program Ops at con
- At least 2 people to work Programming's A/V requirements at con
- Developers for Programming's internal software needs
- Volunteers for brainstorming, editing the precis, mail merges and mailing parties
- Volunteers at-con for counting heads, maintaining signage, and moving furniture and props
Programming has the following ideal timeline:
- Eight months out: Brainstorming kickoff meeting.
- Six to seven months out: Brainstorming switches from gathering ideas to winnowing them and writing full descriptions.
- Six months out: A mass mailing (e-mail followed by postal) questionnaire is sent out to create the participant list, due two months later.
- Four to five months out: Program precis is being edited.
- Three to four months out: Programming precis is sent to prospective participants (due back a month later) and is posted to web site.
- Two to three months out: Scheduling begins.
- Two months out: Dry run of data extracts for Publications and for hotel resume are ready.
- Six weeks out: Schedule is sent to participants for comment, posted to web site. Data extract for hotel resume is ready.
- Four weeks out: Changes from participant comments incorporated into schedule, web site updated. Final data extract for Publications is ready.
- Two weeks out: Drop dead date for any schedule changes before con.