Back in 2005, Marcus Morgan published 'A Manifesto For BiCon Organisers' as a PDF file. As the place it was uploaded to (resources.bi.org) no longer exists, it is now available here.
Since it was written, Marcus has run three BiCons rather than two and several other things have changed. As the file specifically forbids editing it or posting it as web pages, no corrections have been made. The 'excellent article' referenced as being at biconf.org no longer exists there* but
it will be available here soon is now here.
Another site had a wiki with advice for organisers and that too will be here (slightly less) soon, but here are the comments on the manifesto that were there (again, made over a decade ago!) including Marcus's responses to some of it:
If you haven't already read it, please do so now… because I'm just going to make comments on some of it.
I've also not gone "I think he's right you know!" to the vast majority of it.
Seek Other Advice Too
Yep. The idea for the BiCon Guidelines came from SF cons, for example.
Someone used to trade union conferences came along to 2001 in Coventry and was stunned that – at a venue that didn't have an onsite bar or food – the organisers hadn't gone to some of the local pubs and food places and said "You can be an Official BiCon bar / food place… if you give us a percentage of your take from people who mention us."
This is a good idea, hadn't occurred to me! -Marcus
I thoroughly recommend going to some of the BiCons elsewhere. The first EuroBiCon, and the internationals in Berlin and Boston were particularly good, but you've missed those 🙂
I also loved Queeruption in London 2004. The atmosphere was very like a BiCon, but when you're in a squatted venue, only some of which has electricity, never mind heating, it was also very differently fab.
Most of the mistakes that have been made over the years would very probably not have been made if the organisers had asked previous organisers "how's this idea sound?" If they go "erm… are you sure?" do at least think you might be taking a risk if you go ahead with it. There's nothing wrong with taking a risk, but some are like playing Russian Roulette with a fully loaded revolver.
What Is BiCon Really About?
I particularly liked the comment on a 2005 feedback form. Asked to finish the sentence "BiCon 2005 was…" someone wrote "about the people, stupid."
What Do You Want It To Do?
Hmmmm. Apart from the very first couple, I'm not entirely convinced that any of the other UK ones have really addressed this one. In part, that's because even if the organisers want to do something else, a large chunk will chose the "have a really big fun festival" option.
Personally, even when I've been told not to, I've aimed to a) do better than last year and b) make next year's organisers think, at least at the time, "how are we going to do better than this?"
I don't think I'm alone in this – if you don't do X very well, next year's team will get lots of volunteers to do X next year. The second one year's finished, there were at least four people wanting to do the session programme next year, for example.
I'm going to say "it depends". Most of 2002 was effectively done with a triumvirate (even if I had to look up how to spell it!) As it achieved the aims above, I think we did ok. At least one other year had one (for much the same reason as we did: a very tight timetable) and didn't. We had the huge advantage of lots of experience though.
Some of the people involved would deny it furiously, but 2005 was like the cabinet: nominally a bunch of equals, but there was a very definite Blair / Brown pair (only with a much nicer relationship) within that.
See The Venue for my thoughts.
"The opening ceremony is the least important of the three"
Hmmmm. It depends. If you're running an international (either International or Euro) BiCon, then I'd rate it as the most important. In this case, having something about where people have come from is a very good idea as it builds the feeling that this is indeed an international event and not just a local one with a different name.
Fair point. UK BiCons have very ragged start times, with people arriving all the way through. International ones, with the increased travel and people not trying to sneak in after a day at work would, I suspect, be able to garner more attendees at an opening ceremony.-Marcus
This is my main disagreement with Marcus. I think you should have a sliding scale for this too.
I'm not saying don't because it's wrong, I'm saying it's far too much work financial planning wise. (c; -Marcus
You're going to be nervous about money, fine. But in the UK at least, there is a substantial buffer, a surplus generated from overcharging people in the past, either because of such nervousness or because loads more people than were expected turned up.
If you have a sliding scale, do not charge your lowest band more than your actual costs for accommodation. That's both obscene AND stupid – you want people to stay at your venue. Charge them less.
Totally agree. -Marcus
Even if you did get your figures slightly wrong, no-one – ok, at BiCon, there's Always One – will attack you for losing say a thousand quid (more realistically several hundred) because you charged unwaged people 'too little'. If they do, you will find you have lots of support, trust me.
The 2002 team had these, and free accommodation. I don't think any of 2005's did.
No-one (see disclaimer above) who's got the faintest idea of how much work is involved in organising one(*) will object to giving yourself a "free" BiCon – for one thing, when running it, you don't get "a BiCon" – but if you have lost money, then being able to say that you paid too will make you feel more virtuous.
(*) At one point during 2002, I thought of making a note of how much time I did spend, but it quickly got frightening seeing it adding up.
"Do not have opt in tickets"
When I was filling in the registration form for the 2004 International BiCon, I had a big ponder about the, I think, two events that were paid-for separately: a dinner and an evening entertainment. Nothing in the material available at the time made me go "Ooooh, I really want to do that!" but I was worried that I'd miss something good if I didn't.
It seems I was not alone, but I never imagined for a second that a large section of the organising team weren't interested in either. WTF?!
Fortunately, I didn't send the extra money, and left it until I firmed up getting the flights and other details sorted. Which they never were. (A lucky escape?)
But it's important to say that having opt in tickets has worked – it did at the Boston Intl BiCon, for example. The venue, Harvard, was Not Cheap. I'm not sure just when the organisers realised they were going to have a thousand people turn up, but they must have had a serious dilemma: book a hall for one evening's cabaret capable of holding a thousand people, stick the cost on everyone's registration and hope or book a hall that couldn't and ration the tickets somehow = sell them.
(Mind you, I'm still somewhat pissed that the semi-official sex party the night before wasn't like the one at BiPol 1990 in San Francisco. That set of organisers invited all the international visitors, but this one didn't.)
It also worked at the first Euro BiCon, for their main social. It also worked for the Claire Dowie theatrical performance at Nottingham 1993.
So I'd say if you are going to do this, ask yourself why. Check the idea out. And think again.
It can be done, but you're either putting on something expensive that you're acknowledging that a large chunk of people are not going to want to go to (if it's not expensive or 80+% of the attendees will want to attend – include it in the registration cost!) OR putting on something that non-attendees can also come to (a whole different can of worms!)
I didn't go to the Claire Dowie performance myself, as it sounded like Not My Kind Of Thing, so ICB8 is my only real example. They had an opt in ball, concert and breakfast. Each a seperate ticket, each needing collecting from the registration desk and then handing in on the night.-Marcus
UK BiCons tend not to have these. ("We agreed – no leaders!!") When they do, for some reason I've never quite understood, they've tended to be from people outside the UK bi community.
So bisexually-behaved but lesbian-identified Lisa Power has given two. Well, one really, because she gave the same speech ("you're all wonderful!!!") at two different BiCons. We've seen queer activist Peter Tatchell twice too. And – most relevant, because of how often we see her over here – Robyn Ochs has done at least one.
There have been a couple of others, but I can't remember them at the moment.
What else do you need to know if you're considering having one?? If you want to invite someone along from outside, put them on a panel.
They seem to be more popular for international BiCons, but if you're having an International BiCon with three – count 'em! – keynotes, do not have all three from your own country. The West, the mid-West and the East coast of the USA do not count as separate countries, at least to non-Americans.
Entertainment Dos And Don'ts
* Who says you can't talk to the venue about bar prices? Not that I think anyone actually has, but having people who can generate a serious bar take is a major negotiating point.
* Yep, vary the music. What 2005 should have done on the Friday was have a 'white and black' disco. Light fluffy pop at the start of the evening, dark and goth at the end. Unfortunately, we ended up with a mess of a format and when several other things went wrong… we were lucky to be bailed out by Marcus & Jess.
I am biased, but I thought The Time Travellers Ball concept (moving through the decades) worked. There weren't so many people during the 50s section at the start, for example, but those who were appreciated it and the DJ was not left playing to an empty space which is the usual fate of someone starting a disco at 8pm. (The two most popular decades were the 60s and 80s, by the way.)
I thought it worked great as a format. I'm a little unsure why some of the excess cds couldn't have made up the gaps on Friday. (c: -Marcus
* All I'm going to say about official play spaces / dark rooms is that the Dutch manage to have them without too many problems. (They used to be surprised that UK BiCons don't.)
* The bit about paying all the entertainers – and why not? – if you pay any of them also applies to session leaders. One year, some got paid, thanks to some external funding, but this was kept Very Quiet. I didn't run a session that year, but if I had, I'd have kicked up a huge fuss.
That was safer sex funding wasn't it? I don't think I'd be happy with that these days – rather take the money as BiCon as a whole and spend it on safer sex supplies / displays / custom leaflets. -Marcus
Oh yes. There are few things more annoying that discovering that this year's BiCon happened less than ten miles away from where you're living and you didn't hear about it until the week after it had happened.
2003's quiz meme was a particularly fabulous idea.
Policies (actually, 'Owning up')
The worst thing I have ever seen an organiser do at a BiCon is someone blame someone else – an entirely innocent someone else who was not on the organising team – for there not being a proper crèche.
I was left feeling I'd done the second worst thing by appearing for a few seconds to blame other people – who were entirely innocent, not on the organising team and who'd been wonderfully helpful – for any perceived imperfections with one evening's music. (And I'm sorry for those few seconds Marcus and Jess!)
Another year's team would have saved themselves an awful lot of grief if they'd talked about the problems they'd had with the venue.
Let me warn you that these do not come cheap. But if you do not offer one, you will suffer before, during and quite possibly after BiCon. If no-one takes the offer up by the relevant deadline (probably a month or so before the event), then it's fine not to have it.
(And if someone who hasn't booked turns up at the door demanding one and you don't have one for that reason, you can say "tough" or "sorry", depending on your mood.)
However, if you've taken someone's booking on the basis that there will be one, you absolutely must not then cancel it on the grounds that there's only one child booked and that'd mean spending £720 on one child… without that person being very very happy with whatever outcome you agree with them (and agree before they arrive on the day). Watch this space.
These are great, but do not attempt to do all your registration desk stuff with a list that's only sorted by registration number and does not have a 'name to registration number' key.
Passing Things On
If you wrote it down, consider: would next year find it useful? Give it to them in a format they can edit without too much hassle, i.e. not as PDF.
"In 2002 he was presented with a lifetime achievement award for his work in the UK bisexual community."
And a complete privilege it was to give it to him too.
You might not have realised it, but <jedi> these are not the droids you are looking for… and you want to have an awards ceremony too. </jedi>
(And not one involving Fritz Klein giving something to whoever organised this year's event.)
They make people feel good. They make people want to do more things. They make people realise that you don't have to be perfect (because ghod knows Marcus isn't and if you think I am after reading this stuff, well…) to do things too or be appreciated.
We've had far too few of them over the years – three! – considering how many people have done so much. For 2002, I started with a list of twenty people and got talked down to eight. The other two years (1991 and 1994) did it for one person each time. That's just ten people, from a history of twenty four years.
As far as I'm concerned the only reason 2005 didn't have one is that the main three people I'd give ones to weren't there.
Finally, just checking…
"if members of your team don't want to attend the formal banquet then how many of your attendees will?"
"At one BiCon I couldn't find room 103B"
"schedule something before 9am"
These are all the 2004 International BiCon, aren't they? I'm wondering if the "Israeli occupation of Palestine" keynote was at that too…
It was actually a breakfast which I'm obfuscating slightly, but yes. Palestine too. All ICB8. *shudder* -Marcus
I don't think it's a coincidence that, as far as I know, none of the organisers of that one had been to a UK BiCon.
* The domain name has been squatted at least twice since 2005