Continuum 13 Con Report, part 1

I was a guest of honour for Continuum 13 and it was fantastic! Here is an overview that I wrote mostly for myself, so I wouldn’t forget things, but I hope you like reading it too! I’m posting it even in its draft form (because I have a feeling otherwise I wouldn’t post it) and will add the rest as I go along.

Continuum 13 happened over four days, starting late afternoon of Friday the 9th and ending early afternoon Monday the 12th. This was good for me because it helped me feel less like I had to cram all the good experiences and activities and meetups into just a couple of days. Also, I thankfully didn’t have any programming scheduled earlier than 10am, which helped me a lot as I have difficulty with mornings (especially winter mornings!).

The con was held at the Jasper Hotel, which I thought was a very good choice as it’s quite easy to get to from Flinders Street by tram (several trams stop right outside the hotel!) and is right beside the Queen Victoria Markets — and, more importantly, a 24/7 Macca’s! This is especially pertinent because one thing that I didn’t expect (but held true for me throughout the con) is that I didn’t have any energy to go out for food at all, despite being close to so many great restaurants. Even just the thought of talking to a server was too much. So what a relief to be right next door to a place where I could place my order and pay through a screen, and thus stave off a lot of the overwhelm that comes from socializing/engaging with so many people. The Jasper Hotel was also really close to reasonably priced parking, which helped me and my partner a lot as we had to figure out where to put our car so we could transport my paintings home. So, really good location all round!

As for the hotel itself, while it was small I thought the size suited the convention perfectly; any bigger and we might have felt a bit too spread thin. It did feel like the hotel staff were a bit unprepared for us, there were quite a few instances of things like missed orders and the water at the con tables running empty that I feel could have been solved by more staff. I’m not sure if it’s fair to expect more out of them; certainly all the staff I interacted with were very lovely and didn’t treat me as if any of my requests (eg additional room key for my partner) were any trouble at all.

Con management:
All the committee members I spoke with were absolutely wonderful and clearly ready and willing to help! If they couldn’t help with something they could point me to someone else who would be more able to help me with what I needed. I also appreciate that they were responsive to queries directed at @continuum_con’s Twitter; when someone tweeted that they were new to the con and didn’t know anyone, the con committee responded stuff that was pretty helpful, I thought. I wish the con com had been a bit more consistent using the #con13 hashtag as I almost missed some important tweets from their account, but still, all good.

I think one really important thing about how the con committee and volunteers ran the con was that even though there were some slip-ups and problems the response was always along the lines of “we’ll try to fix it” instead of dismissal or suggesting that people put up with it. Of course, my experience is as a Guest of Honour and they certainly did an excellent job taking care of me; I’d be interested in hearing what other people thought!

One thing I think the management could have improved on was communication/information dissemination, in terms of schedules and general programming; it would have been very helpful, for instance, to have the con programme online so that those of us who didn’t have our conbook on hand (me!) could still access our schedules. And I think more info on activities like the Maskobalo/Costume Contest would have been really helpful for first-time attendees who didn’t exactly know what to expect. Another thing as well is that there were some important pieces of information communicated in the first two days that weren’t repeated in the next two days, so people who weren’t there at the start would have been left out of the loop.

These are easily fixable things for next time and I’m looking forward to the committee making improvements on that score; I think in terms of responsiveness and the overall philosophy of how things should be run (“make people as comfortable as possible”/”help as much as we can”) they definitely have that down. It was a very people-centric con, not just in terms of panelists/guests of honour but also attendees, and I appreciated that a lot. I think it’s a testament to the committee’s responsiveness that I feel all right even saying these things in public; I can trust them not to do the usual blaming and gaslighting that’s unfortunately quite common whenever one brings up issues or problems with many con committees.

Facilities and Accommodation:
Even though it was my first genre con ever, after the initial disorientation I could easily find my way around, part of which I credit to the numerous signs and the presence of people you could ask for help or information. I have numerous… brain/body things that make large gatherings of people very difficult for me, and I communicated that to the committee beforehand; I was really happy to find, at the convention, that my needs were accommodated and I was never made to feel like I was asking too much or being unreasonable.

I really appreciated that there was a quiet room where people could just sit if the general activity of the con became too much. I didn’t go there apart from my initial meet-and-greet with the committee, because I had a hotel room, but I thought it was a very good thing to have for people who didn’t have their own space to retreat to.

At the registration desk, there were communication pegs — little green, yellow, or red clothes pegs you could clip onto your lanyard to indicate your openness to conversation with strangers (green), people you already know (yellow) and no one (red). I loved the concept and spent some time walking around with a green peg. I think in terms of implementation, maybe large brightly colored stickers could work better next time, as the pegs could get a bit hard to see, but even just as a concept it made a big difference, I think. Just having these showed that it was okay to be shy or to have trouble initiating with conversations, and also that it was okay to not want to talk to anyone for a bit — so even just having these options available was really great.

In terms of access, all the con floors could be gotten to via lift, and there were wheelchair-friendly toilets on the ground floor (I’m not sure about the first floor since I don’t think I went in those). The main stage had a wheelchair ramp, while other panel rooms didn’t have a stage for the panelists, just a table at the front to sit at. The panels I attended had enough microphones for all the panelists (not necessarily 1:1, but a comfortable ratio) and I did my best to always speak into the mic, though I think it might be useful next time to include notes for moderators/panelists to always use the mic for the sake of people who can’t hear very well. (I myself sometimes have this problem though I haven’t been diagnosed with any hearing-related stuff; it comes and goes depending on how tired I am, but I always appreciate whenever people use the mic and I would love to see this become the default, because I don’t always have the capacity to ask.) I’m sure this doesn’t cover everything, so again, I’m interested in what other people with access needs have to say!

I thought the general structure and the way the con was run accommodated for people with my issues (anxiety, difficulty with crowds, etc) quite well. There was one time I had to miss a panel I was meant to be part of, just because I was so overwhelmed and anxious, and the committee were really lovely. I was over an hour late to the Sunday market because I was recovering from an earlier panel, and no one batted an eye, in fact everyone was very supportive and good. I hope that other people had this experience as well — that it wasn’t just because I was GOH that I was treated well, but that it was that the con was committed to being a good space for disabled people and people with various types of needs.

Future suggestions would be an information pack for everyone speaking on and/or moderating a panel regarding things like: making sure people can see/hear as easily as possible; being sensitive to other panelists’ needs (because some panelists may have a harder time putting themselves out there, and it’s important to be aware of that and consciously step aside so they can speak), how not to be a shitty racist 101 and 102, how not to be shitty to disabled people 101 and 102, how not to be shitty to queer people 101 and 102– just, generally consciousness-raising stuff — and dealing with audience input. That last one I feel I should clarify — at most of my panels people from the audience wanted to speak before we were taking questions from the audience, and it was more than a little nerve-wracking; I don’t think any of these people meant anything but the best, but it would be really useful, I think, to state at the start of a panel how the format is meant to work, when audience questions and comments will be taken, how these questions and comments will be taken (I think it could be useful to take written questions also?) etc. So that expectations are very clear at the start and things are easier for everyone involved.

…And okay, I had wanted to turn this into a really complete report, including my panels and my speech etc, but– I am exhausted and I would like to post this, and just add things on afterwards. So there will be a part 2! Thank you for reading.

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