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An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2012-04-05 05:15
Subject: [conventions] Time, reading and panel etiquette
Security: Public
Tags:conventions, culture, process
I was thinking about this topic yesterday as I was packing for Norwescon, and realized that if I wanted to talk about it on my blog, I should do so before the convention. Because if I posted this after the convention, people would think I was being a passive-aggressive grump about something that happened at Norwescon. Which hasn't happened yet.

Or something.

So here's me being a Ranty McRantypants about an issue that always bugs me, and is a very common problem at conventions. Probably I'll come off as a total crank, but, hey, it's my blog. I can crank if I want to.

See, I'm kind of a fiend about time. Barring major catastrophe or serious process failure, I am always on time to everything. Usually I'm early. Late is something that happens to other people. For the most part, this is my own private neurosis, and I deal with it pretty well. Since timeliness is valued in many aspects of our culture, this isn't even a dysfunction. (Though some of my close friends might argue otherwise.)

But that's when my time is my own. When the time belongs to other people, it transcends a private neurosis and becomes a matter of mutual respect. Showing up late for a meeting or a date is disrespectful of other people's time and effort. Not to mention wasteful. Making other people late for their meeting is even more disrespectful.

So, at a convention, when I have a reading or am moderating a panel, I am a fiend about ending the event at least five minutes before the start of the next reading or panel. This is because it takes a few minutes for everyone to file out of the room. Not to mention to clear the clump around the panelists' table as people come up to ask questions. Not to mention that the next reader or panelists need to set up, clear their heads, and be ready to go on time. Not to mention that anyone attending that reading or panel might like to make it to their next planned event on time. Not to mention that the audience for the next reading or panel would like to come in and sit down to see their desired event on time.

Sensing a theme here?

Yet over the years, I cannot begin to count the number of occasions where the reading or panel before mine has run long, right up to the transition point, or even beyond it. Which is profoundly disrespectful to both audiences (exiting and entering) as well as the pros scheduled to have the room next. And wastes the time of a hell of a lot of people.

Being who I am, after the first couple of years of putting up with this, I've developed the habit as needed of simply walking into the room about four minutes before the start of the next reading or panel and tactfully signaling that they need to cut it off pretty much right away. If I am ignored, I become a lot less tactful, though I am never rude. Just insistent.

When I do that, i sometimes encounter a lot of resentment and even outright anger from the audience. This is especially true of readings, where fans are listening eagerly to their beloved author.

You know what? The next author is beloved of their fans, too. And just because your author can't judge the time required for their own reading is no reason to steal time from the next author. Or from the people who want to hear them. We're all in this together, and everybody's time is just as valuable to them as yours is to you.

So, if you're a pro with a reading or a panel, please pay attention to the time. If you're a fan in that reading or panel, please remember that the next event in that room is just as important to other people as the one you're attending is to you. Being aware of time is just basic respect for the folks around you.

And if it's me coming in to the room to ask the event to wrap it up now, feel free to glare all you want. That's not going to make you or your favorite pro any less disrespectful of the next people who need the room, and mostly you're going to amuse me with your rudeness. To my mind, that sort of irritated response is of a kind with the notion that it's rude to ask people to stop talking in theaters, because you're interrupting their conversation — an inversion of social norms that makes no sense except in an utterly self-centered world.

(Also, you kids, get off my lawn!)

Post A Comment | 29 Comments | | Link

Kerry aka Trouble
User: controuble
Date: 2012-04-05 12:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I am so with you on this one. It's almost to the point of wondering if I'm OCD - things MUST start on time or I get antsy. If I cannot leave the house with more than enough time to arrive somewhere on time (as in at least 5 minutes before I am due), I start to fret and have to force myself not to yell at the kidlet who is usually causing the delay.

At cons, the biggest problem is that once it starts, the next panel thinks they should get their full hour (or however long panels are at that con) too, and so on, until ...
I suppose that means I should work con-ops and keep things running on time, but I just stay in the art show where there is no schedule except opening and closing the room and getting the auction ready. I'm a coward.
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just a bear whose intentions are good
User: two_star
Date: 2012-04-05 17:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The filk track at Orycon has been a horrible offender. A big part of the problem is that a big portion of the audience is at the con just for filk, and they aren't the least bit inconvenienced if the whole track ends up 45 minutes late. But for someone who wants to see some of the rest of the con, it can be rather annoying.
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User: goulo
Date: 2012-04-05 12:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yep. Well said.

And no need for the final "get off my lawn" self-dismissive sort-of-disclaimer IMHO... :)
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User: fledgist
Date: 2012-04-05 13:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This is just common courtesy. Something that, like common sense, is not all that common.
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Twilight: Lwaxana Troi
User: twilight2000
Date: 2012-04-05 13:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Lwaxana Troi
To this end, I LOVE the volunteers who come around with BIG "5 minute" signs at 10 minutes to the hour.

There's a special place in the afterlife for those little angels :>
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Lawrence M. Schoen
User: klingonguy
Date: 2012-04-05 13:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
So often when I am moderating and winding the panel down so we can leave when we're supposed, I'll have a copanelist say, "no, wait, we have another five minutes."

As moderator, I am then within my rights to gut this person with a bat'leth.

I hope you remembered to pack a bat'leth.
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evannichols: closeup
User: evannichols
Date: 2012-04-05 13:44 (UTC)
Subject: Yesyesyesyes
I'm so with you on this! I understand that not everyone values keeping to schedule, but in a group-cooperative event like a convention, it just makes sense to me. When I give feedback about a con, whether or not the sessions start on time almost always gets noted. And it really should be on the organizers and volunteers to see that the transitions happen in a timely manner, not up to the authors and panelists. IMHO. Thanks for saying what all of us time-attentive people were thinking!
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User: madrobins
Date: 2012-04-05 14:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

A well known writer with a Superiority Personality Disorder once went past the end of his reading and about five minutes into mine (and then there was the shuffling out and in...). When a con-runner person told him "you have to end now" about five minutes before the end, he nodded and kept going. When, at the appointed hour for my reading to start, when the con-runner person tried to shut him down, he said (and aloud, where anyone including me could hear him) no one is here for the next guy. They're here to hear me." I was then at the beginning of my career, and it's quite possible no one would have come to hear me, but I got a couple of listeners simply because they were stunned at his rudeness.

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seventorches: funny animal comic
User: seventorches
Date: 2012-04-05 19:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:funny animal comic
At a RadCon several years ago we had back-to-back readings of about a half-hour each. [Name Redacted] who was ahead of Rob, ran so far over his time slot that Rob essentially lost his slot altogether. We kept signaling and he just kept saying "only a little more" or whatever. It *seemed* like only a short way to the end on paper, but the person reads in a rather stentorian manner and way overshot. In retrospect we really should have said "I'm sorry, you're over", but we're friends, and, you know... It was especially hurtful because there were people who were showing up for Rob's reading but wandered off when it became clear [Name Redacted] wasn't going to stop and they also had somewhere to be after that time. So for readers: Time your god-damned reading. If you read slowly, pick something short. And if you're reading this, [Name Redacted], be aware I've never forgiven you.
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User: keikaimalu
Date: 2012-04-05 14:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hear, hear.

I've become somewhat less obsessively punctual over the years, but I still absolutely believe in punctuality. And in the importance of allowing time between panels.

(Can't believe it's Norwescontime again already....)
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User: jeffreyab
Date: 2012-04-05 14:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
As a con runner I try to have panels run 50 minutes to give people a bit of time between panels.

Also I have a no more than 5 panelist rule so in theory that gives each 10 minutes of talk time.

Of course it does not always end that way.
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User: voidampersand
Date: 2012-04-05 14:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Would you like to work Program Ops at Worldcon? (I'm not in any capacity there, but I know them, and I'm sure it could be arranged.)
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User: threeoutside
Date: 2012-04-05 14:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
100% agreement, here. Don't apologize for what is a character *virtue* for crying out loud. My career in government required me to attend countless meetings, conferences and presentations. I quickly learned to loathe people who wouldn't shut up when they'd said their piece once, wouldn't insist that the event maintain its schedule, and wouldn't draw the damn meeting to a close at its appointed time. Good Lord. It IS all about respect and common sense.
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User: magentamn
Date: 2012-04-05 15:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)

One reason I love Wiscon is that they have people whose job it is to go to panels and raise the pre-printed "5 minutes" sign in the back.

I tend to be prompt myself, partly a legacy of years at the public library, which had to run like clockwork or people would get upset. The public, if we didn't open on time, and the staff if we didn't close on time.
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Kari Sperring
User: la_marquise_de_
Date: 2012-04-05 15:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
One of the jobs of UK-style green rooms is to give panels and so on the 5 minute warning. I tend not to need it, as I work to a 50 minute slot (courtesy of years of teaching), but I have on a number of occasions had to guillotine panels and readings hard (and been whined at). It's common sense as well as courtesy: programmes need to run close to time in order to ensure everyone gets a fair share.
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Vylar Kaftan
User: vylar_kaftan
Date: 2012-04-05 16:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I can't figure out why cons don't schedule "passing time." All the ones I go to schedule 5-15 minutes for people to travel between things. 15 min is better than 5.
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Kevin Standlee: ConOps
User: kevin_standlee
Date: 2012-04-05 16:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Many conventions do. It's common to tell the panelists that their panels are (say) 55 minutes in a 60 minute slot. But drawing that on a panel grid makes the grid look messy, as does printing panel times as (say) "(11:00-11:55)."

I do not know if explicitly listing the panel times that way would actually lean to more improvement. Maybe a few more of the audience members would Have a Clue, at least.
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Kevin Roche
User: kproche
Date: 2012-04-05 16:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Speaking as a past (and current -- I accidentally acquired a Westercon) con chair:

I absolutely agree with planning transition space/time between program items. Interestingly, though, when we allowed 75 minutes for items with a 15 minute break, we got complaints that it reduced the number of items in the daily schedule too much.

It's a juggling act to get the numbers right; you need to look at both the size of your convention population and the physical plant of your venue to figure out a reasonable transition time.

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User: swan_tower
Date: 2012-04-05 18:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yeah, I was going to mention that if nobody had beaten me to it. It doesn't erase the problem -- people can still run long -- but it helps a lot.

And Jay, I'm with you. One ICFA, the GoH speech ran to the end of the allotted time slot, through the fifteen minutes? half an hour? (I can't remember) scheduled as passing time afterward, and right up to the edge of the start time of the next programming block. (And only ended then, if memory serves, because the speaker suddenly noticed what time it was and cut short.) It was a pretty good speech, but that was deeply inconsiderate of other people.

People. If you're reading any kind of prepared text, TIME IT. This is not rocket science. Do not show up to a twenty-minute reading with an eight thousand word story or paper or whatever and decide on the fly which bits to skip over. If you're a panel moderator, put your watch or cell phone or other time-keeping device on the table, and remember the kindergarten lesson: we all have to share. It's the polite thing to do.
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Kevin Standlee: ConOps
User: kevin_standlee
Date: 2012-04-05 16:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Don't apologize. It's a virtue, not a flaw. People who are consistently late to meetings/panels and consistently run over their allotted time are saying, "I'm far more important than you are." It's rude and disrespectful.

Most conventions with which I'm familiar actually do tell panelists that there's a certain amount of changeover time (usually 5 minutes if the panels are in 60-minute slots). But enforcing it is difficult. Even when you have the people points to take the 5 minute signs around, you still have panelists who won't pay attention it because they are Too Important. Trying to get gophers to actually stand up to panel squatters like that is asking too much; you need someone higher up the convention management chain to have much hope of getting anywhere.
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it's a great life, if you don't weaken
User: matociquala
Date: 2012-04-05 17:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Seriously. Pack it in by five of. People need passing time.
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User: barbarienne
Date: 2012-04-05 19:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well said, sir. I feel exactly the same.
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User: klwilliams
Date: 2012-04-05 20:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm with you on all of this, 100%.
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They Didn't Ask Me: reading-bennett-2
User: dr_phil_physics
Date: 2012-04-05 20:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Of course the altiverse rule is... showing up to do a reading as a relatively unknown new author and finding the room packed, as Peter S. Beagle is finishing up. His reading started late because of a door being locked or something. And I was only going to get one or two people anyway. (grin)

Besides, I got to hear part of a Peter S. Beagle reading.

Dr. Phil
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Danny Adams
User: madwriter
Date: 2012-04-05 21:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Not cranky. I'm like this all the time. When people say things to me like "If I'm late, people can just wait for me"--and they have said this--I reply something along the lines of "If you keep thinking like that they'll quit waiting for you."
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Fluttering Things: omg yes
User: moxie_raqs
Date: 2012-04-05 23:37 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:omg yes
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User: a_cubed
Date: 2012-04-06 08:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've done similar in an academic situation. I got fed up of other lecturers running over the time (at my previous university the slots ran officially from on the hour to hour:50). At least once when I walked in at hour:52 I got filty looks or even barbed comments. When you've got a lecture room seating 250, with about 200 people in and 200+ to then come in, you really need the ten minute crossover. I always tried to finish early (a few minutes early is generally welcomed by the students far more than going over even by one minute). I was also very harsh on students arriving late pointing out to them that their arrival was disrupting my lecture for the 190 students who had turned up on time and that no matter how quiet they thought they were being, I was distracted by their arrival.
When I was an undergrad one of my maths lecturers teaching in a classroom rather than a lecture hall would lock the one door to the room (easily unlockable from inside so not a fire hazard) and ignore anyone knocking. Very quickly people stopped turning up late. They turned up or they didn't, but they didn't turn up late. With the very small numbers of students I have these days (less than a handful usually) I just point out that they're wasting their own learning time.
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User: supersniffles
Date: 2012-04-06 10:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I had a romantic partner who was congenitally unable to arrive anywhere on time. It was... Uncomfortable, for both of us. I used to give him a running countdown of how long he had before we needed to leave for anywhere. That actually helped him.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-04-06 15:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I have a marriage-with-kid dissolve over this exact issue.
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