Last weekend, I helped run the USA-Northeast’s spring judge conference! For this conference, I teamed up with Nick Coss, who moonlights as a judge, but is better known as the fantastic TO behind Card Titan, responsible for hosting such hits as Eternal Weekend and GP Baltimore. Thanks to Nick’s connections and generosity, we were able to hold the conference in the Philadelphia Convention Center. Nick secured five meeting rooms in the convention center for our use, which gave us a ton of space to work with.
Nick and I are working on a more detailed report for the Conferences Blog, so if you’re interested in learning more about the organization of this event, stay tuned!
For this post, I’m going to share a few stories about my interactions with some different groups of people, and what I learned from each of these interactions. I feel these stories bear repeating because they’re broadly applicable to working in teams, not just to conferences.
Let’s get to it!
Every good game show needs a host, and so do conferences. It’s very helpful to have someone to act as a master of ceremonies by announcing the start of the next session, introducing the upcoming speaker, reminding speakers when they’re nearly out of time, and so on.
At judge conferences, the conference organizers usually take on this role. For the Philadelphia Conference, however, we had five seminar rooms and just two organizers. If I wanted five people to serve as masters of ceremonies, I would either have to perfect human cloning, or delegate the task.
Developing cloning in just a few weeks is a tall order, so as you might guess, I opted for the latter route and decided to recruit a few “Room Leads” to help things run smoothly. While I realized I could try to recruit Room Leads by posting to the event forum on JudgeApps, I felt that a more direct approach would work better. I combed through the list of attendees and jotted down a list of judges who I knew were reliable and good public speakers. I then sent all of them a direct, blind-carbon-copied email that started with:
“Bearz here. If you’re getting this email, it’s because I think you’re awesome. Nick and I are looking for a few great people, like yourselves, to be “Room Leads” at this conference…”
The response rate to this email was virtually 100% — the only people who didn’t reply were two judges who weren’t available for the conference anymore. Moreover, everyone who replied did so within about 3 hours. And this is all in spite of my email being unsolicited and unexpected!
A personal touch can go a long way.
Many of our seminars had attendance limitations, either by intent of the presenter, the size of the room they were assigned to, or both. To accommodate these restrictions, Nick and I required all attendees to pre-register for seminars on PreReg.Me, the same website Card Titan uses for its “actual” Magic tournaments. The primary developer of PreReg.Me is none other than Adam Shaw, a prominent Northeast judge, who also was attending the conference.
One of our Room Leads’ multiple jobs was ensuring that max-capacity seminars were attended only by people who had actually signed up for them. As such, I wanted to print a list of everyone who was pre-registered for each seminar. Moreover, because attendance kept fluctuating, I put off doing this until right before the conference.
From talking to Nick, I knew that PreReg.Me was able to export attendance lists to a variety of formats (like an Excel file), but for some reason I could only get it to export attendance as a WER player list. Fortunately, Adam was hanging around, so I asked him how I could export Excel files for a seminar. Adam quickly showed me the setting I needed to twiddle, and I was off to the races. Unfortunately, even though it only took a few clicks to get the output I wanted for one event, we had 27 seminars overall.
Adam realized my plight and basically asked, “what are you really trying to do?” I told him that I just wanted a list of attendees for each seminar. Adam quickly logged onto the server and queried the pre-reg database, and soon I had an Excel file with exactly what I needed.
When asking for help, be clear about you’re really trying to accomplish.
Asking the right person the right question is better than a brute-force solution.
Early in the day, I was trying to plug in the portable printer Nick had brought, but couldn’t figure out how to plug it in. I went told Nick something along the lines of “I’m having trouble with the power for the printer,” asked him to look into it, and went off to handle something else in the interim. Nick took my words at face value and called for the venue electricians…who promptly pointed out that I had been trying to plug in the printer with our laptop’s power cord. Whoops.
Although this story might have been just mildly amusing in most circumstances, calling the electricians turned out to have a significant financial cost. When I found out, I apologized profusely to Nick. As much as I wanted to do something to “solve” the problem or “make it right,” I knew there wasn’t anything I could really do about it. Rather than wallow in my own feelings, the best thing I could do for Nick — and the conference as a whole — was to move past the incident and focus on making sure everything else went smoothly.
Happily, this approach worked. Checking in on some seminars, getting lunch, and interviewing a couple people for L2 were great ways of taking my mind off the power incident. Rather than getting caught up in something unfixable, I was able to push forward.
Don’t let the things you can’t fix distract you from the things you need to do.