Judge conferences are a great way to meet area judges and learn from your peers in a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere. Perhaps you’ve wanted to host a similar event, but you don’t have a large judge population, or you are remote relative to the concentration of judges in your region. Enter the mini-conference–a scaled-down version of a judge conference that can be tailored to the specific needs and dynamics of your local judge community. This article summarizes the wide variety of mini-conferences that have already taken place across the program and provides examples and best practices for hosting your own.
Types of Mini-Conferences
Mini-conferences can take many forms. Your first role as the event organizer is to choose a format that will best serve the needs of your group. Some of the events that have historically been held include:
- Small Conferences, where a local area of judges (like a single state in the US, or a single country in a region spanning many countries and languages) holds a smaller version of a Regional Conference. For example, the Georgia Judges have held these small conferences several times at local game stores for approximately 10-20 judges. The seminars should be aimed at L0s or L1s, similar to those you might find on a basic track at a regional conference.
- Development Conferences, which are smaller conferences devoted to expanding the judge program into an under-served area, often involving lots of testing of L0s and L1s in order to support that area going forward (e.g., the formalized conferences of Paris, France, targeting the acquisition of new L1s). The goal here is specifically to focus on acquisition of new judges and pairing them with stores in under-served areas. For instance, such an event could be used to identify L0s already in stores, test them, and get them ready to be effective judges by providing educational support.
- Community Conferences, where the focus may be on dealing with or discussing events and challenges specific to your area, such as practices and plans for staffing upcoming events. An example goal is to specifically focus on community issues–event staffing, or other specific challenges identified within a community. These should aim towards things best dealt with face-to-face or requiring collaborative interaction to find solutions to community challenges.
- Social Events: There are also many other types of gatherings that aren’t really conferences at all, but you may want to consider these, depending on your specific goals. They include social outings, game nights, and even judge dinners. The goal/reward for this type of event is relationship-building, team-building, networking, and/or promoting camaraderie.
Event Planning and Organization
One aspect that is a crucial element to any gathering, and one where the organizer can really shine and make a vast difference, is planning. Don’t try to pull a mini-conference together last minute!
Location and A/V
Try to host it somewhere that allows for your group to have discussion and presentations with minimal disruption and background noise. A game store with an extra room is ideal; many have such a space, either as a stock room, or a role-playing game space. If this isn’t an option, see if a specific corner of the room away from any events may be available. You may need to secure a wall, computer, and projector in advance, if any of your talks require these. An old TV can even be used as a large screen if that’s what is available.
Making a Schedule
Set your schedule well in advance, including time for seminars, games, breaks, snacks, discussions—whatever you want to do. An example agenda may look something like this:
10AM – Welcome and introductions
10:15 – Seminar One: Deck Checks Techniques
11:00 – Seminar Two: Event Planning and Logistics
11:45 – Break and snack
11:50 (concurrent with break) – Arrange testing for L0’s if any are ready
12PM – Seminar Three: How to Interact with TO’s
12:45 – Draft/EDH
No-one will attend an event they don’t know exists. Make your event as visible and exciting as possible. Here are some tried-and-true ways to promote your event:
- Post about it in your local judge groups.
- Make a Facebook event for it so people can indicate if they plan to attend.
- Create a flyer to post in the store/space that will be hosting it.
- Generate some word of mouth. Talk to L0s and interested players, and try to get them to spread the word as well.
- Create an event in JudgeApps where people can sign up and have a centralized information space.
As a member of your community, you will know the best communication channels among your group. Make sure you explore all your options. The more participants, the more everyone has an opportunity to learn.
Now that you’ve decided what kind of gathering you want to have and where you want to have it, let’s talk about some best practices to ensure you make the most of everyone’s time while they are there.
Schedule a talk or two (or more!). This is a great way to give some L1s exposure to presenting and helps everyone to develop as presenters and judges in a low-pressure environment. This is also a great way to tailor presentations to L0s and L1s, as many Regional Conferences will focus more on L1- and L2-level topics more heavily. Some topics that are ideal for this setting include:
- deck check techniques
- body language and judge calls
- player and space accessibility
- event preparedness
- what to do as a new L1
- what to do to work towards L2
Since these tend to be smaller, more intimate gatherings, they are also ideal for scenario set-ups and analysis involving demonstrations of slow play, stalling, or even simple investigation topics. Obviously, topics will be dictated by the expertise and desire of your presenters, but you can use these as examples to help anyone who wants to present, but doesn’t have a solid idea as to what they wish to speak on. I recommend keeping it more to technique or learning topics, rather than very specific high-level event stuff. Team Leading at a GP might not be useful, for instance, at such a mini-conference.
Another thing you may want to consider offering at this kind of event is L1 testing. You likely can attract some L0s to these with little extra effort. With proper advanced training, these mini-conferences can offer a good timeline goal for them to be ready to test by.
OK, so now you’ve got your event planned, you know where it will be, you know who is going to present and on what topics. You have an idea of the schedule. What else can you do or add to ensure everyone has a great time? Additional incentives like free drafts, giveaways, and food can help to make your event more fun and appealing to potential participants. In Georgia, we have been lucky that we have many TOs locally that are willing to offer “soft support” for these mini-conferences, in the form of pizza and/or a free draft. Don’t be afraid to ask your TOs if they would offer similar support; in most cases, you will find that they are happy to provide additional assistance to attract and impress local judges. You can also ask more active judges in the area to contribute items for raffles or prizes for drafting. We’ve had boxes of cards, judge playmats, and even donated judge foils used for this purpose. If it’s one thing Magic judges have, and other judges like, it’s Magic cards and products! You know your community best, so do whatever you think will best incentivize your group of judges.
Hopefully this article has given you some ideas you can use to spark your own local events. Don’t forget that all of the documentation and guidance for Official Conferences is still available, and you should use that as much as you can to help organize and keep you on track during planning. Be aware that you don’t need to follow the guidelines as closely, as your event won’t be officially supported, but there is no reason to ignore useful guidance when it already exists for you. I’d love to hear more about how you may organize your local judge events. Feel free to leave comments discussing what works for you, and what you’ve found isn’t successful.