Conference Guidelines

Last Updated: September 2017

In this document you will find information, advice and policies about judge conferences. If you have never organized a conference and are not sure where to start, this document should give you a good idea of what is involved.

Conferences may receive support in the form of foil cards that are awarded to participants, and if they do, they must adhere to certain guidelines. In general, the Regional Coordinator decides when and where to run foil-supported conferences.

Supported conferences may include any of the following, in addition to any conferences deemed useful by the RC and in need of support:

Event conferences are held at Grand Prix events (or other major events), often on Friday or Monday. They will usually have participants from multiple regions. Each region can have no more than one event conference every year.

Regional conferences are stand-alone events that are not connected to any major events. They’re targeted to judges from a specific region, address mainly the regional needs, and are often smaller than an event conference. They’re often run in the local language.

Miniconferences are stand-alone events that are not connected to any major events. They’re targeted to judges from a specific subset of a region, address mainly the needs of that area, and are smaller than a regional conference. They’re often run in the local language.

Leadership conferences are smaller, invite-only conferences for a region’s leading judges. They are organized directly by the RC and have their own specific rules.

– Judge Tournament Qualifiers (JTQ) are small one-day conferences, either invite-only or apply with requirements. They’re targeted to help L2 candidates to gain their L2 checklist recommendations. The candidates will have some role-play situations and discuss with their mentors, then mentors will decide if they’d like to recommend the candidates for L2 by end of the day.

Unsupported conferences are also an option. You have the freedom to ignore the policy side of this document when organizing an unofficial conference.

1. Conference policies

There are a few rules and requirements regarding conferences. In order to receive foil support, you must:

  • Schedule your conference and create a JudgeApps event at least 6 weeks out.
  • Have participants register on JudgeApps at least a month before the conference
  • Publish list of presenters and brief description of seminar/activity on JudgeApps at least a month before the conference

In addition to these requirements, the following are recommended practices:

  • Have an appropriate number of seminars/sessions (can include a quiz/other light topic)
      • A mini-conf (20 ppl max): 2 -3 topics minimum
      • A small conference: 20+ people: 4-6
      • A larger conference: 6+
  • Offer judge testing at the conference if possible
    • L1 testing for miniconferences
    • L1 testing required for larger conferences and L2 testing if possible
    • L2 testing at JTQs

Only those participants who were at least Level 1 when registration closed can receive foils.

Unused foils should be returned to the Regional Coordinator. Non-registered participants should not receive foils even if you have leftovers.

1.1 Leadership conferences

In addition to the above requirements and suggestions, there also exist Leadership Conferences, with their own special rules, as described below.

Leadership conferences are a different kind of conference designed to be yearly meetings of regional leaders. As such, their main purpose is not mentoring or training but assessment of the region’s state,  planning and regional projects reviewing.

1.1.1 Invitation criteria

As opposed to more typical conferences, these conferences are not open but invitation only. The selected people should represent the leaders of your region either due to their program roles or their geographic leadership. When presenting the request for a leadership conference, a list of invited people should be provided along with a small description of the role performed in the region.

Level is not a valid criteria: leaders may be of any level based on what they do in your region.

1.1.2 Out of region judges

Though not automatically excluded, their participation will be more closely reviewed. As such, if such judge is invited a more thorough explanation of what this particular judge does for the region is expected, along with why their participation in this conference is warranted.

1.1.3 Support

Support for leadership conferences is limited to 20 units, which will be the same kind of unit as a regular conference would be. Presenters (if there are such) will be recognized for their extra effort as will the conference organizer (max 1) per the usual conference support.

1.1.4 Presenters

Since these conferences are not designed for mentoring or training but for discussion and regional planning, some topics will have the usual presenter (as in a person who prepares some material to disseminate that knowledge among others) while some other topics will be discussion-centered, where at most there will be someone leading the discussion. We will consider for recognition the former while, though we appreciate taking an extra effort during the conference, will not for the later.

1.1.5 Request process

At least 8 weeks before estimated event date an email must be sent to Damian Hiller (with Sara Mox on copy) with the following information:

  • Invite list (with reasoning behind invite)
  • Tentative schedule

Once confirmed, request follows the usual conference support request process.

1.2 Judge Tournament Qualifiers (JTQ)

In addition to the above requirements and suggestions, there also exist Judge Tournament Qualifiers, with their own special rules, as described below.

Judge Tournament Qualifiers are a different kind of conference designed to help L2 candidate to get recommendation on L2 testing checklist. As such, they are limited to judges who are almost ready to be tested for L2, but lack of opportunities to get recommendation. It’s strongly suggested to follow the instructions from the JTQ Handbook when scheduling.

2. Planning

2.1. Scheduling

The RC must register the conference (by adding it to the RCs’ conference spreadsheet) at least 6 weeks in advance. However, it’s recommended to start planning much earlier than that. You should probably secure a venue at least 8 to 12 weeks before the conference, and announce it at least 8 weeks out. This way participants will have plenty of time to make travel plans and presenters will have time to prepare their seminars.

The final number of participants, the list of presenters and their topics and the shipping address for the foils must be sent to WotC by the RC at least a month  before the conference. All participants must have either applied via JudgeApps or been added directly as staff members. This allows the Conference Sphere to accurately track the attendance of each conference.

A spreadsheet that can be used to plan and track the progress of your conference project is available at http://tinyurl.com/conferenceplanner.

2.2. Location

You will of course need a venue for your conference. Your basic needs are lots of chairs, some tables, and some way to display information to a large crowd (i.e. a projector and screen, whiteboard, etc).

If your conference is an event conference, the tournament venue will probably have some extra space you can use. A room away from the noise of the tournament is ideal, but sometimes you have to settle for some tables in the back of the tournament hall. The conference coordinator should contact the Judge Manager of the event (sometimes this is the local RC, sometimes it is someone working for the tournament organizer) and ask them to speak to the TO about the conference, instead of contacting the TO directly.

Regional conferences are often held at local game stores. Many game stores owners are willing to let judges use their gaming space for free, provided it doesn’t interfere with the needs of their business. Make sure that the game store owner understands what the conference needs – for example, that putting a tournament in the same room at the same time would not work. Of course, if you are willing to spend more money, other options such as hotel conference rooms can be considered.

Larger conferences may require two separate spaces so you can run multiple sessions in parallel.

2.3. Presenters and content

There is no conference without presenters and their seminars. You can, and should, start recruiting presenters even before announcing the conference to the general public. Posting a general call for presenters is common practice, but you should also contact individual judges who are specialists in a particular topic or known for being skilled presenters.

2.4. Other roles and activities during the conference

You may need a few helping hands during the conference itself. Depending on the size of the conference, you might need help with judge testing, organizing lunch/dinner, setting up the room, and so on. These roles can be filled later, once people start signing up for the conference.

2.4.1. Lunch

There are many possible ways to arrange lunch. The simplest way is to just provide enough time for everyone to go out and have a meal somewhere. Another option is to order some food to be delivered. In this case you probably want to provide a way for people to sign up for the food in advance and to pay for it when they arrive at the conference.

Another inexpensive way to provide lunch is to buy bread, sandwich toppings and other snacks (plus disposable plates, cups and cutlery) and set up a buffet where participants can make their own sandwiches. If your venue has a fridge, you can do the shopping a day in advance. You may also need to bring a knife and cutting board for preparing the food.

2.4.2. Judge testing

Since the conference organizer is often busy with other things, it is a good idea to have someone else coordinating all the judge tests at the conference (even if they’re not personally conducting all the interviews). Depending on how many tests you’re expecting to have, you may want to have one person handling the L2 tests and another for the L1 tests. Let participants know who is in charge of testing so that candidates may contact them with questions, and the coordinator can make sure they fulfill all the pre-testing requirements.

2.4.3. Dinner

Regional conferences often have a dinner in the evening. Make sure to make a reservation well in advance, and ask participants to sign up. Provide a menu and if possible, order the food in advance.

3. Advertising and communication

3.1. Announcing the conference

The initial announcement about the conference should contain as much information as possible:

  • Location (including address of the venue) and date.
  • Estimated start and end times. Participants need to know this in order to plan their travel.
  • JudgeApps event link for registration, and registration deadline
  • Will participants receive foils (i.e. is this a supported conference?)
  • Is judge testing offered, and who should candidates contact (supported conferences should offer testing)
  • Information on seminars/presenters that you have already scheduled
  • Call for presenters: who to contact if you want to present a seminar, what is expected
  • Language: some conferences are run in a language other than English. Some may even have seminars in several different languages.
  • Other information that can be included in the initial announcement but can also be posted later: social activities such as dinner or sightseeing, information about hotels and public transportation, etc.

3.2. Where to advertise

In addition to creating an event on JudgeApps with the above information, you should announce the conference on local/regional forums, mailing lists, Facebook groups etc. It may be a good idea to create a Facebook event so that people can spread the word by joining and sharing the event. For event conferences, post a reminder in the GP’s JudgeApps forum after staff selections for the event have been published.

3.3. Friendly reminders

It’s a good idea to send a couple of reminders about registering before the deadline. Remind new judges about getting a JudgeApps account and remind the RC about getting those accounts approved in a timely fashion. It is not unusual to have many last minute messages from judges who had problems registering, so give yourself some time to deal with these before the RC submits the final number of participants to WotC.

Presenters should be reminded to submit their outlines and summaries in a timely fashion.

4. Presenters and content

4.1. Seminar topics

Before even recruiting presenters, you should have some idea of what topics you would like to cover at your conference. Your Regional Coordinator may input on this based on regional needs, and one option is to ask participants to suggest topics. If you have presenters who would like to present something but don’t have their “own” topic in mind, you can then assign them something from your wishlist.

Make sure you cover topics from different areas (rules, policy, program & community, tournament procedures, soft skills etc) and that you have topics that are appropriate for the experience level of the participants – for example, if you expect mostly Level 1s to attend, include topics that are relevant for in-store Regular events. An event conference, on the other hand, may be more heavy on Competitive REL topics. You can also include one less serious topic such as a game or quiz. The minimum number of sessions for a regional conference is six. Large conferences may have more, and if you are planning more than 8 sessions, at least some of them should be run parallel.

4.2. Recruiting presenters

You can recruit presenters by asking individual judges and by posting a call for presenters. Your goal is to have skilled presenters and quality presentations, but you should still include a mix of different levels and local/non-local judges. Make an effort to include at least one presenter from the host nation/state (for event conferences) or host city (for regional conferences). Offer support and advice to inexperienced presenters, and remind them that it’s also possible to do a presentation with a partner.

However, you don’t have to automatically accept all presenters who apply, or the ones who apply first. It’s recommended that you ask potential presenters to submit a short description or outline of the seminar they wish to present (even if the topic was assigned by you) before you confirm that they’re scheduled to present.

Make this expectation clear in the call for presenters, include a deadline for applying and also mention when final presenter selections will be made. When you have made your final selections, contact everyone who applied and thank them for their time.

The final list of presenters and topics must be submitted to Wizards (by the RC) and published on JudgeApps at least a month before the conference. Make sure to inform presenters about what sort of equipment (laptop/projector/screen/whiteboard etc) is available at the venue as soon as you have this information. Presenters need to know whether they should prepare Powerpoint slides, for example.

It is recommended that you ask presenters to submit their final or almost-final presentations for review some time before the conference. This helps you confirm that presenters have prepared adequately, and in the case of less experienced presenters, you can confirm that the content is okay. Set a deadline that allows you enough time to review all presentations and that allows presenters to make changes based on your feedback.

4.3. Planning the conference schedule

Once you have your final list of topics and presenters, you should start planning the schedule. Each session is usually about 40-50 minutes long. A common setup is to allow 60 minutes per session: 40 minutes for the presentation, 10 for questions and 10 for a break. You should also plan a longer break for lunch in the middle of the day. Don’t forget to allow some time at the beginning of the day for setting up laptops, projectors and tables, and at the end of the day for handing out foils and recognizing good presenters/participants.

Give some thought to the order of the sessions. You should alternate topics from different areas, and perhaps place the “heaviest” topic early in the day (but not as the very first topic) so that people are still alert enough to fully enjoy it. For event conferences, make sure to ask presenters when they plan to arrive.

If running two or more sessions in parallel in different rooms, try to design one “track” for the more experienced judges and another one for the newer ones. Make sure that both rooms finish their sessions at roughly the same time, so that participants can switch rooms if they wish to.

The final schedule should be published at least 2 weeks before the conference. The schedule should include a short summary of each topic. Make sure that presenters are aware of this deadline.

4.4. Feedback forms

It’s important to gather feedback, to help you plan a better conference next time and to help presenters improve their presentation skills. You should prepare a feedback form that has space to provide comments about each individual presentation, as well as the organization of the conference in general. There are sample feedback forms available on the Conference Sphere website at http://blogs.magicjudges.org/conferences/conference-standardization/.

5. During the conference

5.1. Setting up the venue

Even if you have communicated with the venue in advance, there is probably some set up work that needs to be done before the conference starts: moving tables and chairs, setting up a projector, printing out schedules and feedback forms. If you’re using a projector and presenters have already provided you with their slides, you can make sure those are ready to go. Make sure you can complete these tasks before your scheduled start time.

5.2. Welcoming the participants and introducing the presenters

At the start of the day, you should welcome the participants to the conference and introduce the program of the day, including any last minute changes, details about breaks and any special information about the venue itself. This is also a good moment to distribute feedback forms. You should also introduce each presenter and their topic at the start of their session.

5.3. Managing time

Your role as a conference organizer is to manage the whole conference, as a HJ would manage a tournament. Each presenter should know how much time they have available for their session when you recruit them, but sometimes sessions run late because of technical difficulties, long discussions and questions. Your job is to keep the presenter aware of how much time they have left and if necessary, step in and politely stop discussions that are taking too much time by encouraging them to continue later.

Talk with presenters about general time overview of their presentations (e.g. the number of slides) so you roughly know where session is at any point in time. If you notice session is behind the schedule, you can either hurry it up a bit (move discussions or questions for after the presentation) or near the end of time remind presenter that he or she has only little time left (usually 10 and again 5 minutes) and, at the same time, notify the next presenter that in 5 minutes his or her session is going to start. You may want to make signs that say “5” and “10” so you can notify the presenter about the time in a non-disruptive way.

Also, during the sessions, people might become noisy or not pay attention. It is up to you, as an organizer, to gently remind them to quiet down and pay attention. If the same person keeps disturbing others or spending time playing on their smartphone despite reminders, you should consider not awarding him or her the foils. However, be careful about doing this since being inconsistent about it will certainly create bad feelings.

5.4. Documenting and recording your conference

It’s a good idea to share your conference experience with others.

The simplest way to share is to take some photos of your conference. With smartphones, the photos can be posted immediately on Facebook and/or Twitter. Consider taking a group photo and some photos of presenters and each session. Your best photos can be shared on social media and/or on regional blogs.

Recording or even live streaming sessions is also an option. If you plan to do this, try to notify your presenters in advance, as some people may not be comfortable with the idea of being on camera. More information about recording your seminars will be available on the Conference Sphere website.

You can also ask participants to take notes during sessions and write a report afterwards. Notes can be posted on your local forums or expanded into an article.  

5.5. Awarding foils

Foils needed to support your conference must be arranged with your RC ahead of time.These foils will typically arrive sorted by card name and you will need to pack them into sleeves or envelopes yourself. It’s a good idea to count them as soon as you receive them, to make sure you have everything you need.

The general policy is that you need to attend all the sessions to get the full packet of foils. There are different ways to handle this. One way is to create a list of participants (from JudgeApps) and have everyone sign it at the beginning of each session. Then you can use that list to award foils based on sessions attended at the end of the day. At the same time you can collect feedback forms, exchanging the foils for the form. Remind participants to tell you if they need to leave early, so you can give them their foils before they go.

Another option is to hand out foils after each session or after every other session. This takes more time, but might be the better option if you know you will have a lot of people who only attend some of the sessions (such as during a GP Friday when some people will be working the Trials). You will still need a list to confirm who is registered for the conference.

If you need to withhold foils from a participant who was being disruptive or not paying attention, be sure to handle this diplomatically. It’s probably not a good idea to reprimand them in front of a whole queue of judges waiting for their foils.

5.6. Wrap up

After the last presentation you should take some time to thank all the presenters and participants. This is also a good time to announce any newly promoted judges, and winners of any “best presentation” votes, etc.

6. After the conference

6.1. Official conference report

The RC must submit an official conference report within one month of the conference. Don’t forget to ask your RC whether he or she is going to write the report or whether you should do it.

6.2. Updating the participant list

If any registered participants did not show up, please change their status to “Declined” in JudgeApps so that the number of accepted judges accurately reflects the attendance of the conference.

6.3. Sharing feedback with presenters and participants

You should read all the feedback forms and put together a summary of feedback for each presenter as well as a summary of general feedback. Consider sharing some of this feedback with all participants. You can also ask for further feedback via regional online forums or the JudgeApps event forum.

For JTQs, mentors are required to write feedback to each candidate regardless if the candidate will receive recommendation.

6.4. Publishing slides, photos and notes

If there were any changes to the conference presentation schedule, update the JudgeApps event to reflect this.

6.5. Reflecting on your experience

The Conference Sphere would love to hear your feedback on your experience. What worked well? What would you improve next time? Which resources were useful and which resources you wished you’d had access to? Let us know!

You should also have a debrief with your RC and give your feedback to presenters. Writing a report that can be shared with future conference organizers is highly recommended.

7. Links

Conference Sphere website http://blogs.magicjudges.org/conferences/

Conference Guidelines and Policies (including latest version of this document) https://blogs.magicjudges.org/conferences/conference-policies-and-guidelines/

Conference Presenter Resources: http://blogs.magicjudges.org/conferences/category/conference-presenters/

Conference planning spreadsheet: http://tinyurl.com/conferenceplanner

Changelog

January 2017

Removed references to the Conference Content Project

Combined Leadership Conference information into the policies section

November 2016

  • Changed wording from “official” to “supported” throughout
  • Specific mention of Miniconferences added under supported types

September 2016

  • Removed regional limit to number of conferences, and added the calculation of total support per year
  • Language describing Official conferences adjusted
  • Level 3 judge presenter requirement removed
  • Details of foil support moved from 5.5 to Introduction

October 2015

  • Updated information about foils: we now get kits of 50
  • Removed references to Conference Photos project
  • GP conferences now referred to as “event conferences”
  • Some other minor edits
  • Changed references from “4 weeks” to “1 month”
  • Added link to Conference Presenter resources

April 2015

  • Added Leadership conference
  • 4.2. Mentioned Conference Content Project
  • 6.3 Wiki link removed, added Conference Content Project e-mail and url
  • 7. Judge Wiki link removed
  • Added that leftovers must be used at the next conference to the Policies section
  • 2.1. Added reminder that all participants must be in JudgeApps
  • 6.2. new section: updating participant list after conference
  • 6.3 to 6.5. renumbered