So You Want to Put On anISDC?
- Don't let anyone discourage you!
- "Your city is not a major airline hub!" So, Milwaukee and Huntsville, which are not major airline hubs, did better than Washington D.C., New York, and Orlando, which are. Put on a blockbuster program and touch all the bases, and they will come. Rest on your city's laurels, and they will not.
- "You don't have enough of a crew!" The crew you have on paper when you bid, will perhaps not be the crew that goes on to pull it off. In the lead time years, some will drift away and others will come forth. Have confidence in yourself. On the other hand, if your ISDC engine is missing a spark plug or two, and they are at critical positions, this will hurt you in the end - and this is unpredictable at the beginning. Local outreach and promotion, a good financial officer with veto power, and a good programming chair are vital. It is hard to make do without one of these. Holes in lesser positions are things you can live with.
- Anyone with enough self-starting drive to attempt to put on an ISDC does so because he or she has confidence in their own abilities & insights. Don't let anyone dismiss you as other than that. Listen to everything and everyone, but use your own common sense as the court of last appeal.
Taking off the Rose-ColoredGlasses
- It's easier to brainstorm a "superconference" than to pull it off.
- The temptation is to do a lot of window dressing in the form of special exhibits and special events that "will really pack 'em in!" Just about every ISDC bid team has gone through this stage. And just about every one has failed to pull off more than a few such extras. These things, if you are going to pull them off, need a lot of lead time, and a lot of people time. The trouble is, it is almost impossible to get people enthused about these things 2 years out, let alone 3, and by the time you do find some interest, the lead time will be gone ("lead [leed] time turns to lead [led]") , and with it your super dream. The Milwaukee Team had a lot of great ideas for "Extra" items, but in the end, we lacked the people to pull them off. Don't be blind-sided by your own enthusiasm - but DO have fun!
- A better idea is to do all the basics "super well" - Programming (speakers, talk subjects, meal functions, workshops, low hotel rates, etc.)
- Then IF you have time, money, and bodies to throw at some spiffy neat extra, go ahead, but keep doing reality checks as you go along.
Things we did wrong inMilwaukee
- We gave special rates to members of cosponsor groups without specifying a cut-off date, and that gave these individuals no incentive to pre-register.
- We had a roommate matchup service, hoping to attract those unable to afford hotel rooms alone. But this lead to some real complaints at the hotel by people who had signed up for the service but where unhappy about the roommates they had, despite the advertised disclaimer.
- We utterly failed in our attempts to interest local colleges & universities in participating, and that was a bitter pill to swallow. Academia does not hold the "pop" ISDC in high esteem.
- We did not send individuals "confirmation of registration notices", even though this was a priority item from the outset.
- We failed to arrange for anyone to collect tickets for the Thursday evening reception, and a number of people who had not paid, crashed the reception. As a result, several people who did pay, arrived to find all the food already gone.
Things we didRight
- We ignored advice to put on a general "space primer" track for people who do not know much about the subject. Such a constituency is poorly motivated to attend, and dedicating function space to them means you will have less rooms to give to high quality programming for those who will come, expecting to get it.
- We set aside advice to go after only the most qualified speakers. To us an ISDC was less an opportunity to report on research going on, though that is certainly a big part of it, but more of an opportunity to steer the future. That means getting discussion started or moving where nothing much has been happening. It means exposing the whole "universe" of space and all the vectors by which it can be approached. We started with a Designer Program and then sought speakers who could speak to its various items. Often there were no recognized authorities on particular orphaned topics. The we looked for people who could say something relevant, or get the discussion started. Sometimes this meant that a workshop was more appropriate than a presentation. So this gave opportunity for invididuals with lesser "credentials" to contribute to the programming. We worked their contributions into the program at large, instead of consigning them to a ghetto soap-box track.
- We put on a "big tent" conference, inviting speakers from many different groups. This raised some eyebrows, but the fruitful networking between these groups that has gone on since ISDC '98 is a sweet vindication.
- We spoke for all the function space in the hotel, even though we were told that, being a small city, we should have more modest aims. As a result, we were able to put on 4 to 5 tracks, plus workshops, so that there was ample programming for everyone attending no matter how specialized his or her space interests.
- Many conferences are all "talk, talk". We put on an unprecedented number of workshops for those who wanted to get involved, help shape discussions, help flush out and flesh out ideas, and help start or advance worthy projects. To us in Milwaukee, ISDC was not just an opportunity to inform, but an opportunity to network, an opportunity to instigate, an opportunity to make things happen. And we think we did that, and put on a good show to boot.
- We secured the donation of almost all the audiovisual equipment we needed, and this single effort earned ISDC '98 the biggest profit since ISDC '93 in Huntsville - despite the fact that we had no major donations or contractor support. Half of the black ink goes to the National Space Society, the Principal Sponsor. The other half will be used by the Lunar Reclamation Society to promote space education and research projects, and to do some neat space outreach projects we have never had the money to do before.
For these things, manythanks!
- To Dave Dunlop, without whose brainstorming and organizing assistance early on, the bid would never have been submitted - even though life events and relocation made it difficult for him to play a major role thereafter.
- To Jeffrey Liss, who negotiated our Hotel Contract and who kept giving us advice at every turn, undiscouraged by the fact that we stubbornly let some of it go by, following our own lights and inspirations.
- To the Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors' Bureau who helped us put together the bid packets in 1995.
- To Pat Dasch, Executive Director of the National Space Society, for smoothing our way through some troubled waters that threatened to capsize the conference.
- To Mike Kehoe who took the lead in securing free loan of all that audiovisual equipment
- To George French and Nick Fuhrman of the Wisconsin Space Business Roundtable, for the nice hotel banner, and personnel assistance at registration, and for helping to line up key speakers.
- To an anonymous donor, who gave us the use of his frequent flyer miles on American Airlines, that allowed us to bring in four quality speakers, who would otherwise not have been able to attend. These speakers contributed much to the quality and success of the conference.
- To Robert Zubrin, who put together a competition for a "space anthem". The winners, a husband and wife team, performed their rousing song, "That's why the stars are there" at the Sunday evening banquet, and for the chair, this was a supremely enjoyable moment.
- To the speakers from all over who came to Milwaukee at their own expense to share their knowledge and wisdom with us. And especially those who volunteered to give extra talks or direct workshops, helping us to fill in the holes.
- To our registrants who were a wonderful bunch and made us feel that it was all worth while.
- To the Hotel Staff of the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee who were most helpful, and showed considerable enthusiasm for our special requests like the Space Frontier Vegetarian Buffet.
- To our ISDC '98 Team who all did such a bang-up job, and kept on no matter how tired they were, and did such an excellent job. To Mark Kaehny, Charlotte Nelson, Carol Nelson, Robert Bialecki, Robert Bramscher, Carl Bramscher, Joe Mackowski, Rose Eiermann, Louise Rachel Quigley, Larry Ahearn, Mike Shoemaker, Mike Kehoe, Bill Katt Jr., Doug Seitz, Gary (Gerhard) Gross, Ricky Leavell, Cheryl Morisette, Tia Dutter and more.
- those who were there from start to finish
- those who joined us late but put out such a Herculean effort
- those who did major jobs
- those who played smaller roles
Would we do it again?!
- Kudos - A high percentage of the attendees went out of their way to tell us what a great conference we put on, how much they enjoyed themselves, how much they liked the hotel, how pleasantly surprised they were about Milwaukee, how deep and wide the programming was, how much they enjoyed the workshops, etc. etc.
- Mood - As ISDC '98 closed, the crew was tired, even exhausted, but "high" - "we did it, by God, we did it!". And we are glad, and proud, that we did!
- The Question - In the following weeks, some of the team brought up the idea of rebidding for a future ISDC slot. But the majority felt that our time had come, we had done ourselves proud, and should rest content.
- The Rules - At ISDC '98, the NSS Board of Directors accepted a Conferences Committee report to change the rules of the game by which ISDCs are bid for, put together, and run. We are proud to have been the last traditionally run ISDC. But we do NOT like the new rules and find in them no incentive for busting our whatevers.
- Never say never? Perhaps, but we thought about it for a quick nanosecond, and, even though we did not burn out, as have many ISDC teams before us, there are other things we want to do, now that we have some money to do them. The Lunar Reclamation Society wants to see a civilian industrial self supporting settlement on the Moon, and to see a human economy spread throughout the solar system. There is a lot to be done to help lay the foundations for such an eventuality to be realized. We hope to find some small but critical things we can do to help. Somewhere along the way that may include another conference, but probably not another ISDC. We'll see.
- For you - our encouragement, with a promise of help if asked, to any team out there who wants to take up the ISDC torch!