The past week was Balticon 55, my seventh Balticon as both an adult and a writer, and my second as a panelist and staff.
So, let’s talk about how it went.
What Morgan Did At Balticon 55
- I was a panelist for 3 panels, two on writing with professionals, and 1 with my voice acting group. Plus, two virtual tours.
- I was a zoom host for four panels. Making sure the panelists were up and running, and keeping track of time while monitoring the chat.
- I was the social media director, with a staff of 2. One of whom is an instagram expert I stole from Registration, because the con was free and there was no registration this year. The other who is an artist in the process of joining the parent club, The Baltimore Science Fiction Society (BSFS).
- I attended 3 additional panels/presentations.
Paneling: In Front of the Camera
Last year was supposed to be a big year for me. While I’d been on one panel before, I had an array of conventions that had accepted my panel application. And then, they all were cancelled or turned virtual. I’m looking forward to, but also very nervous about being on in-person panels in the future.
As a video blogger, I’ve become accustomed to talking about writing, and having hosted my livestream write-ins since August, I’ve adapted to the world of live-streaming in front of an audience. Both of these things helped me feel more comfortable on the panel, voicing my opinion, and optimizing my lighting for video conferencing.
My Writing Panels
I feel I can call myself an established blogger and vlogger, but I know I’m far from being a professional (unless you’d like to pay me for all this content I create). So, being on the pair of writing panels was a touch intimidating. I’m familiar with most of the panelists, having attended 30+ hours of programming for each of the 5 years before I joined the staff, and from helping train most of the panelists last year. But. My co-panelists are published authors or well-established and respected literary agents, and I’m just here sharing my notes and lessons learned.
As you well know, I can talk. I can talk a lot. And I really hope I didn’t overstep my level of expertise and crowd out speaking time for those who are actually pros. I also know that I have the worst poker-face in creation and it’s quite evident when I want to speak up or have an idea I’d like to share.
On virtual panels, if you have a thought or remember a reference, it’s quite easy to google and then share. I’m worried about looking at my phone to search resources once conventions return to in-person.
My Virtual Tours
Every virtual convention is different and uses different technologies, so I petitioned to host a pair of virtual tours. However, I’ve got a short list of lessons learned here.
- I was busy and distracted and barely got them on the schedule days before the convention started.
- I did not coordinate with ConSuite, where I was hosting in an unscheduled breakout room, so we had to sort that out at go-time.
- I did not advertise them widely, so they were lightly attended.
- I shared the direct zoom link on twitter, because our ConSuite didn’t require registration — and got the ConSuite zoom-bombed with 3 pornography-blasting users in under 2 minutes. I.E. The amount of time it took for me to realize what had happened and remove the link.
- When they removed the zoom bombers, I got booted as well, and it took me 10 minutes to get to the panel I was hosting. A new account didn’t get me in, a different browser didn’t get me in, and incognito window didn’t get me in. Finally, I made it back to my session by opening zoom in the browser itself, rather than through the app.
On the discord server, my fellow staffers added a badge of shame, just for me! As social media director, of all people, I should have known better.
A little about the platforms themselves:
- Discord is a very busy, predominantly chat server, that can be overwhelming at first, but is good for the person who wants to miss nothing. Vendors and after panel discussion was there, as well as social space.
- Zoom is the video conferencing system that one can set up to prevent zoom bombers and easily monitor discussion.
- GatherTown is a cute, 16-bit browser-based video game, that we laid out like our standard host hotel, complete with art show, dealers room, panel rooms, and a ConSuite in the Watertable Restaurant space. Arrow key navigation, typing ‘x’ to interact with nearby objects, and enabled video/audio that grow clearer and louder as your avatar gets near someone else’s — just like wandering a real convention. It’s free for groups of <25. Mobile support is not fully there, but here’s the video tour.
- Second Life involves installing the program, heavy graphics, and a very clunky menu system for everything — because everything is customizable. After swiftly creating an avatar, searching and teleporting to “Balticon Station”, I promptly got stuck in a water feature for 10 minutes. While spacebar doesn’t jump, apparently pressing and holding ‘e’ will levitate you. I delegated the Second Life tour to the organizer who’d set up the lovely 3-D art show space on Second Life. But, you can still admire all the hard work by watching the video tour.
Anansi Storytime: MadLibs Scripts
It’s always fun when I hang out with my Anansi Storytime people. We had tons of fun getting mad lib suggestions from the audience, re-generating our scripts, and reading them out for the audience. Not all of the suggestions were kid-friendly, but it wasn’t as R rated as I feared. Clearly due to audience cooperation.
I had a practice panel the night before the convention, but seeing as how I’ve been the trainer for literally dozens of zoom hosts myself in the past year, it was mostly a refresher and walk through of the details expected for this convention.
Other than enabling the closed-captioning and being a back-up IT person, it was rather low-key. I enjoyed most of the panels I teched, while keeping an eye on the staff side of Discord, making sure there were no issues.
Social Media Director/Publicity
While I know the basics of social media, I’m by no means an expert, and I’d never run publicity before. I took tons of notes, mostly from people asking me for stuff.
I learned that instagram stories are CRITICAL and far more important than pictures. We had over 1,000 views on our Instagram Reel, and only a couple dozen views of actual posts.
I tried to have hourly notices of upcoming panels on twitter and the Balticon Facebook Page, although I’m not sure how seen they were or used. The main people I saw noticing were people who were panelists already.
I clearly need to up the use of the group twitter if we want to be a presence there. And I’m contemplating the wisdom of separate twitters for BSFS and Balticon — although, it keeps member’s feeds from being flooded during the convention.
While facebook stories are handy, they also have a limit of 20 pictures. So, next year, I’ll need to have collages of panels or just key panels shown, because I only managed to update the facebook story twice, and I didn’t want more important slides getting lost.
While attending live-podcasts and storytime sorts of lectures were fine, more serious writing panels where I tried to take notes was nearly impossible. I pushed through, with lots of minor fire distractions on email/discord, for a panel I knew was not going to be recorded, but otherwise, I’m just going to have to watch the replays on youtube. I’m just not a great multitasker.
One of the events I did manage to make it to was my dad’s book launch! Having attended a couple book launches before, I ended up backseat driving the event with very leading questions, giving the launch some structure. “So, tell us about your book.” and “Great world building, who are the characters?” plus, “were you going to read an excerpt?” Dad thanked me after the fact, so I was relieved my herding was welcome, not me being a bit of an organization addict.
All-in-all, I spent probably 60+ hours working on the con, attending events, and hanging out on audio chat with other staffers and attendees. Between Thursday and Monday, a very busy weekend, but very satisfying. I can’t wait to meet people in person.
Were you at Balticon? Did you enjoy yourself?
Any Social Media tips and tricks that a single person can actually succeed at without burnout?
While I’ll be taking notes and sharing them, feel free to check out the 150ish panels and presentations posted on http://Youtube.com/BaltimoreSciFi .