Skip to content

That’s A Fight You Are Never Going To Win

February 16, 2014

Mr Card, we’re out of time.

So, anyone who needs to go to another panel, please go. I won’t be offended.

Mr Card, we need this room for another panel.

Okay, I think it was at this point he became offended.

If you’ve been reading my blog the last couple of days, you know that I’m at the Life, The Universe And Everything (LTUE) conference and Orson Scott Card is the Guest of Honor. Well, he would be if he ever arrived. Before we wrap the conversation I quoted above which happened on Saturday, let me take you back to Friday. As you know, coming to the Con, I had to decide if I was going to go all fanboy on OSC (How Not To Be A Fanboy. . .I Hope!) But, the east coast snow prevented him being there on Thursday. So the Con was actually Life, The Universe And Not Exactly Everything Thursday. But, there was a chance he might arrive Friday.

There is also a chance I might hit the Powerball numbers.

More snow. More delays. However, one panel had Scott (I’m still not his friend, but everyone who WAS his friend was referring to him that way.) Anyway, Scott and Michael Collins were doing a panel on Religion in Fiction. The decision was made to Skype with Scott.

As the “A” half of the A/V crew, I needed to set up the room so that:

1) Scott could hear the other panelist
2) We could hear him
3) The room could hear everything

We spent 45 minutes running speakers and cables and microphones. And it worked PERFECTLY. The crowd could see Scott on a big TV

20140216-215605.jpg

and my speakers filled the room with sound nicely.

I wondered if during the sound check I might get to meet him.

Mr. Card we need you to say a few words to test the sound levels.

Oh please, call me Scott.

No such luck. His wife performed the sound check. But, we were informed that he had a flight out Friday afternoon from North Carolina and he would for sure be there on Saturday. That was convenient since I was still helping out with the audio on Saturday.

Friday night my son gave me his copy of Ender’s Game to get signed.

20140216-220014.jpg

I put it in my bag with my copy of Maps In the Mirror.

20140216-215914.jpg

And wondered again if I would be able to control the inner fanboy.

The keynote was at 10:00 Saturday morning in the biggest room in the convention center. Surprisingly, they didn’t need me to do the audio. They were using the built in conference room mic and speakers. I actually arrived late and wandered into the back.

20140216-202333.jpg

Yeah, that’s him WAAAAAYYYYY down there. Here he’ll look a little closer, but more blurry.

20140216-202431.jpg

Part of the challenge of running a convention is making the guests feel like everything just WORKS, smoothly, efficiently without any fuss. But, to make it work, there are tons of people in the background running like mad. At LTUE those people were called “gophers.”

I was an A/V gopher, in fact I was THE A/V gopher.

20140216-202618.jpg

Since I was supplying my own equipment (about $1200 worth of speakers, wireless microphones and mixer board) I wasn’t given gopher tasks. In fact, other gophers were occasionally assigned to me to help me carry gear.

But, a normal gopher had to make sure water was in a room for the speaker. Then, 15 minutes before the end of a panel, they had to do a headcount. Then 5 minutes before the end they had to warn the speakers. Then at the end, they had to tell the speakers they were done. And the gophers were mostly high school kids who’s parents helped setup the Con.

So, some high school kid or slightly older told Orson Scott Card that it was time for him to stop talking.

I don’t blame the kids. They were doing what they were told to do. But, there was a whole lot wrong with telling Scott that he should stop. Eventually as he started to run into the next hour, someone with a little more clout showed up and again told him to stop.

The reason they wanted him to shut up was that the room he was in had another panel scheduled for after the keynote. The Con scheduled 10 minutes between sessions. For example, on Saturday afternoon I had 10 minutes to set up speakers and mics for a Skype call, to Britain this time. We took 16 minutes, but it was a marked improvement from the 45 minutes the prior day to Skype Scott in.

And that was the problem that the gophers didn’t get. This was a three day conference and the Guest of Honor had missed the first two days. People paid to see Scott Card. He was a big part of the reason people were there. And instead of three days to perhaps run into him or sit in on one of his panels, or get a book signed, or just say “I was in the room with him”, people were pretty much stuck with his keynote address.

Scott tried to be accommodating. Twice he turned to the audience and said,

Really, if you need to go, just go. The other panels really need people to attend them.

But, Mr Card we really need this room for another panel.

Okay, I’ll just stop then.

NOOOOOO!!!!

The last line was delivered by 800 people. “Paying customers” is what we call them in business. I remember thinking,

PRO TIP: Don’t pick a fight with your keynote speaker in front of 800 people who’ve paid to hear him speak. That’s a fight you are never going to win.

I was just the A/V guy. Well, just the “A” guy, so no one was asking my opinion on anything outside of sound setup. But, I knew enough to know that no one was going to get Scott off that stage until he had finished saying what he came to say. As organizers you can raise a stink about it and risk alienating your audience and your guest of honor and potentially souring future attendees and future guests of honor, OR you can say, “He’s the keynote and he missed the first two days. He can speak for as long as he wants!”

He finished up about 20 minutes late. . .and received a standing ovation.

I had one more shot at fanboy-dom. Scott was giving an “invitation only” panel at the end of the day. My gopher badge would have let me in the room with Scott and 50 other people.

Ultimately, I decided I wasn’t going to force it. I did have to laugh at the name of his final panel. Here’s a picture of the schedule.20140216-204113.jpg

A Thousand Idea In An Hour – (Preregistration required)
(2 hours)

Kind of summed up my quest to meet Orson Scott Card.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

Advertisements
13 Comments
  1. Toad permalink

    But you got it signed., right?

  2. That would have spoiled the entire story. No, I didn’t get it signed. I thought about standing in line after the keynote, but I had to go work the vendor room. I thought about crashing his 1000 Ideas panel, or at least catching him on the way out. But, the image of me hanging out at the stage door waiting for the band to come out was a little too much of an 80’s flashback for me.

    Hopefully, he’ll come back another time and I can stalk him again.

    (How much is a ticket to North Carolina and is his address publically available do you know?)

  3. Jared permalink

    I was actually in his 1,000 Ideas in an Hour presentation, and we came up with something like two and a half ideas and then explored them until we had a story. So it was something closer to “Come up with your book in an hour or less” I guess. Sounds better that way than “An Idea an Hour.”

    Though that makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy it; rest assured, I completely enjoyed it.

    In any case, to help you feel a bit better, they announced several times that Scott didn’t have time to do signings, so please don’t ask him. And since he’s a really nice guy, he cheated on about 3 occasions that I saw.

    He still felt bad about missing the mass signing on Friday, so he made an announcement that he’ll be back in March to do a signing at the local Barnes and Noble. I don’t know when precisely, but I heard mention of a schedule on his website.

    Just in case you’re interested.

  4. Heidi permalink

    That large room actually breaks down into four rooms with moveable walls. What you couldn’t see from your vantage point was the hotel staff assigned to moving the walls back getting anxious because of the delay. The room at the front was left open after the keynote and he stayed for the rest of the hour talking to anyone willing/able to squeeze in.

  5. I was actually in his 1,000 Ideas in an Hour presentation, and we came up with something like two and a half ideas and then explored them until we had a story. So it was something closer to “Come up with your book in an hour or less” I guess. Sounds better that way than “An Idea an Hour.”

    Though that makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy it; rest assured, I completely enjoyed it.

    In any case, to help you feel a bit better, they announced several times that Scott didn’t have time to do signings, so please don’t ask him. And since he’s a really nice guy, he cheated on about 3 occasions that I saw.

    He still felt bad about missing the mass signing on Friday, so he made an announcement that he’ll be back in March to do a signing at the local Barnes and Noble. I don’t know when precisely, but I heard mention of a schedule on his website.

    Just in case you’re interested.

  6. Good to know JB. And the fact that Scott went to a lot of trouble to make sure he was there for any of it was commendable.

    It was just funny to me that I was all worried about how I would act and I really never had a chance where I needed to worry about it.

  7. Heidi, I didn’t see who it was. Knowing it was the hotel folks makes me feel better about it. There were some gophers who were a little upset with him too. But, I think most people were thrilled that he arrived at all.

  8. I wandered out around 11:45 and suggested they just cancel the noon hour of panels in those rooms (even though I was on one of them) and let OSC go as long as he wanted. They chose to try to adhere to the pre-planned schedule out of respect for those other panelists.

    I agree that it was a mistake to (even try to) cut him off and that they should have scheduled two hours up-front (OSC is famous for going long and for taking audience questions for as long as there are questions). But it was an honest mistake compounded by a limited (and completely full) venue, not any attempt to disrespect.

    If you come in March and stand in line for the signing at B&N, he *will* give you his time and full attention while you’re there. He always gives full value to those who come to see him.

  9. Crystal permalink

    I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you and completely back the staff here.

    I don’t think it was wrong at all to tell Card that the time for his keynote address was up. It was, simply, the staff’s job! Every panel had panelists that lost track of time and need to be reminded and, as you pointed out, that’s a full third of a normal gopher’s job. I’m sure many, many panelists had more to say at the end of 50 minutes but that was all the time that was scheduled for panels and that’s all the time that was scheduled for the keynote address.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Ender’s Game and I was excited to hear the keynote address by Card but him speaking was not the sole reason I paid for LTUE. It wasn’t even a main reason, honestly. I went to LTUE last year when he wasn’t there and I’ll go to LTUE next year, regardless of if he’s a guest or not. I’m not sure how many people were listening to the keynote but if it was truly 800, don’t be too quick to assume that everyone said “no” when he said he would stop speaking. I didn’t say no. My husband didn’t. The girl sitting next to me and the couple behind us didn’t. I’m sure there are people that went LTUE solely to see and possibly meet Card but there are also people that didn’t. I was a paying customer for all the different writing panels, not just to hear Card speak!

    You also have to remember, as Heidi pointed out, that the ballroom the keynote address was in breaks down into four different rooms. They didn’t want him to “shut up” because there was something scheduled in the room after him (there was actually nothing scheduled in the ZIon room, something I think was done intentionally), but they wanted him to wrap up the address for many other reasons. Card’s address going over the time didn’t just inconvenience people that wanted to get to other panels, it seriously inconvenienced the staff that needed to set up the rooms and many panelists (both those that wanted to stay to listen to him but had noon panels and those that needed to set up their panels in the other canyon rooms). I mean, can you imagine being a panelist and being so excited to share some of your professional insight for even 50 minutes but giving a presentation to an empty room because your panel happened to be after Card’s and he went over his allotted time? I don’t know about you but I would be pretty devastated! Not to mention the 13 panelists who had panels in the canyon rooms who had their own time cut short.

    You also point out that Card had missed the first two days of the symposium but that’s not the staff’s fault! It’s not Card’s, either, of course, and if he had to combined information from missed panels into the keynote address, that would be one thing. But the panels he missed were about other, specific topics. He knew from the start that the keynote address would be only 50 minutes long. If people wanted to see him for longer because he hadn’t been there for Thursday and Friday, there was always the option of extending his talk somewhere else (which he eventually did do in the unscheduled Zion room!).

    I don’t agree that the staff even “picked a fight” at all. They simply asked Card to respect the staff, panelists, and audience by keeping to his allotted time. They did nothing wrong and I think they should be commended for trying to keep things running smoothly and on schedule! Thanks, LTUE staff! 🙂

  10. I completely understand your point. I will maintain that the “room” Card was in at the time was the entire 4 rooms. (Or however many canyons there were.) It probably would have been more accurate to say they needed “Some of these rooms.” But, he was certainly in the “room” that they wanted. The fact the podium was in Zion was more a feature of geography than anything.

    And in fairness, I’m extrapolating what was said to him from the staff. I was in the back of the room so I heard his comments and I heard the room, or many say they wanted him to continue, and I heard the comments in the gopher-hole afterwards. But, I didn’t actually hear what was said to him at the time.

  11. To be clear, I just think we should have scheduled two hours for Card to begin with and adjusted the schedule accordingly (before the fact) so as to avoid the entire (and entirely predictable) problem.

    Card’s tendency to extemporize (and end up in truly useful and fascinating places as a result) is well known, and thus probably should have been accounted for—especially when he had missed two days of opportunities to speak his mind prior to his main address.

    I completely back the staff (I’ve been one of them for 28 years, if silently behind the scenes for the last fifteen), but would have planned just a little differently. Far from a criticism of the staff, mine was merely an observation on how we might have avoided a no-win scenario.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Some Weirdo She Met On The Internet Showed Up At Her Wedding | Rodney M Bliss
  2. Best of 2014 #4: Thats A Fight You Are Never Going To Win | Rodney M Bliss

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: