Writing/Book Convention Organizers...please read this.
So, I’m an author (and obviously a reader), and I attend 3-5 conferences/conventions every year. Some are enormous, with attendees numbering in the thousands. Some are small, with ~100 people or so. Big or small, they’re a blast.
But something has been bothering me for the last few years, and I have a strong suspicion that I’m not alone. If you’re involved with organizing a con, please hear me out.
Readers and writers tend to be introverts. For some, it’s difficult to work up the courage to attend even a small event, and going to a larger one is incredibly daunting. The need to be ON, to interact with people, to socialize or to talk business…it’s not a *bad* thing, but it’s an intimidating one. There’s a reason why a lot of us disappear to our rooms to decompress sometimes. It’s overwhelming. Fun, yes! But overwhelming and taxing after a while.
And that’s without even taking into consideration the significant number of people in this crowd who have varying degrees of anxiety. Because there is a lot of anxiety at these cons. It can range from a minor annoyance to a massive obstacle, but it is very real and very present.
Which brings me to you, organizers.
And to a specific part of cons… Entertainment.
A lot of cons have some form of entertainment, usually in the evenings. Sometimes it’s a big dinner, or there might be some sort of performer. I’ve seen everything from Polynesian dancers to drag queens. And they’re great! They really are!
But inevitably there comes a point in the performance where the performers say the dreaded “V” word.
And more often than not, they aren’t really looking for volunteers. They’re looking for someone who would really rather not go up on stage. I know I’m not the only one who’s picked up on that because whenever performers ask for volunteers, a not insignificant portion of the crowd visually shifts into “act casual act casual don’t make eye contact oh God eye contact please God don’t pick me” mode.
One of them usually winds up getting picked – the performers inevitably zero in on the people who absolutely do not want to go up there – and while the rest of us breathe a sigh of relief it wasn’t us, there’s also that painful pang of sympathy for the unfortunate person who’s getting dragged up to the stage. They might shake their heads and protest, but they’ll get pulled up there anyway, and they’ll usually be asked to go through some kind of dance moves that they aren’t familiar with, and everyone will LOL at how silly they look trying to imitate these trained professionals.
If the person onstage is really enjoying it, then great. We can all laugh, and it’s hilarious.
But if that person is someone who’s struggled just to come to this con, and who came to the entertainment event to relax and unwind while a spotlight was pointed at someone else…
If they’re chasing Xanax with wine just to stay sane until bedtime…
If just the thought of public humiliation is enough to make them want to curl up under the table and cry…
…then it’s not funny anymore. And it’s not fun.
The thing is, someone whose anxiety is that severe is quite likely also someone who has a difficult time standing up for themselves. They’re not going to put their foot down when the entertainers are pulling them onstage and everyone else is egging them on, because then the focus will be even more intensely on them.
So, con organizers, I’m asking this small favor:
When you’re organizing entertainment for your event, just remember that anxiety exists. That people with anxiety are coming to this event and hoping for the best. Remember that being pulled up in front of dozens or hundreds of people and forced to perform for the amusement of others is a very quick way to turn a fun evening into something mortifying that leaves a person humiliated and crying in their hotel room and wondering if they even want to come back to the con the next day.
I’m not saying there shouldn’t be entertainment. I’m not saying dancers and silliness are bad. But maybe let the performers know what they’re facing. Let them know that for some of the audience, onstage participation is the exact opposite of fun. If they must bring up volunteers, take “no” for an answer (the FIRST “no”). Or maybe let people actually volunteer rather than being voluntold. Or just skip that part of the show.
But be considerate. Remember us. Remember that we’re here, and we want to have fun. Just be mindful. That’s all I’m asking.
Entertainment is fun. Humiliation is not.