Running Dorsai Thing 2013: Lessons Learned

The Liberty Bell

Each year, The Dorsai Irregulars have their own annual convention known as “Dorsai Thing”. It is a weekend long event, held in a different city each year, where we all gather, socialize, and hold our semi-annual business meeting. This year, it was held in Phildelphia, and it fell on my shoulders to run the event, dubbed “Liberty Thing” While I’ve worked at plenty of conventions before, this was the first one where I was effectively the Con Chair. This was an entirely new thing for me, and I wanted to write a blog post about some of the things I learned during the experience.

Don’t Procrastinate!

It’s easy to let things slide when you’re several months out from the convention. But remember, you never know when life is going to throw you a curveball that eats up your spare time. In my case, a job change combined with my bank failing suddenly began to eat up a lot of my free time, and it left me feeling under pressure to get things done. The lesson here is to try and get things out of the way early.

Hotels: Get a Small Room Block

A room block is a guarantee of room nights that you will give the hotel during the convention. If the hotel doesn’t sell enough room nights to fill the block, they will often reserve the right to come after you for the difference in revenue. This sounds harsh, but remember that if a hotel does not rent a room for a given night, that’s lost revenue which it will never be able to regain. Hotels really don’t like empty rooms. 

In my case, I contracted a room block of 40 nights. We ended up renting nearly twice as many rooms. The hotel really liked that!

Get Good/Experienced Staff

There were some things that I just wasn’t qualified to do by myself. This included things like running the consuite and putting together the flyer for the convention. A good convention chair knows when they are in over their head and to ask for staff members to fill given roles. For this event, I was fortunate to have capable folks like these:

Food Prices Will Go Up

Always always always. In the year between my signing the contract and putting in the catering order 1 week before the event, catering prices rose $1-2 per meal. There is little you can do about that, other than to take it into account when writing your budget. That leads me to…

Write a Budget

Seriously. You need to do this. Have an idea of how much money you will be spending, and what you will be spending it on. Put the whole thing into a spreadsheet and play around with the numbers a bit. Try changing the number of attendees or the meal types that you order from catering and see how it affects the numbers. Keep a ledger, too! It should be a spreadsheet that lists every income and expense, along with the balance. Check it frequently during the event and keep it updated so that you can see where you stand financially. This is very helpful when unexpected expenses come up. (and they always do)

Don’t forget to take sales taxes and service charges into account. In Philadelphia, both of those added 30% to the bill!

Google Sheets are invaluable for planning your budget.  One thing that I found helpful was to create a “convention revenue matrix” which listed the number of expected attendees on the x-axis and the registration price on the y-axis.  I could then project revenue at different price points for different numbers of attendees and see how many attendees I would need to be profitable.

Such a spreadsheet would look something like this (also available on Google Drive):

Seriously. You. Need. A. Budget.

Philly is Expensive

Philadelphia is an expensive city. Function rooms cost quite a bit to rent and are rented out by the shift. This impacted us in one interesting way: we couldn’t have the function rooms past midnight, which meant no late night filking.

The financial impact could have been a lot bigger if I had not planned for it. See my previous section about writing a budget. 

Late night Cards Against Humanity.
Late night Cards Against Humanity

Philly is Expensive, Part 2: Parking

Parking in Philly is just plain bad. Most garages in the area were on the order of $20-30 per day to park in. The best thing I could do was let as many people know as far in advance as possible so it did not come as a surprise, and make myself available to answer questions about airport transportation. This turned out to be helpful, as roughly half of the attendees flew in.

Location Location Location!

Having a good location is probably what helped this event the most. The hotel was smack in the middle of Philadelphia’s historic district. No, really. Benjamin Franklin was buried in the hotel’s back yard. You can’t get much more historic than that!


The event was a success, and I received plenty of positive comments from attendees about both the event itself and the location where it was held. That’s fantastic! I can’t wait to attend next year’s thing, to be held in the Mid-west, which I will not be running. 

Oh, did you go to the event? Yes, I took pictures! They’re over here.

I’d also like to give a shoutout to Uncle Kage’s Guidelines for Convention Chairmen document, as well as FANAC’s page on convention running. Both were excellent resources to me in the planning stages.