Running a BiCon can be hugely rewarding or an utter nightmare. Your chances of wanting to do it again will be improved if you follow a few simple rules. I'd say that they are more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules, except that there are already some official Guidelines…
What is a BiCon?
Those Guidelines have something to say about that, but a short version is that it's a community-led, accessible event 'about' bisexuality for bisexual people and their allies. Even if they were all about bisexuality, an event that was a series of expert panels would not be a BiCon, for example. In the UK, it's now usually a three (or more) day event.
In the UK, we tend to call one day events 'BiFest' or 'BiTastic' to make a distinction between the two, but much of the same advice applies.
Why run one?
It has been said (by me) that it's impossible to fully appreciate the bisexual community until you do and some people find it very satisfying: BiCon has changed their lives and they want to run it so it can do the same for others, for example.
You do need a reason, but one important bit of advice is don't do it for yourself. Amongst other things, in the year you run it, you don't really get 'a BiCon'. Instead, next time you can enjoy yourself knowing that you're not the one worrying about everything.
Who to have running it?
One year, one person had advice from a small team, but did virtually all of it themselves. Everyone else who's ever done one wonders how (and they never did it that way again!) So you need a team, but how that team is organised is up to you.
Some years have a single leader, some split that role between two or more people, and some are collectives. Which ever you choose, you need to know who takes the final decision on any issue, preferably before there are any big decisions.
Oh, if you run it with sexual and/or romantic partners on the team, be aware that it can damage that relationship. Not always, but it often has. Partners are usually more valuable as someone you can go 'argh' and 'waaah' at when stressed about running one than on the team getting stressed about the same things.
How to do it?
Think of BiCon as a pizza for a second. The recipe is very simple:
Venue + Attendees + Culture = BiCon
You need a venue, and you need attendees. Once you have them at your venue, behaving nicely, you have a BiCon.
In the UK, it can be easy to take the culture for granted. A large chunk of your attendees will have been to a BiCon before and know how they should behave, and know that they can (should!) tell you if someone is not doing so. Partly because it started small and many of the attendees came from a long-running bisexual group, much of that culture has been there from the start… but not all. Things have changed over the years as awareness has increased.
If you're starting a series of events from scratch, it's a bit harder.
But either way, you want to have a set of rules – in the UK, we call that the 'Code of Conduct' – and be seen to enforce them. The number of issues brought to your attention will probably be rather less than most events of a similar size, but if nothing is, people probably don't think they can do so.
Everything else is toppings on that pizza.
Only you will know how many toppings there could have been at your BiCon
It is very easy to run out of spoons. Not everything you would have ideally liked to have happened will be possible. Don't spend BiCon going 'Wah, there could have been even more toppings on my BiCon pizza!!' If you have got the basic recipe right, everyone else is going 'Oooh, BiCon pizza! With toppings!!' and not really caring that there could have been more of them.
'That's a pilaf, not a pizza!'
In the UK, the official BiCon Guidelines make it a pizza – they provide the recipe for the base. What you throw on top will make a difference to the end result, but if you decide you want to have the same toppings mixed in with rice instead, it's not a pizza.
Someone who's done it before could probably quite happily organise a BiCon without ever looking at them. But you could give them to someone who's never been to a BiCon before and they'd come up with… well it'd doubtless be different, but it should recognisably be a BiCon rather than, say, an academic conference or even an SF con.
It's also a list of expectations. Because of this, you should let people know in advance if you are messing about with it.
What about the content?
Someone – who knows far more about running a BiCon than anyone else – writing a guide about doing one day events added "(content)" to the recipe.
The parentheses are partly because most things that happen during the day at both BiCon and many one day events are provided by attendees. For BiCon, the Guidelines are explicit about that: "7. BiCon should contain at least one programme stream of workshops/sessions .. largely .. run by volunteers from the bi community".
Most of what you need to do for BiCon in this regard is organise the offers into a timetable. You might need to actively hunt for people to run specific ones, but if you're doing much more than that, something's gone wrong.
For one day events, you will have a) many fewer session slots and b) more idea of what needs to be in there (one space has newcomer-friendly sessions all day, for example) and so may well do more active curation of what's in them.
AVAC – "all venues are compromises"
Your job, as someone running a BiCon, is to pick one set of compromises. The ideal venue doesn't exist, so trying to reach for perfection in a venue is futile and you will have to make some somewhere: location, facilities, cost etc etc.
You need to be aware of the compromises that recent teams have made. It can be fine to have the accommodation on top of a hill away from the venue for one year (especially if you do something about it, like arrange for some transport up and down it) but if there were physical access issues last year then it is probably more important not to have them next year. Fortunately, different organisers tend to prioritise different things anyway.
You do want to have..
.. space for sessions. With three to four hundred attendees, you need at least five or six rooms that will hold forty or more people. They don't all need to be the same size – having one that will do seventy and one that will only hold twenty is fine – but it should be easy to get between them. If they're in different buildings or there's just one narrow corridor, you will need to have longer gaps between sessions for example. If they're badly ventilated, you'll want to provide drinking water, even if that's some bottled water and some plastic cups. A BiFest (or other one-day event) can often only have two session rooms: one with things primarily for people new to the community, and one primarily for people who aren't.
.. a social space, somewhere people can 'hangout' during the event. Ideally, they wouldn't need to move from it in the evening.
.. an ents space for the evening. Ideally, this is next to, but not literally in the same room as a bar. As well as making it quieter for the bar, not everyone wants to be around alcohol. Either way, there should be some usable quiet space near by for talking, board games etc.
.. accommodation. If you're running a BiCon, you will learn how to spell 'accommodation' because it's a big chunk of the work, and not having to do it is a very very good reason for starting with running a BiFest-style day if you are starting a new series of events. It needs to be reasonably easy to get between the accommodation and the other things. You need at least a dozen accessible bedrooms, some of which need to be good for people in full-sized wheelchairs. Some venues arrange the rooms into 'flats' with anything from six to twenty rooms sharing a kitchen. These are popular for parties, so see how they would work for those, including ones where the occupants will want not to have people able to see in from outside. It's common to offer noisy / 'party' flats and quiet ones.
.. some outside space. BiCon is usually lucky with the weather and people like to sit outside, often way into the small hours of the night. Where are they going to go? Is it somewhere that's going to disturb people trying to sleep?
.. ideally having all of it to ourselves, somewhere that's easy for everyone to get to.
Again, you will have to compromise on some of these!
One reason university campuses have been popular is that they provide many of these AND allow you to not pay VAT on the bill, as BiCon is zero-rated for VAT at such venues. When the university runs its own accommodation, rather than contracting that out to some commercial firm, that extends to the biggest part of the final cost too.
Entirely personal ratings of some recent venues
2010 – Docklands, London: session space good but shared, social space acceptable (shared, not available in the evening), ents space poor (small bar / dance floor, no quiet space), accommodation good, outside space poor. Expensive venue.
2011 – Leicester: session space ok (split over two buildings, but all ok), social space very good, ents space ok (right next to bar), accommodation mixed (over three buildings, two of which had serious problems thanks to venue), outside space excellent. Venue offered a part-refund based on their failings.
2012 – Bradford: session space not good (split with access issues getting between them, some of it in poor rooms – bad acoustics, unmoveable lecture seating, poor ventilation), social space good (although not available in the evening), ents space ok, accommodation ok to poor (a distance away, some rooms offered choice between no ventilation or intermittent noise loud enough to keep people awake), outside space very good.
2013 – Edinburgh: session space very good, social space good, ents space very good, accommodation ok to poor (hotel style rather than flats, shared with nightmare groups), outside space ok. Expensive venue, treated us very badly in several ways, and I would very strongly advise no-one use Edinburgh First ever again.
2014 – Leeds Trinity: session space good to ok (getting between some rooms was an issue as was ventilation), ents space good (though shared with bar), accommodation good (but late night flights to nearby airport), outside space good. Each aspect could have been better, but it's well-balanced.
2015 – Nottingham: session space very good, social space good (not available in evenings, but accommodation / ents venue had good space), accommodation poor (rooms ok, but catered so unusable kitchens, and far from sessions space), ents space very good, outside space good.
2016 – Preston: session space poor (high up away from social space, narrow corridor or floor change between rooms, badly ventilated), social space very good, accommodation ok (needed to cross roads to get to the rest, plus some distance), ents space poor (acoustics, shared with bar), outside space poor.
2017 – Leeds Beckett: session space ok (two floors), social space good (move to other rooms in same building in the evenings), accommodation ok to good (some distance, large numbers of rooms sharing a kitchen is not ideal, noisier than Trinity because of closer to the late night flights), ents space ok (small, shared with bar, but good quiet space), outside space good. Another one that has nothing 'very good' but is well-balanced.
2018 – Salford: session space good, social space good, accommodation ok to poor (there were enough problems to result in a significantly reduced invoice), ents space ok (acoustics, noisy space shared with the bar), outside space very good.
(This is an example of a venue that has contracted out its accommodation and so is significantly more expensive for us than it should be. It's a pity, because if that and the issues with the accommodation were fixed, it'd be a good choice rather than a 'I really wouldn't' one.)
2019 – Lancaster: session space ok to poor (far from the accommodation and in two separate buildings), social space near the sessions ok, accommodation good, ents space ok, outside space ok.
Do not run a BiCon for yourself
As has been said, you need people to come to your BiCon. Not all of them will be like you. In many ways, most of them won't be. They don't all live online where you do. They like different things. Some BiCon attendees attend every session they can, others go to none of them. Some like the music or other entertainment you like, others do not.
If you are happy with everything at your BiCon, you've very probably missed something important out. If all your team like the same things, you're very probably going to miss something important out. If you are not promoting BiCon somewhere you've never been to, you are failing to reach everyone who would be interested in coming.
You Cannot Please Everyone
It's important to bear this in mind: whatever you do, someone will moan.
So don't be surprised when someone moans about the room naming scheme, or the fact that one person thinks you should be blamed because Abba was played at a disco and someone else is complaining that there wasn't enough Abba…
Instead, try to make everyone pleased with something.
You will at some point go 'Argh!'
Everyone does. Even the people who have done lots of them. It may be that the venue you'd like wants to charge extra to use the kitchens in the accommodation. Or fewer people are registering than you'd like. Or you are caught in a blizzard of some of the community's special snowflakes making more or less unreasonable demands.
Get some support. The people who have done it before are best. You don't have to tell them the whole details of why something is a problem – sometimes just saying 'spoons' will be enough.
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