My wife and I spent the weekend in Winston-Salem attending the inaugural Congregate and I’m happy to say we had a great time and it was obvious that a lot of thought, care, and sweat went into making the first year of this small con a great success.
I never heard an official attendee count, but I’m guessing it was in the 400-450 range. The hotel space at the Winston-Salem Marriott was a good size, we never felt crowded or cramped. There were never any traffic jams in the con space. Elevators were crowded because in addition to con there was big Amway meeting going on, a family reunion and all kinds of stuff. But overall, the convention space was great and the staff seemed helpful. Like every other con I’ve ever been in the panel rooms were kinda cold, but overall it was a fine space.
We arrived pretty early on Friday and the registration table was already open. Picked up our badges in under 2 minutes.
They had a pocket programming guide that you got at registration. There was also a mobile web site that you could access on your mobile phone web browser. (Free wifi throughout the hotel, FTW!). The navigation for the mobile schedule site a little wonky, but it was nice to have and I used it more than the printed guide.
There were a couple of panels that I thought were duds. but by far the programming was well thought out. The program committee tagged the panels as lectures or audience participation events etc etc, which helped you choose the panel you wanted to go to.
Sadly there were one or two attendees that dominated the panels they attended. speaking loudly and out of turn at every point they could. It was really annoying. Moderators need to feel empowered to directly tell an attendee to shut up and sit down and give other people a chance to participate in the panel.
But there were lots of awesome panels. Some of my favorites:
The writer guest of honor was Larry Correia and his keynote panel was great. Very personable, good-natured, lively guy with lots of good stories to tell about writing action scenes in his books and his gun collection.
Friday night we attended the Ask A Neuroscientist by Tedd Roberts. It was just a simple Q&A format about neuroscience and everyone asked their favorite question and he answered kowledgeably and in an accessible way. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Con planners everywhere need to remember to book actual subject matter experts for panels whenever possible. Yest there’s a time and place for having fans run panels for other fans. But having subject matter experts there to answer the questions you always wanted to ask or to give you a tutorial on their area of expertise is really nice.
Also on Friday night we attended the “Fandom Feud,” which was done more or less like the game show. Except the surveys were done by fans on fannish subjects. So it was hilarious to see people arguing about the most popular “Captains” and “famous ships.” Hilarity ensued. Well done. I hope this becomes a regular feature.
On Saturday, I really enjoyed the Geeks Get Fit panel led by Janine K. Spendlove. The whole panel was supportive of those of us who need to, let’s just say, do better at taking care of ourselves. They did a great job of making everyone feel like they can get fit.
I also attended the “Debate Club” run by Michael Pederson, Doc Geressy, and James Maxey. Michael had drawn up debate topics and assigned half the room to one side of the debate and the other half of the room to the other side of the room and then made the two sides of the room debate the topic. I thought I was going to hate it because I didn’t get to choose the side of the debate I wanted to be on. But it turned out to be quite a bit of fun. I had to defend why “classic Who” is better than “new Who.” I actually prefer new Who but I thought I did a god job defending classic Who. Tons of fun.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the What’s New in Podcasting panel. I am glad to see cons giving more air time, (heh) to new media producers.
On Sunday I attended the panel that was the highlight of the weekend for me, the Live Action Slush Pile. I’d never seen this done at a panel before but the have four editors on the panel and someone reads the first page of a novel submission and as he page is being read, the editors raise their hand as soon as they hear something that would cause them to reject the submission. After all the editors raise their hand they they explain what t was they heard that caused them to reject the submission. That panel was probably the most educational panel about writing I’ve ever attended. They could have spent two hours on that panel and I would have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.
Speaking of writing, Allen Wold was there presenting his famous writing workshops. I did not attend them, but folks I talked to spoke highly of them.
Also on Sunday, we attended a social media panel, which was educational and useful.
I also have to give props to the consuite which has to have been among the best consuites I’ve every had the pleasure of scrafing free food from. It was always spotlessly clean. The coffee and drinks never ran out. And they had homemade baked goods including some amazing home made brownies. Just amazing.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable weekend. Lots of good vibes in the halls. Lots of good conversation with friendly geeky fen.