So You Want to Put On an
- Don't let anyone discourage you!
- "Your city is not a major airline hub!" So,
Milwaukee and Huntsville, which are not major airline hubs, did
better than Washington D.C., New York, and Orlando, which are.
Put on a blockbuster program and touch all the bases, and they
will come. Rest on your city's laurels, and they will not.
- "You don't have enough of a crew!" The crew you have
on paper when you bid, will perhaps not be the crew that goes
on to pull it off. In the lead time years, some will drift away
and others will come forth. Have confidence in yourself. On the
other hand, if your ISDC engine is missing a spark plug or two,
and they are at critical positions, this will hurt you in the
end - and this is unpredictable at the beginning. Local
outreach and promotion, a good financial officer with veto
power, and a good programming chair are vital. It is hard to
make do without one of these. Holes in lesser positions are
things you can live with.
- Anyone with enough self-starting drive to attempt to
put on an ISDC does so because he or she has confidence in
their own abilities & insights. Don't let anyone
dismiss you as other than that. Listen to everything and
everyone, but use your own common sense as the court of last
Taking off the Rose-Colored
- It's easier to brainstorm a "superconference" than to pull
- The temptation is to do a lot of window dressing in the
form of special exhibits and special events that "will really
pack 'em in!" Just about every ISDC bid team has gone through
this stage. And just about every one has failed to pull off
more than a few such extras. These things, if you are going to
pull them off, need a lot of lead time, and a lot of
people time. The trouble is, it is almost impossible to get
people enthused about these things 2 years out, let alone 3,
and by the time you do find some interest, the lead time will
be gone ("lead [leed] time turns to lead
[led]") , and with it your super dream. The Milwaukee
Team had a lot of great ideas for "Extra" items, but in the
end, we lacked the people to pull them off. Don't be
blind-sided by your own enthusiasm - but DO have fun!
- A better idea is to do all the basics "super well" -
Programming (speakers, talk subjects, meal functions,
workshops, low hotel rates, etc.)
- Then IF you have time, money, and bodies to throw at
some spiffy neat extra, go ahead, but keep doing reality checks
as you go along.
Things we did wrong in
- We gave special rates to members of cosponsor groups without
specifying a cut-off date, and that gave these individuals
no incentive to pre-register.
- We had a roommate matchup service, hoping to attract
those unable to afford hotel rooms alone. But this lead to some
real complaints at the hotel by people who had signed up for the
service but where unhappy about the roommates they had, despite
the advertised disclaimer.
- We utterly failed in our attempts to interest local
colleges & universities in participating, and that was
a bitter pill to swallow. Academia does not hold the "pop" ISDC in
- We did not send individuals "confirmation of
registration notices", even though this was a priority item
from the outset.
- We failed to arrange for anyone to collect tickets for
the Thursday evening reception, and a number of people who had not
paid, crashed the reception. As a result, several people who did
pay, arrived to find all the food already gone.
Things we did
- We ignored advice to put on a general "space primer"
track for people who do not know much about the subject. Such
a constituency is poorly motivated to attend, and dedicating
function space to them means you will have less rooms to give to
high quality programming for those who will come, expecting to get
- We set aside advice to go after only the most qualified
speakers. To us an ISDC was less an opportunity to report on
research going on, though that is certainly a big part of it, but
more of an opportunity to steer the future. That means
getting discussion started or moving where nothing much has been
happening. It means exposing the whole "universe" of space
and all the vectors by which it can be approached. We started with
a Designer Program and
then sought speakers who could speak to its various items. Often
there were no recognized authorities on particular orphaned
topics. The we looked for people who could say something
relevant, or get the discussion started. Sometimes this meant that
a workshop was more appropriate than a presentation. So this gave
opportunity for invididuals with lesser "credentials" to
contribute to the programming. We worked their contributions into
the program at large, instead of consigning them to a ghetto
- We put on a "big tent" conference, inviting speakers
from many different groups. This raised some eyebrows, but the
fruitful networking between these groups that has gone on since
ISDC '98 is a sweet vindication.
- We spoke for all the function space in the hotel, even
though we were told that, being a small city, we should have more
modest aims. As a result, we were able to put on 4 to 5 tracks,
plus workshops, so that there was ample programming for everyone
attending no matter how specialized his or her space
- Many conferences are all "talk, talk". We put on an
unprecedented number of workshops for those who wanted to
get involved, help shape discussions, help flush out and flesh out
ideas, and help start or advance worthy projects. To us in
Milwaukee, ISDC was not just an opportunity to inform, but an
opportunity to network, an opportunity to instigate, an
opportunity to make things happen. And we think we did that, and
put on a good show to boot.
- We secured the donation of almost all the audiovisual
equipment we needed, and this single effort earned ISDC '98
the biggest profit since ISDC '93 in Huntsville - despite the fact
that we had no major donations or contractor support. Half of the
black ink goes to the National Space Society, the Principal
Sponsor. The other half will be used by the Lunar Reclamation
Society to promote space education and research projects, and to
do some neat space outreach projects we have never had the money
to do before.
For these things, many
- To Dave Dunlop, without whose brainstorming and organizing
assistance early on, the bid would never have been submitted -
even though life events and relocation made it difficult for him
to play a major role thereafter.
- To Jeffrey Liss, who negotiated our Hotel Contract and who
kept giving us advice at every turn, undiscouraged by the fact
that we stubbornly let some of it go by, following our own lights
- To the Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors' Bureau who
helped us put together the bid packets in 1995.
- To Pat Dasch, Executive Director of the National Space
Society, for smoothing our way through some troubled waters that
threatened to capsize the conference.
- To Mike Kehoe who took the lead in securing free loan of all
that audiovisual equipment
- To George French and Nick Fuhrman of the Wisconsin Space
Business Roundtable, for the nice hotel banner, and personnel
assistance at registration, and for helping to line up key
- To an anonymous donor, who gave us the use of his frequent
flyer miles on American Airlines, that allowed us to bring in four
quality speakers, who would otherwise not have been able to
attend. These speakers contributed much to the quality and success
of the conference.
- To Robert Zubrin, who put together a competition for a "space
anthem". The winners, a husband and wife team, performed their
rousing song, "That's why the stars are there" at the Sunday
evening banquet, and for the chair, this was a supremely enjoyable
- To the speakers from all over who came to Milwaukee at
their own expense to share their knowledge and wisdom with us. And
especially those who volunteered to give extra talks or direct
workshops, helping us to fill in the holes.
- To our registrants who were a wonderful bunch and made
us feel that it was all worth while.
- To the Hotel Staff of the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee who
were most helpful, and showed considerable enthusiasm for our
special requests like the Space Frontier Vegetarian Buffet.
- To our ISDC '98 Team who all did such a bang-up job,
and kept on no matter how tired they were, and did such an
excellent job. To Mark Kaehny, Charlotte Nelson, Carol Nelson,
Robert Bialecki, Robert Bramscher, Carl Bramscher, Joe Mackowski,
Rose Eiermann, Louise Rachel Quigley, Larry Ahearn, Mike
Shoemaker, Mike Kehoe, Bill Katt Jr., Doug Seitz, Gary (Gerhard)
Gross, Ricky Leavell, Cheryl Morisette, Tia Dutter and more.
- those who were there from start to finish
- those who joined us late but put out such a Herculean
- those who did major jobs
- those who played smaller roles
Would we do it again?
- Kudos - A high percentage of the attendees went out of
their way to tell us what a great conference we put on, how much
they enjoyed themselves, how much they liked the hotel, how
pleasantly surprised they were about Milwaukee, how deep and wide
the programming was, how much they enjoyed the workshops, etc.
- Mood - As ISDC '98 closed, the crew was tired, even
exhausted, but "high" - "we did it, by God, we did it!". And we
are glad, and proud, that we did!
- The Question - In the following weeks, some of the team
brought up the idea of rebidding for a future ISDC slot. But the
majority felt that our time had come, we had done ourselves proud,
and should rest content.
- The Rules - At ISDC '98, the NSS Board of Directors
accepted a Conferences Committee report to change the rules of the
game by which ISDCs are bid for, put together, and run. We are
proud to have been the last traditionally run ISDC. But we do NOT
like the new rules and find in them no incentive for busting our
- Never say never? Perhaps, but we thought about it for a
quick nanosecond, and, even though we did not burn out, as have
many ISDC teams before us, there are other things we want
to do, now that we have some money to do them. The Lunar
Reclamation Society wants to see a civilian industrial self
supporting settlement on the Moon, and to see a human economy
spread throughout the solar system. There is a lot to be done to
help lay the foundations for such an eventuality to be realized.
We hope to find some small but critical things we can do to help.
Somewhere along the way that may include another conference, but
probably not another ISDC. We'll see.
- For you - our encouragement, with a promise of help if
asked, to any team out there who wants to take up the ISDC