Friday, June 13, 2008

ISDC 2011, Already?

I've more or less signed myself on to help the Huntsville Alabama L5 Society (HAL5) put in a bid to be the host chapter for the 2011 International Space Development Conference. I was almost Operations Manager for this year's ISDC, but then I had the bad taste to go and move away from the Washington, DC, area. I needn't have run so far: ISDC followed me anyway. So much for getting a new hobby.

So what, exactly, is involved in running a space advocacy convention? Here's my preliminary "take" on the matter, scribbling rapidly in my journal this morning:

The Bid

The National Space Society doesn't just take volunteers to run a conference. They expect a little competition and some choice in the matter. So no doubt come the next ISDC there will be a competition between some unknown city and Huntsville.

This means HAL5 will need to get some of its ducks in a row. Some things we'll probably need to assemble include:

  • Conference theme
  • Programming tracks
  • Hotel/convention space
  • Sponsors
  • Local (city of Huntsville) assistance
  • A conference management team
  • Conference logo(?)

The conference itself will be an even bigger elephant to chew (Query: "How do you eat an elephant?" Answer: "One bite at a time"). First we need a management team, consisting (at least!) of:

  • Chair
  • Co-Chair (Vice Chair?)
  • Treasurer
  • Secretary
  • Legal Counsel
  • Programming Chair
  • Business Chair
  • Operations Chair
  • Public Relations Chair

Under the aforementioned, other items will be required:


  • Track selection (what topics do we want to have speakers talk about at the conference?)
  • Speaker selection (who do we want to invite to speak on the topics we want?)
  • Track chairs (who is going to be responsible for running said tracks?)
  • Room assignments (where are the various tracks going to be held?)--this is location-driven
  • Schedule (this needs to be done early, IMHO, so that the Ops manager knows when events are occurring and how many volunteers s/he will need to staff the various rooms)
  • There is also the Space Investment Summit (SIS), which is attached to, but not 100% a part of, ISDC. The SIS is a very clever and useful event, wherein venture capitalists, "angels," and other investors interested in putting their money into space are put into a room with would-be investees. You don't get to be a venture capitalist without a great deal of money, influence, and name recognition, which a local chapter doesn't normally have ("You're calling on behalf of HAL who?"). My guess, therefore, is that the investors in attendance are invited by--and the event is run by--NSS Headquarters. In the first year of the SIS, the would-be investees (space entrepreneurs) were also invited based on some sort of criteria. If all of that is left to NSS HQ, HAL5 will still need to provide function space as well as food and beverages for this event. Who pays? Interesting question.

Public Relations/Media/Advertising

  • We'll need a decent public relations writer, that's for certain.
  • We'll also need someone who knows the media and can maneuver and get attention in that world. This is a tough town to do this type of volunteering in because the government or one's employer might see you doing your day-job activities in your free time (even if you're doing it for free) as a conflict of interest. Ain't government work grand?
  • ISDC 2008 managed to get a presence on C-SPAN this year, through the diligent efforts of my media-guru buddy Ian Murphy. Does HAL5 have the same sort of clout, or do we need to hire Ian again? The world wonders.
  • Someone in the group suggested having a competition to design the conference logo. That, or we could hire the wife of one of our members to design it. Depends which one's less expensive, doesn't it?

Business Management

This is the "money man," so to speak. For ISDC 2005, the Business Manager dealt with things such as:

  • Sponsor relations
  • Conference merchandising, if any
  • Obtaining giveaways--the most common conference giveaway these days is a laptop bag
  • Obtaining volunteer gear (shirts)
  • Negotiating and planning big-ticket items, like the obligatory conference "gala"
  • Running registration, printing badges, etc.
  • Setting up IT for the conference and attendees, if necessary
  • Most importantly, the Business Manager is in charge of setting and sticking to the budget!


This is the area I have the most familiarity with, partially because I was more-or-less deputy to Josh Powers, who was Ops Manager for 2005 and Conference Chair for 2008. I also have some familiarity with this line of work because I worked in hotel operations and convention reservations at Walt Disney World for four years or so. I understand most of the needs here:

  • Hotel liaison (getting the contract ball rolling, establishing the guest room block, determining how much convention/floor space is needed, setting up the meal menus, verifying the conference will have enough plugs for equipment, etc.)
  • Convention hall liaison (if your convention space is not connected to/part of the hotel)
  • Volunteer coordinator--recruiting, organizing, training, and herding those-who-volunteer to run audio/visual (A/V) equipment, registration, etc. The 2005 volunteers were trained Disney-Tradtions style, and things went off rather smoothly, thank you very much. Of course it also helps to have a group of volunteers who can think on their feet and work creatively around unique situations (which means at least a couple of volunteers over 30). We will not have Bill, Tommy, Nadine, or Giuseppina this time; but with any luck, other bright bulbs will present themselves.
  • Obtaining A/V equipment, in cooperation with the Business Manager
  • Establishing, laying out, and obtaining vendors to fill out exhibitor space
  • Running an art show, if available
  • Running a fashion show, if possible (what will fashions look like for those living offworld?)
  • Conference security--this is easier if the hotel has staff on duty 24/7, but one can never be certain

Anyhow, that's a first-blush look at what we're in for. We've got about three years to get ready for this. It seems like a lot of time until reality sets in...probably about half a year into it. :-) May the force be with us.

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