Judge Conference Tips
I recently ran a judge conference all about how to run better conferences. You can watch the recordings here. We had some really great content, and I wanted to compile a list of what I found to be the most important pieces of advice all in one place for easy access.
Judge Academy has some decent modules on organizing and presenting at conferences, so I'll aim to only include tips that aren't in there. If there's something you'd like to see included here that is currently missing, let me know so I can add it.
- Close the feedback form anywhere from 12-48 hours after the conference, and send your presenters their feedback right afterwards. If you close it too early, attendees who wanted to take some time to write up their thoughts are going to miss out. If you close it too late, your presenters are going to start forgetting about their presentation and won't have the necessarily content to interpret the feedback you're giving them a week later.
- Bringing on inexperienced presenters and giving new talent a chance to shine is extremely important. Understand the difference between a new judge and a new presenter. The ideal new presenter is someone who's already been judging for a couple years and has a strong understanding of the material. When you accept some new L1 who's only been judging for 3 months and can't answer simple questions about their topic, you're setting them up to fail in front of a crowd. This is going to be embarrassing for them, will either make them not want to present again or make them overconfident, and will likely also result in your audience being given incorrect information.
- Don't require cover letters if you don't have a good reason to do so. (Spoiler: I have almost never seen an organizer have a good reason for this.) Don't waste your attendee's time forcing them to do pointless busywork. If you hit a cap and need a way to decide who to decline, use their past event experience to determine who will be most likely to benefit from the material you're providing at your conference. Cover letters are useful when you need a judge to tell you about their skills, but that doesn't really matter for a conference. You just end up selecting for people who are better at resume-writing.
- The goal of your conference is not to accept as many people as possible. The goal of your conference is not to give you the ability to brag about how large a conference you ran. The goal of your conference is not to give out as many foils as you possibly can.
Judge Academy receives a finite number of foils. The more you give out, the fewer other organizers can give out.Especially online, having more people tends to make things feel less personal, reduce the ability of the presenters to engage with audience members, and make people less able to connect with each other. Don't advertise a regional online conference and then accept people from halfway around the world.
- Post relevant information about the conference in the forums. Don't make people dig through old emails or discord messages in order to find what they need to know. Don't leave outdated information on the event listing.
- Make sure that your presenters are qualified to discuss the material. If you don't know enough about the subject matter to vet their presentation, ask another experienced judge for help. If you let someone onto your conference who proceeds to misinform 30+ people in your audience, that can do massive harm to players and other judges further down the line. As the organizer, it is your responsibility to ensure that accurate information is being given to people.
- Don't forget to include a section in the feedback form for feedback on yourself and how the conference as a whole went.
- Judge Academy offers the ability to run online conferences where only the presenters get promos and the attendees do not. This dramatically lowers the amount of logistical work you have to do, and ensures that every attendee is there because they legitimately want to learn things. Consider running more of these.
- Don't require feedback for every presentation. Nothing makes people not want to give useful feedback than being forced into it; this will dramatically lower the quality of the feedback you get. Consider instead requiring people to submit one piece of constructive feedback for a presentation of their choice, or don't require it at all. (But still encourage it!)
For example, a field for "what was your favorite presentation, and why was it your favorite"?
- Provide meaningful breaks between the presentations of at least 10 minutes. If it's an in-person conference, 15-20 is likely better. This lets people go to the restroom, get water, and discuss anything about the last presentation they wanted to discuss. You can put a timer up on the screen to let people know how much longer they have.
- Choose topics that are appropriate for your audience. Don't have a presentation on advanced replacement effects for a room full of new L1s. Don't have a presentation on self-care for a bunch of experienced L2s. Don't have a presentation on Comp REL policy for a bunch of LGS judges who have no interest in running Competitive events.
- Communicate your expectations clearly.
- Be prepared. If you're running an in-person conference, don't show up 5 minutes before the start time with no idea how people are going to connect their laptops to the TV. Plan ahead for the things people are going to need so there's no last minute scrambling.
- If you're running a mock tournament, read this.
- Your presentation should be interactive. Humans have a much easier time retaining material when they can actually engage with it and get live practice. If you're giving a dry lecture for an hour, people are going to get bored and check out. If your presentation could have been a Youtube video, why are you taking up space at a live conference?
- Prepare for your presentation in advance. Know what's on your slides, figure out if your microphone is working, etc.
- Your presentation should include meaningful information. Don't waste people's time with thought-terminating clichés, deep-sounding yet meaningless quotes
In order to tell whether your quote from some famous person is worth including, try replacing the attribution with "my next-door neighbor's kid who smokes weed". Does it still seem like something that's useful to tell people, or was it vague gibberish that only sounded profound because of who said it?, definitions of terms that everyone already knows, etc.
- Listen to feedback. Talk to people about how your presentation went. Investigate whether they learned what you expected them to learn. If someone gives you feedback you don't understand or disagree with, reach out to them to ask for clarification and have a discussion about the pros and cons of each way of doing things. If you aren't changing some aspect of your presentation after each time you give it, either you've managed to be the first judge to design a completely perfect presentation, or you aren't maximizing your educational potential.
- End your presentation on time. If you end early, you're wasting time you could have spent teaching people more. If you end late, you're disrupting the conference schedule and taking time away from other presenters. If you don't know how long it's your presentation is going to take, do a dry run in advance. Interactive portions tend to take longer than you expect. It's ok to skip a few scenarios or slides at the end of your presentation in order to end on time; plan for this in advance so that the most important things are near the beginning.
A common trap that new presenters fall into is to feel like they have to get through all of their slides. They start rushing, giving shorter and worse explanations, and don't answer questions from the audience. This is a complete waste of everyone's time. It's far better for you to explain a small number of concepts well than for you to explain a large number of concepts poorly. The goal of your presentation is to maximize the amount of useful information that people learn, not to maximize the number of slides they get shown.
- Don't imitate other presenters without understanding why they do what they do. Don't include something just because you've seen a more experienced presenter do it and you think it would make you seem cool to do it too.
- If your presentation consists primarily of reading out passages from the rules or policy documents, you aren't giving people anything they couldn't have acquired themselves on their own time.
- If you can't answer simple questions about the topic you're presenting on, you should learn more about it before presenting on it. How can you expect other people to gain an understanding of the material from your presentation if you don't even understand it yourself?
- Make sure your slides are easily legible and aren't painful on the eyes..
- If you're running any sort of roleplay workshop, read this.
There's a Discord server for conference staff here. It's a great resource for anyone planning on hosting or presenting at a conference.