Thursday, July 5, 2007

Conferences: Getting the Word Out, Cog Style

So Acephalous is drumming up audience members at his next panel, wanting a crowd, but anyone who's been involved in politics knows that crowds, like any event, don’t just happen --- it takes organizing. There are also a lot of studies demonstrating that an online appeal, like email, is nowhere near as effective as face-to-face contact at changing minds or getting turnout. So, with that in mind, I decided to come up with the top ten best ways to guarantee yourself a crowd at your next presentation panel.

10. Phonebanking. If it works for political campaigns and the AFL-CIO, imagine what it can do for you. Get a phone list of your organization, write up a short pitch for attendance and press all your friends into calling for 3-hour shifts every evening for a month or two before the conference. Or splurge and get one of those “robo-callers.” If you can convince people to donate money as well, so much the better.
9. At the other end of the spectrum, if you just want bodies in the room, you can follow the time-honored American tradition of hiring substitutes. Perhaps you'll follow the lead of our Representatives and corporate lobbyists who hire homeless black men to wait in line for Congressional committees (scroll way down, it's a long --- but good --- article).
8. If you’re a man, try disguising yourself as Al Gore. If you’re a woman, it may take more effort to pull it off. But whatever works!
7. Pay your friends to circulate through the conference crowds, passing out buttons with your panel information on them (if you want the subtleties of viral marketing, you can have them just talk about your brilliance).
6. Slip an “errata” page into all the programs at the registration desk that says the Norton’s free wine bar has been moved to your room and time slot. Be prepared to shout your paper while standing on the top of the podium, brandishing a wine carafe.
5. Post a sign on the door that reads Book Sale ---- Clearance. All Paperbacks 70% Off.
4. Kidnap passers-by from the hallways at knifepoint and force them all inside the room (you may or may not want to use the ski mask. I would suggest you definitely don’t use the leather mask.)
3. Tape a copy of your panel listing (maybe with stars and arrows on it) above all the urinals and women’s toilets (don’t forget to put the ladies’ signs on the stall doors instead).
2. Have swimsuited beauties (of whatever gender you choose) stand outside the door carrying “Live Live Nude Nudes” signs. (PS --- there's that really famous sign off of --- shit, I don't remember, Sunset? --- how is it I can't find any pictures of it on the web?)
1. Traverse the halls dressed in costume as Nero, preferably on a litter or throne or something like this with people parading in front of you casting rose petals and blowing trumpets to herald your passing. While this tactic might be the most effective, it is also most risky; if someone else shows up in the same Nero costume, all you’ll hear is, “God, it’s those obnoxious Nero people again. Isn’t everybody going as Nero this year?”

This is at least partly inspired by my first semester teaching ever, which was also my first time presenting at a conference (on-campus, a graduate conference). I let my students out early so I could attend and told them what was going on. One student promised he'd get everyone in my class to show up in the back of my audience painted in the school colors, flashing pom-poms and spelling out my name in initials on their bare chests ("Sis-y-PHUS! Sis-y-PHUS!"). It's a nice thought, diminished unfortunately by some creepy behavior of his that kept trying to breach the teacher-student boundaries, but whatever.

It taught me I should think big when it comes to making conference plans.


Charles Montgomery said...


I just came across your post. I have my first paper presentation at MCAA in October and I will use all your tactics.

Assuming I get the paper done (well, started, really).

Good luck on yours. ;-)

Fretful Porpentine said...

There TOTALLY need to be more people dressed up as Nero at the MLA.

Unknown said...

Oh god - I hate it when people show up in the same Nero costume as me. So embarrassing...

Once again, Sis you have made me laugh with glee! I'm big on conscripting friends to sit in the audience and planting questions with them that would allow me to say something brilliant...

Sisyphus said...

Well, I hope to be going to interviews at this MLA, which leaves the Nero suit open for you...

And I just got a better suggestion from someone: you know how Marjorie Perloff declared there should be a theme running through the MLA panels and last year it was "sound and poetry"? My friend suggests this year it be "Studio 54." Who's going as Warhol? Edie Sedgewick? Basquiat?

And thanks everyone --- you all rock!