For the past five years, I have attended GenCon with an average of 10 of my friends. On the larger years, it has been as large as 14 people and on the smaller years around 8. Coordinating a group that large, at the largest gaming convention of the year, is no easy task. Over the years, I have figured out some tricks for organizing such a large group and today I am going to share some of those tips with you.
There is no magic formula for organizing a trip this large. Mostly its about coming up with some simple plans, and then being flexible enough to adapt them as things change, when you get there. Before we get into the more specific tips, there are a few general tips, about organizing large groups:
- Large Groups are slow to start moving and hard to stop. So try not to make any rapid changes in plans, and don’t get annoyed when it takes a little time to get the group moving.
- Large Groups do not make decisions well. Trying to pick out where to eat, with two people is a snap, with 10 it is a nightmare. Avoid making decisions by committee; rather offer two choices and take a quick vote.
- Large Groups naturally break into small groups based on common interests and pre-existing relationships between the members. Because of that, it is hard to keep a large group focused on one task for any length of time.
With those things in mind, here are some specific tips that have helped me organize my group each year.
One Leader…Lots of Delegation
The planning and execution for your trip is going to go best, if you have one person who is the main coordinator. Pick a person who has the organization skills to plan out the trip, and make them the Leader for organizing the trip. The Leader is going to have a lot of work to do, but with one person at the helm, things will come from a single voice, and it will reduce confusion.
At the same time, the Leader should not have to plan every aspect of the trip. The Leader should be encouraged to delegate various parts of the trip planning to other members of the group. For instance, one of my friends has a GPS, and his job is to be our navigator. I let him know what destinations we will be traveling to, and any specific routes, and he programs them into the GPS, and provides directions during the drive to and from GenCon.
Collaborate and Share Information
Communication is everything when organizing a large group. The first thing I do, is to create an email alias that includes everyone attending the trip. We use email almost exclusively to communicate with one another, during the planning part of the trip. This is helpful, since our group often spans 4 states, and has people working all sorts of times, day and night.
The other thing we use, is Google Docs and Spreadsheets. This year, after event registration, we used a shared spreadsheet, to plug in our individual schedules, so that everyone in the group was able to see what events people were going to, and what times people were free. Shared documents can also be used to post directions, notes, etc. A platform like Google Docs and Spreadsheets makes it easy to create a document, and very easy to share with a group of friends.
Do One Thing Together…and A Lot Of Things In Small Groups
GenCon is about playing games, and getting a game for a group as large as 10 people is pretty hard. There are a few ways to ensure that you can secure enough tickets for an event. Before Event Registration, you should plan out what events you want to attend, as individuals and as a group. On the day of Event Registration, coordinate a handful of your members to go on and get tickets for your events. This year, we had 5 people on laptops in different locations, using both IM and cell phones to stay in touch.
It has been my experience that at the size of 10 people there are few events that can accommodate the entire group, and a smaller number that you will be able to register for, and actually get all the tickets. You may have to look around for an event that can handle your entire group. If you can, try to pick one event to do as a large group, and then break up in smaller groups to do events together.
This year, my whole group attended the Lunch Money  game, organized by the Rogue Judges . This is a fun game, and an easy event to get a lot of tickets. I then played in two RPG sessions, each one, with a different member from my group. Others went to different events in groups of 3 and 4. This way you are still with some friends and are able to get into the smaller events.
Aside from gaming events, make some effort to visit each of your friends during the length of the con. I make it a point to either have a meal with or share some time, such as walking the floor, with as many members of the group as I can. This way I get to see everyone for a little bit and get to share some memories with everyone.
Another thing that helps is to have a single location where you can all gather at different points during the day. It is far easier for everyone in the group to know that they need to meet up in the same location, rather than trying to pass along to everyone different meeting locations, every day.
Take advantage to some of the lesser used areas in the convention center, and some of the lobby areas in the adjacent hotels. Keep the location central to the con, so that most people can reach it easily, and can reach their upcoming events quickly.
My group likes the Hotel Lobby area in the Westin, located near Starbucks (critical for waking up in the morning). With a large group, we often have to re-arrange the furniture to create a space that we can all fit. We will all gather in the Westin lobby and drink coffee and play some card games, until the convention floor opens. This way we are all together for the morning, before we split up into smaller groups.
With a large group, it is fun to have some kind of clothing to identify you as part of the group. Consider creating a T-Shrit or hat for everyone in your group to wear. It is a great way to create some camaraderie and it makes it easy to find one another when out of the convention floor. You will also find that by wearing group attire, that people will recognize you as part of your group, during the course of the con. Its an extra expense, but there is a special feeling about being bonded together with a common shirt, or other attire.
My group, has a set of custom made green bowling shirts that we all wear, for the entire con. The shirts have our nicknames over the pockets, a pair of dragons on the back, and the years we attended GenCon, going down the sleeves. We enjoy walking into the con on Thursday morning, as a full group, and having people look at us as a single group, and sometimes mistaking us as our own company. As a running joke, when we spot each other in the hallways, we make it a point to call out, “Nice Shirt” to each other. It may sound silly, but there is a certain esprit de corps that wearing our Greenshirts brings.
My last tip, is that during the course of your time at the Con, make sure you set aside time for a group picture. I recommend you do this at the beginning of the con, and wearing your group attire. Use the time before the convention floor opens to gather up for a group picture. Be careful if you try to do this on Sunday, as different members of your group may have different departure times, depending on how they are leaving the Con. Be creative about the place you have your picture taken. Pick somewhere that either has great meaning to the group, or will look interesting when you look pack on the picture in the years to come.
In years past we have had our picture taken holding the giant d20 over our heads, we have had it taken with young ladies from various booths, and this year, we had our picture taken with cast members from the Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising .
A large group at GenCon can be a lot of fun, and a great way to visit with friends that you do not get to see often. It is not easy to coordinate such an event, but with some upfront planning, a lot of communictaion, and some flexibility, you will have a great Con and a lot of great memories.