by Chris Garcia
Over the past few years, Chris Garcia has been a frequent contributor to Nth Degree. He’s written short stories (as Johnny Eponymous), con reviews, and gaming reviews for us but now we’re letting him turn the white hot spotlight of public scrutiny on himself…
How To Be A Toastmaster:
My BayCon 2005 Experience
BayCon is the Bay Area’s largest, oldest, and most established SF Convention. Having attended the first one, and many off and on over the last 22 years, it’s my home convention and the event that really brought me fully into fandom after a lay-off of several years. For some reason, they chose me to act as their Toastmaster, running the “Meet the Guests” event and the Masquerade. If you’ve ever been to a large convention, you know that these events can be huge and facing the task of leading them is daunting. I got a chance to chat with last year’s Toastmistress, Esther Friesner, and 1999 and 2000 Toastmaster Kent Brewster, who both gave me great pointers. As a public service, I created a set of rules that anyone who is asked to be a Toastmaster should follow.
Be memorable and make sure folks can find you among the crowd.
Friday, noon. I’d arrived nice and early, ready to get down to the fun of the con. There was already a maddening crowd. A great many folks were milling around, and for some reason, there were far more young folks than usual. In the 1980s, BayCon was the home to a large crowd of young fans who would go on to become important to fandom over-all and this was like being back in those days. By the end of the con, there were more attendees than any BayCon I’d ever been to and one of the largest BayCons ever.
As I walked through the halls, I ran into Jay Lake (Writer Guest of Honor, 2004 Campbell Award Winner and respected anthology editor), Frank Wu (Artist Guest of Honor and 2004 Hugo winner), Andy Trembley and Kevin Roche (Fan Guests of Honor and well-known party hosts) and a number of other folks, all wearing fezzes made of purple. They had one for me. The rest of the convention, I walked around with my purple fez worn proudly.
Be funny, but not offensive or out of control.
As the day went on, we were introduced to a small crowd at the Opening Ceremonies. This was simple and small and no one had anything to say, though I did manage to do a spit-take for the delight of some (OK, mostly myself). After the Opening Ceremony, I had to prepare for the Meet the Guests.
If you’ve only been to the Meet the Pros events on the East Coast you probably have no idea why I was freaking out. Meet the Guests is an event where all the guests talk for a minute or two and the Toastmaster runs the show in front of 500 or so attendees. This year, the number was likely a bit larger, as there were no free tables and little standing room left. As I had to run the thing, I was panicking, though not nearly as badly as I should have been.
I walked up and introduced everyone, saying funny things that fit with the theme “BayCon: The Con You Can’t Refuse” (Sonny Corleone couldn’t make it tonight. There was some hold-up at a toll booth) and pointing out that Jay and I had once been confused for one another, which is easy to understand as we could both be described as Big Guys with beards and Hawaiian shirts. We worked the room and Chase Masterson of Deep Space Nine fame performed a few jazzy numbers as the place opened up for the Charity Casino. A late night playing blackjack and generally having a good time.
Always show up early and ready to perform.
With all the gambling we did, and a few late-night parties, I was dragging on the way to the early morning panels. BayCon’s best panel, “5 Dollars, a Time Machine and a Dead Fish,” was a morning panel and featured hilarious and brutal ideas of how to change history for the funnier using those three things. This was the first year I wasn’t on the panel, but the guys did a great job.
Sadly, I was nearly asleep the entire day. When I made it to the panel about MonkeyCon (the convention which is always held next year), I was tired, but we all managed to have a good panel. I even got to make Jay Lake sing for the entire audience. The other panels that were going on were really well-attended, with the young fans who had shown up all coming to more panels and getting more and more involved. They weren’t just there for the parties. The only downside was that all the Guests of Honor were scheduled against one another. That’s kinda tough, as we were all friends, so we would have liked to have attended each others panels.
Remember: The audience wants to like you!
The next thing I had to worry about was the Masquerade. As Toastmaster, I was given the option of MCing it, and for some fool reason, I said yes. We gathered beforehand with all the judges for dinner and I was seated next to a lovely young thing who was working as the runner for the judges. We chatted and ate and then I headed into the Green Room, where I got to see the costumes before anyone else.
And they were magnificent.
A brilliant British Admiral’s costume, an amazingly cute Ewok and mermaid, and the best was Jem & The Holograms along with Sinergy from the 1980’s cartoon. All of them were great. I went about making sure I had everything right so I wouldn’t look like an idiot when I was doing the announcing.
Make sure you dress for respect.
I wore my tux with a Hawaiian shirt underneath. When it came time to go out there, I introduced myself as Entrant #0: Christopher J. Garcia as Evening Wear Jay Lake. Jay, who was in the audience, said that I did a better than passable job.
Make sure you go over every name you’ll have to announce to avoid messing them up.
I managed to get every name correct. Even the weird Celtic ones. Heck, there was even a Jwlhyfer that I had to work out, and I managed it.
But I should have put more into learning the names of the entries. You see, there was a word on my sheet for announcing that read A-V-E. Well, it’s obvious to me that you would pronounce that word to rhyme with Knave. I announced it as such and then she came and started singing. Started singing Ave Maria. I then realized my mistake and nearly exploded. I was trying to fight down hysterical laughter at how moronic I had been. I then grabbed the mic after she was done and said “that was Number 7, Ave” rhyming with agave. I was saved and made it through the rest of the night without incident. The winner was an excellent kaiju entry with two monsters that ended up dancing to SpongeBob SquarePants.
The night ended early, I was in bed by midnight, and preparing for my heaviest day of programming.
Try to interact with as many attendees as possible.
On Sunday, the place was jumping. It seemed even more fans were arriving every minute. I went to my panels and found myself stopped every few minutes.
“What’s with the fez?” they’d ask.
“I’ll tell you later” I’d respond in my best reference to Buckaroo Bonzai.
The Sunday panels were very good, including a panel on “How to Be a Villain” which included my dear pal Neil Zawacki who wrote the book How to Be a Villain. This was a fun panel with lots of the audience coming through with great funny comments.
I had to take a nap and ended up watching an MST3K Fanfilm on the in-room BayCon TV Network. I realized that I had nothing to do for the next few hours, so I settled in. Gen, the darling girlfriend, and Evelyn, her precocious daughter, came over and we had room service and watched Shrek which they projected on the side of the hotel. It was nice, and once Evelyn got to sleep, I managed to finish reading the National Fantasy Fan Federation Handbook and a few fanzines that managed to make their way into my hands.
Monday was a few panels, a few lunches, a nice chat with Frank and Jay, and that was that. This BayCon was younger, more vibrant, faster, harder-to-follow, bigger, louder, and more terrifying than any other I’ve been to. Having been Toastmaster, I’m ready to do it again, though maybe at a smaller con this time. The Guests of Honor for BayCon were the friendliest I’ve ever seen. I used to say that Steven Brust was #1 for inviting folks into his room for whiskey and singing at Conjecture, but watching Jay mingle and break it down on the dance floor, Frank talking to everyone, Kevin and Andy greeting everyone and making sure that folks were having a good time, these guys easily took the cake.
And I’m still recovering.
Above all, don’t swear into a live microphone.
And this is the only one of my rules I managed not to break at all.