Skepticon, and Getting It Right When Things Go Wrong

I push pretty hard for organizations to do things better. I suggest changes. I criticize what I think are obvious mistakes. I even helped run a conference this summer aimed at making people better activists.

Occasionally, people look at that and think I’m demanding perfection. I’m not. If I were, I’d be in trouble, because I personally have never run an event where something didn’t go wrong. I don’t know any other organizer who has either. Perfection isn’t nigh unto impossible and even harder when you’re being ambitious.

I actually advocate for two things. First of all, I want people to make new mistakes instead of old ones. I want us to share information with each other about our challenges and solutions. I want us to listen to people who tell us we’ve failed them and either do better or be up front about the needs we can’t meet. I want us to get good enough at what we do that we can spend energy on trying new things instead of scrambling when something predictable goes wrong.

I also want us to get better at dealing with mistakes. I want to stop seeing people vilified for pointing them out. I want to see us keep taking responsibility like adults even when things go badly. I want us to learn instead of asking our friends to comfort us and tell us we did nothing wrong.

None of this is impossible, but it is often hard and uncomfortable. In light of that, I’d like to talk about a few things that went wrong with Skepticon this year and give the organizers some kudos for how they handled it they figured out they’d screwed something up. [Read more…]

Getting Ready for Skepticon

Me? Oh, I’ve just been doing major fall housecleaning, preparing for Skepticon, working on behind-the-scenes FtB stuff (including FtBCon4, January 22-24!), and butchering a deer. All, you know, more or less simultaneously. This is why I laugh at whoever decided to put NaNoWriMo in November. Couldn’t they have chosen March, when cabin fever is starting to take effect?

I digress. I would share more of all this with you, but pictures of rooms with the vast majority of allergens removed aren’t exciting to anyone but me, and pictures of huge, dog-fur dust bunnies are just kind of gross. Then there was the Ziploc bag labeled “cheese” I found in the radiator in a room that hasn’t been a kitchen since at least 1999. For the record, it was empty.

More information is coming on FtBCon4 soon, though, so start thinking about what you want to propose for a panel. Yes, you.

If you’re coming to Skepticon, definitely come see me. I’m running a slightly modified version of the Ada Initiative’s impostor syndrome training as a workshop (part of the Secular Women Work track of workshops) on Friday at noon, and my talk, “Justice in a ‘Just World'” on the challenges presented to activists by just world beliefs, is on Sunday at 2 p.m.

In between, I’ll be spending a bunch of time at the Secular Woman table, where we’re announcing a new project that I proposed and am heading up. I’m excited about it, so let me explain it to you! Also see this space over the weekend for more information on the project.

And now, back to more dealing with venison. I promise, no pictures.

Building a Better Workshop

A few years ago, atheist and skeptic organizations started adding workshops to their conferences, and that was great. Workshops are hugely useful when you’re trying to become more effective, as the activist wings of both movements were, or when you’re trying to apply abstract principles to your life, as rank-and-file members of both movements were.

There were a few problems, however, because everything was new. While some presenters knew what to expect from workshops and had maybe even facilitated some before, most people didn’t. They had skills and knowledge to share, but no good idea of how to get that across in a workshop format. Nor were conference organizers clear on what they wanted or expected from their workshops.

As a result, we ended up with a few workshops and a whole lot of mini-lectures. Now, lectures can be great, and if your purpose in adding workshops to your event is to keep adding content after you’ve spent your speaker budget on the main stage, there’s no reason to stretch beyond the mini-lecture. But if your goal for workshops is to get people to change their behavior, to be more effective or to live their principles more fully, lectures can’t substitute for workshops.

Why? Because the interactive nature of workshops builds confidence at the same time it conveys information. You can walk away from a lecture thinking the information is interesting but you don’t have what it takes to apply it. You can’t do the same with a workshop where you’ve spent a good chunk of time applying your new knowledge. You know you can do it because you just did.

So now that I’ve convinced you, as an organizer or potential workshop facilitator, that you want to offer real workshops instead of mini-lectures, how do you go about it?

Read the rest at Secular Women Work, where I’m writing today.

Help Make Skepticon Happen

Is Skepticon in danger? Honestly, anything that depends on ongoing donations is always in some danger, but Skepticon really is coming up hard against their funding deadlines with a long way to go.

It’s October, which means we’re only about a month and half away from the universe’s largest (and totally FREE to attend) skeptic convention!

However, we need to ask for your help–we’re only about halfway to our fundraising goal.

Each year, our small team of volunteers work tirelessly to put together this event. Every dollar raised goes directly to making the convention happen–no one takes a salary or honorarium.

If you like Skepticon and want to help make it a reality, consider doing one of the following:

We’re sure that with your help, we’ll be able to make this year a reality.

As always, Skepticon wants to thank you, our supporters, for your continued awesomeness. We couldn’t do it without you!

One of the best things about Skepticon is that every year, it’s gotten more diverse and showcased new atheist and skeptic voices, all while continuing to grow and succeed. It is now the largest atheist and skeptic conference in the U.S. That’s worth celebrating and supporting. Won’t you help if you can?

Secular Women Work at Skepticon!

Cross-posted from the Secular Women Work site.

Skepticon has just announced that it’s open for workshop proposals for this year.

Workshops are held on the Friday day of Skepticon from 10:00am until 4:00pm.

Click here to fill out our application form to be a workshopper at Skepticon 8!

That’s not all! We’re excited to announce that we will be partnering with the amazing women over at Secular Woman Work to bring you an entire track of workshops presented by even more awesome ladies! Want to be a part of their exclusive workshop track? Drop them a line at: to get in on what is sure to be our best workshop lineup yet.

Oh, hey. What’s that? Yes, Secular Women Work will be organizing a set of workshops at Skepticon. That means hands-on practical skill-building and group discussions sharing solutions to common activist problems–all brought to you by experienced activists who are women or genderqueer. There’s a lot of experience and skill in this movement, and we want to celebrate it by putting it to work making us all better activists.

Who will you see presenting in the Secular Women Work track at Skepticon? What topics will be covered? Frankly, we don’t know yet. We don’t know who will be there. We don’t know what their strengths are. What we do know is that there is never any shortage of talent at Skepticon, nor any shortage of generosity. We pledge to find you skilled activists who will deliver well-structured workshops for you to learn from.

(If you happen to be one of those activists with an idea for a topic, and you’ll be at Skepticon on Friday, please use the Secular Women Work email above to let us know. Even if you’ve never put together a workshop before, please contact us. We helped more than one presenter at our conference structure their workshop, and they all went well.)

Why should you trust us to find you good workshops? Here’s what people had to say about our conference last month. [Read more…]

Secular Women Work: Events on a Budget

We have some video conversion and editing to do before we can release all the talks and panels from the Secular Women Work conference. We had several people tweeting the event, though, so I am collecting and releasing Storifies of the sessions over several days.

The genesis for this panel was “How can we end Sunday with good information even if all our speakers had to catch early flights?” They didn’t, but I’m still glad we did the panel, even if it felt weird putting all the organizers on stage at once.

Still, each of the panelists had been part of the team running at least three conferences. You can’t do that without picking up knowledge worth sharing. I just hope we still made sense by that point in the weekend. [Read more…]

River City Reason Fest Reminder

I’m working on turning my outline into a full-fledged talk today, so now seems a good time to remind you that I’m speaking at River City Reason Fest in Winnipeg on September 19. Greta is starting the morning talking about death, and I’m ending it talking about F&SF fandom and community. In between, we have Tracie Harris and Hector Avalos. Then on Sunday morning, we get to hear from PZ.

In and among all those, we have several Canadian speakers I’m excited to hear from. We don’t get as much chance as we could here in the States, so this will be a treat for me. New speakers are always a chance to learn new things.

Who will I see there?

Secular Women Work: Black Nonbelievers: Past, Present, and Future

We have some video conversion and editing to do before we can release all the talks and panels from the Secular Women Work conference. We had several people tweeting the event, though, so I am collecting and releasing Storifies of the sessions over several days.

Before we set up the Kickstarter for this project, we knew we wanted someone on board who had built an organization from the ground up. Mandisa Thomas was our choice for obvious reasons. She identified a need no one else was meeting, put together a group that successfully met those needs, and has seen her organization through the normal challenges of growth and some extraordinary ones.

As it turns out, she’s also a pleasure to work with and an apparently unending source of energy, but that was a bonus for us. [Read more…]

Rethinking Diversity Panels

In the last week and a bit, it seems everyone is writing about rethinking the value of diversity panels. That isn’t to say it’s a new topic. It’s not even close.

It is, however, in the public eye at the moment. The painful absurdity at Gen Con’s “Writing Women-Friendly Comics” panel. Wes Chu being out of place at a diversity panel at Sasquan just a few months after talking about having been removed from a panel he was suited for to be placed on a diversity panel. General talk about supporting diverse writers in the wake of Sad and Rabid Puppies having “accidents” all over Hugo Awards ballots. All these have put the topic firmly in the public eye, and folks have plenty of good things to say on it.

As someone who just organized a conference at which all the speakers and presenters were women or genderqueer people, I generally agree with these assessments. We worked hard to match people with topics that reflected their expertise, not their marginalization, keeping “minority provides free education” duties to a minimum. Our priority was to highlight their other skills and interests. [Read more…]

Secular Women Work: Lobbyists Are People Too

We have some video conversion and editing to do before we can release all the talks and panels from the Secular Women Work conference. We had several people tweeting the event, though, so I am collecting and releasing Storifies of the sessions over several days.

This is the earliest panel we started pulling together and one of the last to be finalized. That is, in part, because we were ambitious. We didn’t want this panel to only reflect the viewpoints of people who lobbied. We also wanted people who had been lobbied, elected officials who have relied on input from their constituents to help them make good decisions. We got them.

I’m particularly proud of having State Representative Phyllis Kahn on this panel. She’s been a good champion for the separation of church and state and helped Minnesota Atheists be heard on these issues. Her legislative work includes groundbreaking laws like Minnesota’s first Clean Indoor Air Act. And her stories about work on various issues demonstrate how much is decided based on who shows up. [Read more…]