Convention Terminology

A friend of mine recently said something along the lines of, “hey, I go to conventions, and I still don’t understand more than half the lingo!”  I care a lot about making conventions inclusive and accessible, so this seems like a great opportunity to share some intel.  Here are some terms we came up with that might need explaining…

Dictionary picture

A dictionary by any other name …

the 5-2-1 rule – This is a somewhat infamous guideline for attending conventions.  The idea is that you get at least 5 hours of sleep, 2 meals, and 1 shower every day during the convention.  You can’t make up for a lack in one category by doing extra in another; 3 meals will in no way forgive a lack of shower or having fewer than 5 hours of sleep at con.  Please follow this guideline if you go to a convention.  You, and everyone else around you, will have a better time than if you don’t observe the 5-2-1 rule.

code of conduct – A code of conduct is a set of expectations for behavior at the convention, usually written and adopted as policy of the convention by its staff or leadership.  It should be communicated to all attendees well in advance of the convention and it should be applicable to all members (including staff, leadership, guests, etc.).  Ideally, a code of conduct includes specificity on how unacceptable behavior is defined, clear information on what to do if unacceptable behavior is witnessed or experienced, and what might happen upon the convention receiving a report of said behavior.  In addition, many people have co-signed John Scalzi’s policy on codes of conduct, which is very related reading.

conchair – The conchair is the most common term for the person at the top of the leadership for a convention.  If there are multiple conchairs, they are called co-chairs.  An assistant conchair is considered the next level down on the org chart, and is sometimes called a “vice chair.”

consuite – This is a publicly-accessible space within a convention, usually in the function space but sometimes operated in a hotel room.  The room has staff making coffee and tea at all hours of the day and night, sometimes 24 hours a day.  Snacks of various sorts are also provided, free for all attendees, although the elaborateness of the snacks varies.  Some conventions (such as Intercon and Relaxacon) serve full meals out of the consuite.  At larger conventions, however, it’s sometimes just chips and pretzels and other such finger foods.  The coffee is important, though.  A consuite that doesn’t have a coffee pot is probably a bad sign.

fandom – This is sometimes used as a noun of subgroups of people (“I’m a member of many fandoms — Dr. Who, Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate …”).  It can be used to describe fans in a particular area of the world (“This is a good website on Finnish fandom.”)  I’ve heard it more often used as a large-umbrella term to describe the collective group that geeks worldwide are a part of, though.  “Fandom is family” is a phrase I’ve heard uttered many times (although I take issue with the sentiment).  One can also be referred to as “in fandom” or “fannish.”  I apologize if this definition is confusing; we confuse each other with this term on a regular basis, in my opinion, even “within fandom.”

event – An event at a convention is often an ill-defined item that’s pre-planned by the convention to take up a particular time slot and room, but it’s something other than a panel.  Examples of events include: dances, plays, tea parties, award ceremonies, masquerades, circus performances, bellydances, concerts, and … well, there are lots of possibilities.  Events are usually more flexible on timing than program items, as well, and usually run longer than panels.

green room – The green room of a convention is dual-purposed at most cons I’ve attended.  It’s a location for panelists (aka program participants) to meet up before their panel (aka program item) at the last minute, in case they haven’t already discussed pertinent questions to cover during their time in front of an audience.  The green room is also a place where most cons offer a bit of light refreshment (or heavier refreshment, depending on the convention’s customs, similar to consuite variations).  Green room is generally not a hospitality service available to the entire convention, but is only able to be utilized by panelists, and it is sometimes hidden entirely from the public so as to provide a quiet space for panelists who might otherwise be surrounded by fans who want autographs, etc.

Hugo AwardsThe Hugo Awards are compared to the Oscars of the science fiction fan community, but really, they’re probably more like the People’s Choice Awards.  Worldcon members nominate and vote on the top nominees in many categories of science fiction and fantasy works, including novel, novella, novelette, short story, graphic novel, dramatic short form, dramatic long form, editor of short form, editor of long form, related works … A full list of the current Hugo categories can be found here.

Hugo nominating and voting – The Hugos are selected by members of Worldcon nominating for and then voting on the top 5 nominations in each category of possible works.  In order to nominate for the Hugos this year, you need to be a member of this year’s Worldcon (Sasquan, in this case) by January 31st.  Nominations normally open in January, and are closed by the beginning of April.  The top nominees are announced during Easter weekend, usually, and then members of Worldcon have until the end of July, usually, to cast their votes.  Winners are chosen via instant runoff voting, same as Worldcon site selection votes.  A more detailed description of the Hugo nominations and voting process can be found here.

membership – It’s often an important distinction for convention-runners, particularly of an older generation, that conventions have members instead of ticket-holders, and likewise sell memberships instead of tickets.  Your membership at a convention entitles you to entry at all events, exhibits, media showings, etc., according to this theory.  Supposedly, events that sell tickets charge you for admission to special events, exhibits, etc., or might do so.  In reality, I’ve seen a little of each with a little of both.  Worldcon is definitely a convention that sells memberships, though.

org chart – The organizational chart for a convention functions somewhat similarly to that of a company, but there are often multiple jobs done by the same person, or people reporting to multiple levels of leadership.  This is very dependent on the customs of the convention in question.  An org chart may have division heads and/or area heads reporting to the conchair.  There may be an executive board and general staff.  It’s really, really up to the convention, and some conventions change their org chart structure frequently.

panel – A panel is a program item (aka “program time slot”) of the convention during which several (usually predesignated) individuals opine on a (usually predetermined) topic to an audience gathered in a public function space of the convention.

panelist – A panelist is someone who is assigned to be on the program of a convention, to talk from a (hopefully) knowledgeable perspective on a topic (hopefully) of interest to the attendees.  Sometimes this means that the convention partially or fully subsidizes their membership, but not always.  Readercon comps all program participants, regardless of number of panels.  Arisia comps panelists on 3 or more program items.  Smofcon has never comped a panelist that I’m aware of.  It just depends on the custom of the convention.

regional convention – I’ve heard this phrase refer to both traveling conventions (such as Westercon and Norwescon) and stationary conventions (such as Arisia and Readercon).  The idea seems to be that it’s a large enough convention to attract more than just local attendees; people travel from further away in order to attend, and sometimes from outside the region entirely.  “Large” is also a relative term in the land of conventions, however — a convention might be considered a “large regional” with 1,000 attendees or not considered a regional at all (or at least I’ve never heard people refer to DragonCon as a regional) with over 60,000 attendees.  This term is confusing even to people who’ve been going to conventions longer than me, so if it’s not clear to you, have no fear; it’s not clear to us, either.

site selection – Site selection is the method by which a convention chooses its location if it moves location periodically (as in, it is in a different city or country every year, like Worldcon, Westercon, Smofcon, and other traveling conventions).  Most conventions with a site selection process put it to a vote of their members, although WorldFantasy has selection by the board members rather than general members.  For Worldcon, you must be a member of the convention where the site selection vote is taking place in order to cast a vote, but you don’t have to be physically present. (I have a whole post about site selection voting here.)  For Smofcon, at least at the time of this writing, you can only cast a vote in person at the convention, even if you have a membership to the con and would like to be able to vote remotely.

staff den – Staff den (sometimes called “staff lounge”) is a hospitality option similar to the green room, but this one is only for staff of the convention (and sometimes additionally a resource for volunteers and/or gophers).  Staff den will more frequently provide real meals to the con’s staff than green rooms or consuite.  It’s not always the case, but staff often work long hours at the convention, and have difficulty getting meals inexpensively while spending most of their weekend putting on the con rather than attending it.  Staff den is one way a convention may try to counterbalance this issue, in order to make sure people have a higher success rate on meals toward obeying the 5-2-1 rule.

WorldconWorldcon is short for the World Science Fiction Convention.  It happens every year, and could be a post unto itself.  Theoretically, Worldcon moves around the world.  In practice, it’s only left North America 14 times in 74 years.


More terminology to be defined at a later date, when I have time/inclination, or by someone else in comments if you’re interested:






MidAmericon II

safety committee

progress report



bids for Worldcon


business meeting


supporting membership

attending membership

guest of honor

Dealers room


“Death march to sushi”


MG – middle grade books

art show


souvenir book

program guide/program book

restaurant guide



Filed under Fandom, Hugo Awards, Incomplete, Worldcon

4 responses to “Convention Terminology

  1. ronboakes2013

    A couple of corrections:

    1: To NOMINATE for the Hugo Awards, someone must be a member of the Worldcon for the current year (Sasquan for 2015), the Worldcon for the previous year (Loncon 3 for 2015), or the Worldcon for the next year (MidAmeriCon II for 2015). (Believe me, I’m the guy who gets the merged membership lists – or the unmerged membership lists depending on how good of a job the rest of the Hugo team is doing at making my part easy).

    2: Norwescon, despite its name, is always in the Seattle area (SeaTac Washington for the last many years).

  2. ronboakes2013

    Oh, I forgot to mention that the 5-2-1 rule – or at least its older variant without the 1 shower – is often referred to Passavoy’s rule(s), as they were, at least according to tradition, first formulated by Doctor Robert Passavoy, a Chicago fan and physician.

  3. Noted with thanks, Ron! I’ll edit the post when I’m at my computer again. Knew I was forgetting to mention some details on site selection & Hugos… There’s just so much!

  4. Great start. Volunteer – person without a clue. Helping out & taking orders from anyone who grabs them… Not the real definition but what it’s felt like to me the 3-4 times I’ve volunteered over 14 years at 2-3 cons. LOL

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