Let’s Confer About Conferences

When I started in my role as Community Champion, I was excited for the chance to partner with judges who wanted to organize conferences. The last few years have seen so much innovation as the need to go digital inspired folks to take conferences in lots of new directions. I was excited to be taking on this work just as physical conferences started to become a reality again, as we moved into a new model of offering both physical and digital events in tandem. 

Physical conferences are slowly coming back in the areas where it is possible to do so, with even more scheduled in the months to come. At the same time, digital conferences are continuing at a steady pace, including a number of events specifically designed to help judges prepare to judge for Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. Beyond the numbers, I’m seeing so many new ideas and concepts for conferences, from weeknight events to a conference on mental well being, to an event focused on helping judges figure out the best way to travel for events. With so much excitement around conferences, I wanted to use this space to talk about conferences and Judge Academy’s role, along with clearing up some misconceptions.

The Big Ideas

First, I want to talk about some of the great ideas I’ve been excited for people to move forward with, ideas I’d love to help other organizers replicate or make their own in their own communities. In early March, Canada will play host to a digital conference focused on mental well-being and self care, a topic of particular relevance for so many of us after the stress of the last few years and the nervousness that can surround returning to live events after so long. I’ve also worked with organizers to put together weeknight events, sometimes one evening, other times broken up into a series, such as two nights in a week, or one presentation every Monday for a month. We’re also seeing a lot of interest in mock tournaments, and finding ways to give judges experience with live calls and tournament logistics. Judge Academy will soon be putting out a collection of resources to help organizers run those kinds of events, but I’ve also been thrilled by some of the ideas you all have been coming up with. 

I’m excited to share these ideas with you, not just to let you know what’s going on, but to inspire your own conference ideas. Want to run your own version of one of these ideas, or a conference you’ve seen elsewhere? Have your own, totally off the wall idea for a conference? I’d love to hear about it, both in terms of seeing if we can sponsor it, but also just to help you brainstorm and make your idea a great big successful reality. 
In many cases, we are treating new ideas as experiments.  Not sure if something will work- lets give it a shot, and see how it goes.  I’ll be happy to talk with you both before, and after the event, to help you plan, and get a sense of what worked, and what could have been improved.  If you hear about someone else doing something new and different at a conference and you’re interested in doing something similar, shoot me an email. Just because we supported it once doesn’t mean we will do so again in the same way, but I’ll be happy to talk with you about how an idea went, and how it can be replicated or changed for your own context. While we’re talking about conferences, I also want to clarify Judge Academy’s role in terms of sponsoring these events. Judge Academy’s role (with myself as the point person) is to offer ideas and suggestions, as well as sponsorship, in the form of promo cards, to conferences whose applications for sponsorship we are able to approve. Anyone can hold an unsponsored conference whenever and however they want. Our role is just in terms of whether or not we sponsor your event.We have guidelines on what we expect out of a conference we are going to sponsor, for how many promo packs are allocated, and how those packs are distributed, and of course we try to ensure our sponsorship is well distributed in terms of both date and location. We will sometimes make recommendations to help the conference fit into those guidelines, but at the end of the day, the conference organizer gets to decide how things work at their event. All we ask is that if you are hoping to get sponsorship for your event that you get approval from us before creating and announcing your event, or else make clear that your event has not been approved for support..

So, if you’ve got an idea for a conference you want to run and you would like to be considered for Judge Academy sponsorship, apply today, or drop me an email so we can brainstorm together!

You Can Go Your Own Way

I also want people to know that while we will sometimes make plans with a particular organizer, or group of organizers, to put on a series of events over the course of part or all of the year, no one has exclusive rights to conferences for a particular area, topic, or community. It is always great to coordinate with other organizers in your area, but if you’ve got an idea that you want to execute all on your own feel free to send it in and I’ll be happy to see if we can find a way to make it work.

My role is first and foremost to work with organizers to create the best conferences and other judge events that we can. A lot of that comes through my discussions with the event organizer, but another key part is the feedback we receive about how a particular conference went. We have recently re-designed our conference feedback form, to make it easier for you to give us feedback on any part of the conference, from the way it was organized and run, to particular presentations, to the way promos were distributed. Your feedback plays a key role in helping us decide which organizers to sponsor for future events. Feedback also helps organizers and presenters improve, so anytime you attend a conference, please let us know what you think!

Bring It In, Bring It In

One trend I am thrilled to see is more conferences focused on specific regions or communities. One of the best parts of a conference, physical or digital, can be the chance to build connections with other judges in your area or region.  We are also now at a point of getting so many great proposals from so many different parts of the world, that it doesn’t make as much sense to have one conference try to reach a huge area, when more local organizers can bring presentations to their own areas that are often more relevant to those judges. 

Another thing I’ve loved is seeing more people explore how to create educational opportunities beyond the standard format of one person presenting to an audience. You all have come up with trivia games to help reinforce understanding of new mechanics, interactive workshops to give judges hands-on experience – I’ve even seen an attempt to turn judge tower into an educational experience. Some of these ideas are new, some are new takes on things we’ve been doing for years. I just love seeing new ideas and want to help you create more!

For myself, one of my favorite kinds of conference events are panel discussions. There are some topics for which there are clear right and wrong answers- two different presenters may use different metaphors to explain dependencies, but the details they are teaching will ultimately be the same. However, there are many other topics for which there is no single ‘right’ answer, and different judges will have different ideas about what might work best. Things like how to deliver a penalty, or manage conflict, or even how to create and deliver a conference presentation. What works for one judge may not work for another. For topics like that, a panel discussion is a wonderful way to let a few experts talk about the areas where their approaches overlap, and where they differ. Seeing how different judges approach the same question from different perspectives can be a great way to help someone learn best practices and find what works best for themselves.

Whether you love conferences, or have never been, this is an exciting time to explore what’s out there. There are a wide range of options to suit different people’s needs in terms of schedule, location, format, and topic. If you look around and you don’t see the kind of conference you want, talk to me and let’s make it happen together!