I think it's part of human nature to want to know what's going to happen, or to go into just about any situation with a set of expectations based on either past experience, word of mouth, or our own (perhaps flawed) logic.
When the phone rings, do you wonder who it might be. (And do you wonder what people did before caller ID?)
Do you go to a movie without some idea of what you're going to be seeing? Do you like to read the reviews first? Same goes for books. Or restaurants.
How many times have you actually done something totally cold?
Now, if something doesn't match one's expectations, does that make it bad? No, of course not.
So, when I went to my first Left Coast Crime conference, I automatically expected it to be very much like SleuthFest, the only other mystery conference I'd attended. It wasn't. While there were many areas where they were different, I'll pick out only one here--the overall format, which was similar in both.
Like SleuthFest, Left Coast Crime used the panel model. Author attendees were assigned to be part of panels based on their requests for general topics as well as what the panel coordinator thought would be a good fit. Panels were assigned moderators.
Now, here, I can only compare what I know about moderator duties from SleuthFest, where we were give four pages of detailed instructions. Based on what I saw at LCC, either there were very sketchy instructions, or they were ignored by many moderators. In some cases, moderators actually moderated. In others, they inserted themselves into the panel. In some cases, they obviously did their homework and directed the panelists in a discussion of the topic. In others, they hit the panelists with unexpected questions, causing "dead air" while they searched for a coherent answer.
Sometimes, the moderators asked questions that had absolutely nothing to do with the topic. Which is another one of those "expectation" issues.
Both SleuthFest and LCC have clever, catchy titles for their panels. However, they don't elaborate, and the poor attendee is left going into a room with one set of expectations, only to find they're totally wrong.
Sometimes the panel title was straightforward, but the panelists and/or moderator didn't match content to title. I mentioned one title, "Breaking Barricades and Opening Doors." At a mystery conference, my expectation was along the lines of SWAT, not genre-crossing, which is what the panelists discussed.
How about "Series vs Standalones." Expectation: discussions of the differences in writing a series vs writing a stand alone. Trouble was, nobody on the panel wrote stand alones. And the moderator's questions had nothing to do with writing series in general, but only asked the panelists to talk about their specific books. Great for marketing, perhaps, but it didn't do anything to help me, because dealing with series and stand alone books is a dilemma I'm constantly facing.
I missed what I heard was an excellent panel, because the title, "You Can't Run in High Heels" didn't sound like what the panel was actually about—defensive techniques for women.
One other difference in the panels--at SleuthFest, moderators took care of the little things, like setting out the name cards and timekeeping. Here, each panel had a volunteer to take care of that. (Of course, if the moderator is too busy reading her notes to look at the volunteer, the timekeeping thing becomes a challenge!)
Did any of this mean the panels, or the conference itself wasn't a good one? No. It just meant that 1) I hope next time, the organizers learn how important putting a few lines of description in the program can be, and 2) they have better control over the moderators so that those in the audience get a constant level of quality across the board.
It also means that should I go again, I'll know more of what to expect, which should add to the experience.
image from MSPmentor blog.