tam5

 

Hello everyone, Jeff Wagg here. I hope your post-TAM depression has subsided and you’re back in the swing of things. Here at the JREF, we’ve been reviewing the feedback forms you’ve turned in…and there are hundreds of them. Thanks very much for taking the time to fill them out as they’re very important to us. As in years past, we’ve read each and every one.

I thought I’d share some of the evaluations and our thoughts on how we’ll be changing things in the future.

First, judging from your comments, TAM 5 was a complete success. Many of you told us how much you enjoyed the speakers and the optional entertainment, and especially how much you enjoyed spending time with your fellow skeptics. It’s gratifying to see all our hard work pay off, and we thank you all for attending. Many people said this was the best TAM yet, and I hope they’ll say that every year as time goes on.

However, as always, there were some problems. It’s risky to point out negatives, but it’s constructive to focus on where we need to improve. Below are some areas where you expressed concern.

Audio Visual Problems
We’ve had audio visual problems every year, and this year was no exception. The problems during some of the speakers’ presentations were terribly distracting. The blame for this should be placed upon my shoulders, as I was responsible for AV arrangements. This was my first year having that responsibility, and I neglected to plan for some issues that I should have anticipated. However, there were some issues that The Riviera has to take responsibility for. At some point on Friday, a cable was damaged causing the sound from our laptop feed to stop working. This wasn’t repaired until after the last speaker left the stage. In the Riv’s defense, the cable was broken inside the shielding, making troubleshooting difficult. Also, the management apologized for the problems, and very quickly set us up with the live CNN feed of Randi and Robert Lancaster free of charge, which was much appreciated by all.

Next year, we’ll be asking for redundant feeds, more time to test the set up, and we’ll be providing the speakers with a media guide to help standardize the presentations. We’ll also consider wireless microphones for all speakers. In short, I apologize for the difficulties, and we’ll take steps to ensure better AV in the future.

Name Badges and Guest List
We used a new registration system this year, and there were significant technical problems. I had to hand-edit nearly every badge, and unfortunately, I made some mistakes. For the record, Copenhagen has NOT been moved to Sweden, except in the recesses of my sleep-deprived mind. Many people commented that the font was too small to read, and I need to make a special apology to the forum folks… I completely botched the printing of the forum badges. For the next TAM, I promise larger fonts on the name tags, more accuracy, and a new idea for the forum badges.

Others commented that they miss the guest list we had in years past. We stopped making them after complaints that people didn’t want their names published. However, it seems demand is high, so we’re going to try the guest list again, with an option for folks to opt out of inclusion.

The Riviera Hotel
We received mixed reviews of The Riviera. While some people found it pleasant and friendly, many others found issues with the rooms and staff.

  • Hotel Rooms
    The number one complaint was that people were unable to check in to the non-smoking rooms they requested. This also affected the JREF staff and speakers, so be assured, we’re aware at how big of a problem this is. We also received complaints that the hotel was old and run down, and that things in the rooms weren’t working. Most of the complaints came from folks in the Monaco tower. People weren’t pleased with having to pay for Internet access, the lack of coffee makers in the rooms, and having to pay for the health club. Others used words like “depressing” and “dumpy” to describe the accommodations.

    We brought these concerns to the hotel, and they told us that they’ll soon be starting renovations on 400 of these rooms. The hotel has agreed to do a better job honoring non-smoking requests with our group should we return for the next TAM. (More on that below.). They’re opening another restaurant to replace the now closed Jax and a new show will be starting soon in their Versailles Theater.

    As for the Internet access and lack of coffee makers (and lack of HBO on the televisions), that’s a “Vegas thing.” Very few Vegas hotels have coffee makers or HBO, because they don’t want you in your room. They want you to go downstairs where you might also stop by a slot machine. The same rationale applies to the lack of HBO. As for the Internet access, it’s maddening that inexpensive chain hotels routinely offer free WiFi, and nicer hotels and especially casino hotels don’t. However, $10 a day is the cheapest I’ve seen in a Vegas casino hotel.

  • Conference Center
    Who needs the health club when you have to walk a mile to the conference room? Ok, that’s an exaggeration, but it was a tough hall (pun intended) for some of our attendees, and the bathrooms were too far from the conference room. Others complained that it was too cold.

    Should we return to the Riviera, we’ve been promised the other ballroom, which is directly across from the bathrooms, and significantly closer to the hotel elevators. The temperature problems (on the far side of the room) were caused by the cold weather Vegas was experiencing. That’s unlikely to be a problem in June.

    We choose the hotels for TAM based on affordability and flexibility. We want TAM to be accessible to as many people as possible. Hotel casinos offer the best rates and The Riviera is, by far, the most affordable venue in Vegas that can hold a group of our size. The next closest option would be at least $30 a night more for accommodations, and 25% more expensive for catering (which is our largest expense). Yes, it would be great to have TAM at Bellagio or The Rio, but it would mean charging $500 a ticket and many of you have expressed a desire to keep TAM as affordable as possible.

    I need your help. Chances are, we will return to the Riviera in June, 2008. All things considered, we were happy with how we were treated, and how responsive the staff was to our needs. However, I recognize that a number of you would like nicer accommodations. To that end, we’re considering booking a block of rooms at the Las Vegas Hilton as well as at the Riviera. The Las Vegas Hilton is a ten to fifteen minute walk across Paradise Road to the Riviera convention center, and many folks spent time there this past TAM. The room rates would be much higher than the rate we’ve negotiated at The Riviera. However, if there’s enough interest, we’ll look into it. Please e-mail me a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if this idea holds merit for you.

Evening Entertainment
This year our expenses increase significantly. In order to keep the admission price the same, we had to change some things. As people often asked us for more free time, we decided to make the evening entertainment optional by charging for the events. This was an experiment, and it seems to have been very popular, as most people loved the shows. It also raised the money we needed to make up for the additional costs.

However, there were some valid concerns. First, some folks thought the price of $40 was too steep. Given that Vegas shows are often double that price or more, we thought it was a fair price. However, we’ll see what we can do about reducing it. Maybe we’ll offer an “Evening Entertainment” option that includes all shows for a reduced rate.

Others expressed a desire to have more social activities. This is something we’ll consider. We could have a JREF game show or other large group activity in the evening as a free optional event. Others have suggested a singles meet-up, which we might be able to arrange. These things are difficult because we have so many time pressures, but we’ll see what we can do.

To Theme or Not to Theme?
We started having themes for TAM after comments on the feedback forms indicated that people would like more focus. This year’s TAM speakers were more closely aligned to the theme than ever before. And yet, a common complaint on the forms was “didn’t stick to theme.” So what are we doing wrong? My thought is that people are taking different meanings from the theme. “Skepticism and The Media” was supposed to be an exploration of different issues involving Skepticism and Media today. We had editors from three very different magazines, TV personalities, a lobbyist, a radio host, writers, and the creators of TV series. With few exceptions, all the presenters were involved with the media directly. One of workshops was on how to deal with the media personally. What the speakers chose to talk about was up to them, as is proper.

So, I’m a bit at a loss. What do you think? Should we have themes? Should they be looser, like TAM 3 or even more focused? Let me know what you think at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Thanks!

TAM Improvements
Here are some of the things we’re planning for future TAMs, based on your suggestions:

  • Better breakfast
    Breakfast is popular, so we’re going to spend more and try to have more variety.

  • State of the JREF
    We’ll be adding a talk to TAM wherein we let you know just what’s going on here, and spend some time doing a Q&A.

  • New Speakers
    We’re always thinking about speakers for TAM, and we’re going after some very interesting folks for next year, based on your suggestions.

  • More Social Activities
    There are quite a few “unofficial” activities that happen at TAM. We’re going to see if we can make some of the “official” and publicize them so that everyone can attend.
  • The Amaz!ng Meeting: An International Conference on Critical Thinking
    Many people would like us to change the name of TAM so that they might get reimbursed by their employers. TAM has such brand recognition that we can’t do that, but we can add a sub-heading that might help.

  • Continuing Education Credits
    We’re going to try to offer CE credits to those who need them for certifications.

Again, thanks very much to everyone who attended. We had a great time, learned a lot, and we’re already planning our next events, check the Amazing Meeting Page for upcoming events.

- Jeff Wagg, JREF General Manager