Tips for First-Time Judges
-Find out if there will be a judging form. If so, try to get a copy ahead of time so you can read and understand it. If not, bring a pen and pad of paper, and invent a notation system so that you can write quickly and still remember what it means.
-Get a copy of the Masquerade rules. Read them. Understand them. If you have any questions, ask the MD for clarification. The rules are a great key into the thinking of the MD and the kind of contest they are running.
-Find out if there will be a judges' briefing. If not, email the MD. Find out what kind of things they want rewarded (good costumes with an OOC presentation over a great skit with bad costumes is a good example). Also find out if there will be pre-judging, and if so, how much time you have for each slot. Ask for a rough estimate on how much time there will be for judges' deliberation after the contest before awards need to be given. Find out what awards are expected to be given, and whether or not there are miscellaneous awards or smaller prize items available if you feel the need to reward more. Find out what the MD's expectations for the masquerade are. A good question to ask - Why did you pick me? That tells you what skills you have that the MD saw and wanted to use. For example, if it's because - You make awesome fursuits - that means the MD wanted you to judge construction. That doesn't mean he doesn't want you to look at stage presentation, but it gives a clue to where he wants you to emphasize.
-During judging, keep track of time or appoint someone to do it for you. Take a note of the impression of every costume - one you dismiss may be brought up by your fellow judges, and it helps discussion to note why you dismissed it. Also remember that dismissing costumes is part of your job. At least half of the costumes in the contest will not get awards, and trying to fit every one into a category only increases the time you will spend deliberating and the frustration of the deliberation discussions. Don't be afraid to ask your other judges for advice, but also don't be afraid to offer up your own opinion, even if the other judges have years of experience over you. You were chosen to judge because of your own merits, and your opinion is just as useful as anyone else's. A good judge is aware that they have prejudices and gaps in their understanding. For example, I am totally in awe of Mechas, because I've never done one and have no clue how to start. A Mecha maker, however new, can look at a Mecha costume much more objectively than I can, and know how well it was made because they understand the techniques. Also, even if you share or overlap specialties, one set of eyes can only look at one place on the stage at a time. Don't be afraid to speak up about something you caught that no one else did.
-If there is a pre-judging session, try to refrain from setting out all the awards before the stage session. In fact, I encourage no deliberation time whatsoever between pre-judging and the stage show. If there's a break, find some friends who are NOT judges and go eat. If your mind is made up for the stage show you'll pay less attention, and you may miss a great entry that deserves to be bumped up just because you'd already determined who would win.
-During the stage show, try to take every entry seriously. They put the time and effort into making or obtaining their costumes, practicing, and getting onstage in front of an audience. Even if the skit is 10 minutes long and you are bored out of your mind appear to be paying attention. If you must, write notes to keep yourself engaged. Keep in mind that 'joke' entries are just as eligible for awards as other entries, and they deserve equal consideration if they have the same evidence of skill.
-Before you get to the con, determine if you will give feedback or not. Contestants will ask you what you think, so have an answer ready. For example, when I'm asked for feedback I tell the asker that I don't discuss entries at a con, then hand them my card and tell them to email me in a week or so. I do this because I've found that with a week's reflection any passions, on either end, have cooled and I am more able to look at any entry objectively. Knowing this answer ahead of time makes it easier when asked on the fly. Also, keep in mind that it is acceptable to talk to an entrant about your impressions of their entry, but only that. It is not acceptable to talk to an entrant about another entry, even to compare that entry to the entrant's. It is also not acceptable to repeat anything that was said in the judging room, or to give opinions for other judges. If the entrant wants the opinion of another judge, they can go ask them. Watch out for this, it can be really tempting to say "I thought you were great but the other judges voted no" but that's putting the other judges in a very bad position (and possibly setting them up for a very charged confrontation). Give only your own impression and suggestions for improvement. Also, don't be afraid to ask for a picture of the entrant's costumes to jog your memory. They should understand that you saw a lot of people in a short amount of time, and faces were low on the list to remember.
-WARNING- a lesson learned the hard way. Find out at the judges' meeting what will be done with the judging sheets. If a staffer collects them and throws them out, either make sure it's a person you trust implicitly or else follow them to the trach can. Or keep your own sheets and throw them out yourself. Don't throw them in the deliberation room trash can. If possible, find a dumpster a block over. Or keep them to throw away at home. You can't imagine what kind of drama comes from entrants finding the judging sheets in the trash after the contest and then posting scans of them on the con's message board.
-Finally, be courteous. Don't make fun of entrants, even in the judging room. Don't use slurs on contestants, present or not, or on your fellow judges. Remember that you're critiquing the entries, and that is your job, but not the anime/movie/tv show/comic/etc. that the costume is from. The only time it is acceptable to discuss the medium is when there is a question whether the medium falls within allowable entries under the rules, and that question should be immediately forwarded to the MD for a ruling, not the judges (judges should never disqualify an entry, that is the MD's job ONLY). Try to judge an entry for its own merit, not your like/dislike of the medium. Also, be courteous. Be on time. Try to keep the judging on time. Be nice to your staffers and helpers. Last, if any of the rules, MD's expectations, or con traditions don't jive with your outlook or experience, it's ok to say no. If you feel you need to say no, the earlier the better for the MD's sanity.