Limako's Guide to the Landa Kongreso
I've now attended five or six congresses and this document begins with my take on how they're organized and how to get the most out of them. I don't pretend that this is an unbiased impression and it probably represents my sometimes idiosyncratic (perhaps even iconoclastic) approach to structure. For more unbiased information, a useful reference might be the manlibro pri kiel organizi landan kongreson that Jim Henry wrote. It's what people generally use as the template to set up a congress.
If you haven't met with any Esperanto speaker groups before, let me first offer a thumbnail portrait. I've found that meeting up with other Esperanto speakers is kind of like meeting with those relatives you met once at a family reunion when you were 12. Meeting them again, you quickly find you have some kind of a special connection with them -- you speak the same language -- but they're a little weird. That's OK. You're probably a little weird too. OK -- some of them are really weird. But you get the idea. Bonvenon al Esperantujo!
The Esperanto-USA Landa Kongreso usually begins on Friday night, but if you can, it's worth arriving the night before -- either to participate in the board meeting, which is during the day on Friday, or just to get the lay of the land. (Sometimes there are pre-congress excursions, but I've never had time the time or money to go on one.) The board meetings are officially open to members to observe, but not to participate. If more people were observing, the board might be more effective. My political agenda aside, the board meetings -- with the exception of financials -- are conducted in Esperanto, so it's a great place to get your ear tuned in to Esperanto in advance of the congress. You also get a jump on getting to know some of the key people and there's plenty of opportunity for discussion before the meetings start and over meals.
Friday night usually has an "interkona vespero" -- a traditional meet-and-greet with light refreshments. It's a chance to mingle and catch up with old friends -- and meet new ones. It doesn't last too long, as many people are tired from traveling, but small groups will appear in the bar or elsewhere that will provide interesting discussion well into the night.
Saturday morning begins with the "Solena Malfermo" -- the official opening of the congress. Traditionally this begins with an announcement by the president, salutations to the congress in the name of various local, regional and international groups. I usually salute the congress in the name of Amherst Esperanto, the Esperanto Society of New England, and the Amerika Komisiono. There is generally a speech by someone notable.
The rest of the day on Saturday and Sunday will have two kinds of meetings: aferkunsidoj and prelegoj. The aferkunsidoj are business meetings of the organization. They include reports from the various commissioners and committee heads, reports of the actions from the board meeting, and discussion related to the organization. Much of the power in the organization actually resides in the membership that attends the landa kongreso and the board merely recommends actions to the membership that need to be approved. The prelegoj are speeches and presentations by various members about things they're interested in.
The speeches tend to be pretty passive for most people. (Although not always -- Anna Bennett makes people act out and I made people publicly write linked verse on-the-fly, so you can't count on just sitting back and listening). Personally, during Saturday and Sunday, I attend only 1 in 3 of the organized events and spend most of my time holding court in small discussions. I find this is the best part of the congress and its particularly useful for beginners. They can listen to good, fluent dialog among more experienced speakers with the opportunity to jump in from time to time.
During Saturday and Sunday, the book service usually opens a room with a respectable array of interesting Esperanto books and things (t-shirts, pins, etc). It's harder to resist some of this stuff in person than it is when you can only see a tiny picture on a webpage.
On the last night, there is generally a banquet with a keynote speech. The food is generally unimpressive. (An exception was the ecologically-sound vegetarian banquet in Montreal that was rather like eating weeds and twigs. Usually the banquet is the "rubber chicken" variety.) Ballots for leadership positions are accepted until the banquet. There is often an auction after the banquet, with interesting items being sold off and the funds being dedicated to particular purposes.
On Monday, things wrap up by noon. There is a "Solena Fermo" where the election results are usually announced and the congress resolution is read, thanking the organizers and hosts.
So that's pretty much it. There's a bit of structure, but things are loose enough to offer plenty of opportunity to do whatever you want. And you should!