Attending conventions is exciting, fun, and just a little overwhelming. As you wander in a sea of thousands of strangers who’ve all come together to enjoy something you’re passionate about, you may feel creatively invigorated and achingly lonesome at the same time. Approaching a crowded convention can be incredibly intimidating for us amateurs, and the only way I’ve found to get around those feelings of inadequacy is to come to each gathering with a plan. Consider these tips as you prepare for your next con adventure.
1. Set Goals Beforehand
Ask yourself why you’re attending and what you want to get out of this convention. Are you in it for the people watching, celebrity encounters, or lively discussions? Do you want to have fun and geek out, or are you trying to build your career and network? Maybe you’re only there because your friends twisted your arm, and you’re not sure what to expect. Knowing what you want will help you decide what to wear, which panels to go to, what events to aim for, and how to approach others.
Maybe you’ve been crafting your costume by hand for the last seven months, or maybe you ordered something off Amazon the week before the con. Regardless of what level you’re at, cosplaying is a great way to join the community. Expect people to stare, ask you to pose for pictures, or strike up a conversation. Expect people to ask for permission before touching you or your costume; know that you have the right to refuse, and report anyone touching you without your consent. Remember to extend the same courtesy to others!
Many creative hopefuls attend conventions and conferences to find connections that might advance their careers or get their books on the shelves. Making it rain business cards is one approach, but you’ll have better luck if you approach networking as a dialogue. Strive for meaningful conversation first, then hand out business cards to the people you really connect with, and don’t forget to follow up after the convention. If you are too intimidated by face-to-face networking, you could also use social media to add to the conversation. Many conventions will already have a hashtag set up to build buzz and make it easier for you to get your ideas noticed.
Conventions are teeming with gems. Whether you’re looking for nuggets of knowledge from panels and Q&A sessions, celebrity-signed swag, a heart-to-heart with your favorite author, a few hours with a new game, or just an immersive dip in the chaos and community that surrounds the convention, you’re sure to get a lot out of the experience. Can you do it all, though? Only if you set your schedule ahead of time.
2. Plan Your Schedule
Most cons put out a schedule well in advance. Peruse the list of panels and make a note of the ones that really capture your fancy. Keep in mind that the line for these panels may get long, especially at larger conventions, and some of the panels will fill to capacity. If you’re worried, plan to show up at least half an hour early to get to the front of the line. For really crowded cons like PAX, some seasoned attendees recommend you aim for an hour instead. Always have a backup plan for what to do with your time if you don’t get in.
But the panels are just a starting point! There are also readings, signings, appearances, workshops, and other scheduled activities packed into a couple of days. Peruse the exhibitor’s hall and chat with vendors and artists. Some cons have a whole floor full of games you can check out, tournaments you can enter, raffles, freebies, and other unadvertised (or at least not widely advertised) treasure troves. Go to an after-hours event that you overhear someone in the hall talking about – it may be the best time you have at the convention!
Plus, you need to eat, sleep, and find time for other necessities. Prioritize your absolutely-gottas against your maybe-why-nots, and write it all down somewhere.
Are you going with friends? If you’re in a group, it’s tempting to stick together (especially if you’re there with 50,000 other people). But splitting up isn’t a bad idea if people want to do other things. Make a plan for when to meet back up, where, how to handle meals and transportation, what to do if you get lost, and especially how to contact everyone else in your group. That way you can each do your own thing while still being in touch and knowing when to reconnect.
3. Bring Supplies
Think of all the things you can bring with you to make your day easier.
- Sustenance. Feeling hungry in the middle of a panel? Reach into your bag of holding for a granola bar that you thoughtfully stashed there that morning. Carry a water bottle and refill it at water fountains.
- Tools of the trade. A camera is a must-have; the one on your phone will work if you’re not interested in fine photography. Consider bringing a pen, notebook, and voice recorder if you’re attending panels and want to take notes or blog about them later.
- Repair kit. If you’re cosplaying, don’t forget to bring a costume repair kit: tape, makeup, a mini sewing kit – whatever materials you might need if something rips, gets rubbed off, or is otherwise messy throughout the day. If you have the space in your bag, consider a change of clothes in case something gets uncomfortable or damaged beyond repair.
Feeling completely overwhelmed and need some time to yourself? I always, always, always bring a book. Find a quiet corner (you may have to search carefully) and plop down for a chapter or two until you’re calm and re-energized.
4. Seek Out Allies
Chances are, you’re not the only one at the convention who doesn’t know anyone or who feels like they don’t belong. And while you’re unlikely to make many lifelong friendships in a crowd this huge and diverse, you can certainly find cohorts to enhance your time there.
Look for people sitting by themselves and staring around (not reading a book and trying to be left alone). Look for the friendly-faced wallflowers. Talk to fellow cosplayers on escalators or other people in the line for a panel. Ask questions like how the convention is going for them, what the coolest thing they’ve done or seen is, if they are there for the whole convention or just the day, or what they are excited about. Maybe they’re into something cool and looking for others to join them.
You don’t have to feel like you’re fighting the crowd alone. Surround yourself with slightly-less-than-strangers, and you’ll feel a stronger connection to the community around you.
Conventions are a lot less intimidating if you know what you’re getting yourself into. And don’t forget that whenever you feel overwhelmed, bummed out, or let down by a panel or crowd, you can walk away to explore other events and attractions. Find the things that ignite your passions, and build the memories that make the con worthwhile.
What are some of your greatest tips for surviving (and even thriving!) at cons?
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