In a couple of days, I leave for my annual trip to England, where I will visit family and do sightseeing touristy things and, most importantly, attend a convention. It’s Nine Worlds Geekfest again. I went last year and had a fantastic time, so I’m excited about being there again this year.
As convention season is now in full swing, and my brain is mostly consumed by packing lists and schedule checking, a quick primer on good convention survival tips seems appropriate. After all, you can never have too many tips, right?
Eat, drink, sleep, and be merry!
Add shower to that list. Very important.
Many people will give ratios for the sleep-meals-shower plan, usually in the vicinity of 6-2-1. It’s all about self-care, so the ratios don’t work for everyone. Aim for whatever is your personal minimum for enough sleep to be functional and cheerful for several days of high-intensity braining and socialising. If that’s six, go for it. If that’s eight, don’t accept anything less. It may seem fine to have two hours sleep on the first night of the convention, but you’ll be sagging (and possibly bad-tempered) by the end if you do. To enjoy the con fully, SLEEP.
And remember to eat and hydrate. Breakfast is key: take full advantage of whatever breakfast your hotel provides (or buy something substantial if you have to go out) and think of that as your base for the day. If the con gets really busy, you may not have time for three big meals, so make sure you start the day well. Carry granola/cereal bars with you. Stock your room with some snacks you like. Try to stop for another decent meal through the day, but if you don’t, make sure you breakfast well and snack plenty.
And drink tons of water. That’ll help even more than the food. Carry a water bottle and refill it whenever you pass a fountain. Trust me, you’ll be grateful you did that.
At least one shower a day is key, for everyone at the convention. Including you. It keeps the air smelling fresh(ish) for everyone, and a shower when you get up can help a lot if the sleeping thing goes awry. A second shower later in the day is also a great pick-me-up if you’re flagging. I ❤ showers at conventions.
Take a couple of extra t-shirts with you. If you’re tired and sweaty and want to have a freshening up shower, a clean t-shirt to pull on after will feel *amazing*.
Check the schedule before the con
If you’re on any panels, make sure you know the time and location. I always put them in my phone calendar, so if everything fails and I lose my programme and my badge doesn’t list them and there’s no WiFi to check the schedule online, I still get to my programme items on time. Helpfully, putting them into your calendar should also remind you about your programme item if you’ve got alerts set up. (Please do that.) Go to the room your panel(s) will be in early in the con, so you know how to get there and don’t get lost on the way. Your fellow panellists will be rolling eyes and silently judging if you show up fifteen minutes late, trust me.
Also check the schedule for anything you really, really, really have to see. I wing it a bit when I’m at a con, because people talk me into unexpectedly interesting things, but I make sure I’ve highlighted/calendared/whatevered the stuff I most want to see before I even get to the con. It’s disappointing to realise that talk on dragon biology you really wanted to do was two hours ago and you’d forgotten about it or your mental note had the wrong time.
Socialise! (Which is not networking, nope)
I understand that, for some people, the social aspect of a convention is awful due to anxiety and horrible shyness. If that’s you, ignore this part. Do what you need to do to make the convention enjoyable for you. Conventions with a good accessibility policy have quiet rooms, which are designed for people who need time out to decompress from all the noise and crowds. They’re for you, so don’t be afraid to use them. And don’t be scared to stick to your room when you’re not in programme items. That’s also an A-okay valid choice. You’re supposed to enjoy a convention, and that means doing what you’re comfortable with.
For everyone who does like a bit of social time, don’t get yourself so over-scheduled with programme items you *must* see that you miss out on the social side of a convention. You can make friendships that last for years at a con, because everyone is there to geek out about the same stuff together. My regular con roommate is someone I met at my very first convention and we always have a blast together. If you’re an aspiring pro, don’t look at every bar and con social as a networking event. Everyone sees what you’re doing, believe me. Socialise. It’s not the same. The people you’ll meet may or may not be useful to your career, but that’s not what matters. Conventions are about joining a community of fans. Networking comes after.
Most conventions have some kind of social event on the last night. Dead Dog Party, or farewell picnic, or something. It’s worth sticking around for the last night, instead of going home after the closing ceremony, because sometimes this is when the best conversations of the weekend happen.
If you’re new to conventions and don’t know anyone, don’t panic! Most cons have sessions early in the schedule for new people to meet and socialise. I highly recommend checking them out.
My other tip for meeting people: volunteer. Check out what positions are needed, match your skills to them, and volunteer. Gopher, tech, and registration are all great positions for newbies to conventions. You’ll meet people, you’ll bond with your fellow volunteers and be introduced to other people, and you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing you helped the con to happen.
Follow the convention Twitter feed and hashtag
Don’t be glued to your phone, but do check the con’s Twitter feed every now and again and take a peek at the hashtag. Theoretically, any changes or announcements should be posted on pieces of paper somewhere around the convention. It’s a good theory. It doesn’t always work, and announcements like “I lost my blue water bottle! Has anyone seen it?” rarely make it to the boards. So, take a quick gander at the Twitters when you have a couple of minutes, just to see what’s going on around the con.
Read the convention’s code of conduct or similar policy. Respect it. If you think you’ll have trouble following it…I don’t know what to say to you. Because it’s not actually *that difficult*.
Don’t be the person who ruins someone else’s day with a thoughtlessly cruel remark or a cosplay that takes cultural appropriate to the max and then some. If you wouldn’t say it or do it around your friends, family, and work colleagues, think about whether it’s appropriate to say or do at a con.
I’m not sure I need to explain how to this, do I?