Tis the Season: Advice for Convention First Timers
By: Meg Humphrey
Katsucon happened and I had my first vending experience of the year so I’m declaring it open season for conventions. In the 16 years that I’ve been attending and staffing conventions, I still get a little fuzzy feeling when someone tells me they’re going to their first con. Every convention has a unique feeling and every attendee will react to the environment differently so sometimes it’s hard to give advice to newbies who ask. In my opinion, there are some things that ring true across the board for any fan/pop culture convention.
Cash is king! This piece of advice is two fold. Firstly, it helps you budget. It’s easy to lose track of spending when you keep pulling out your credit cards. If you bring cash with you and keep in the mind set that whatever you have on you is what you have for the day, then you’re less likely to go overboard. Figure out how much you have to spend over the entire weekend (including food!) and divide that up for three days. You’ll have fewer surprises for your bank account. The second reason to keep cash is that cash is almost always better for vendors (unless you’re in the market for hundred or thousand dollar collectibles). Most vendors can accept cards, but processing them takes away from their profit. There is also the issue of needing internet in order to run cards and some spaces have horrible reception (the Washington State Convention Center, for example). Even if a place has wifi, it doesn’t work too well when hundreds of vendors are on it all at the same time. Do everyone a favor and keep cash with you!
Give celebrities, creators, and vendors their space. Everyone wants to become friends with the actors, writers, illustrators, cosplayers, etc. that they admire. This happens very rarely and when it does, it happens naturally. You have to be the one to understand the boundaries; most people are too polite to tell you to go away if you keep pressing them to keep up conversations they do not want to participate in. You are also keeping other fans and customers away. Here’s a personal example: Jason Momoa and Chris Judge were at Emerald City Comic Con ‘12. I am a giant Stargate fangirl so there was nothing more important to me than meeting them and I went to get their autographs. I was really lucky that there were only maybe 3 people in line between the two of them. Jason Momoa and I talked about Star Wars and beers for over 20 minutes and it was the most wonderful convention experience I’ve ever had. I went over to Chris Judge and told him briefly about what Stargate SG-1 means to me and he was really sweet, but we didn’t have much else to say (it was maybe 5 minutes). I took my autographs and left, very happy for both encounters. All of my other celebrity or creator interactions have been like Chris Judge: polite, pleasant, and short.
Look at the schedules to make a plan, but accept that you won’t stick to it 100%. This is especially true for bigger conventions – it’s easy to get overwhelmed and not know what to do. Most cons post their panel, autograph, photo session, etc. schedules a month or so early so people can plan ahead. When I look through a schedule I divide things up into 2 categories: things I NEED to do, things I’d really like to do, and things I might check out. Then I make little schedules for each day to see what’s really possible and limit myself to only 2-5 things I NEED to do each day to increase my chances of actually accomplishing them. Surprises always happen (maybe you end up talking to your favorite webcomic artist for 30 minutes in the Dealer’s Hall or you found out about a last minute photoshoot your cosplay is perfect for) so make sure you are flexible! Don’t get hung up about the things you miss – focus on the awesome stuff you do get to see!
Consent is key. Whether it’s snapping a picture, handling merchandise, or making physical contact you ALWAYS ask for permission. You may get a rush of adrenaline when you see your most obscure favorite character cosplayed. Your first instinct is to rush up and hug them, but you need to suppress it. Not everyone likes or wants the attention and you need to accept that. “Glomps” (surprise bear hugs) are an absolute no-go. Keep up your manners and treat people respectfully.
Not eating or sleeping doesn’t make you cool. All of us convention veterans have been there, but most will tell you that the best cons are ones when you feel well rested and well fed. Yes, there’s a ton of stuff going on and maybe you’d rather spend your money on trade paperbacks rather than lunch, but it’s not worth it. You’ll feel more and more miserable as the weekend progresses and by the time the con is over you’ll be, at best, stuck in bed with zero energy and, at worst, throwing up before you even leave the convention on Sunday (I know this from experience). Skipping meals and staying up for 72 hours in a row doesn’t earn you some kind of nerd cred badge. Making memories is important, but so is taking care of yourself.
Do you have any wisdom to share with convention first timers? What did you wish you knew when you first started going to conventions? Share in the comments below!