Getting the Most Out of a Convention

Image from Theodora Gross,

Congratulations! You’ve just signed up for your first writer’s/SF convention. Attending the event will offer you a chance to connect with likeminded individuals, which can leave you feeling recharged and enthusiastic. You’re excited to attend, but a wee bit nervous. You don’t know whether it’ll be worth your time. And with today’s economy, you want to make sure it’s worth your money. But where do you start? Well, here are some tips and strategies to follow that may help:

  • Perform pre-conference research—Research the conference website, find out who the speakers and attendees will be, and select those you’d like to connect with. Mark panels, workshops, or talks that you’re interested in. Try to attend those that address a topic you don’t know much about. Think about any projects you’re working on that could benefit from the information you may learn from a particular event.
  • Set goals—Determine your goals for the convention. Do you want to connect with many people? Develop solid connections with a few? If you’re an introvert, attend a party and speak to three people you don’t know. Or if you see someone sitting alone, walk up to them and begin a conversation. If you’re an extrovert, attend a party and connect three people who don’t know each other, but know you.
  • Volunteer—Participate on a panel, work the registration table, offer to set up audiovisual equipment for presentations, or assist with a workshop. Participating can give you access to those you’re interested in meeting and can help you gain visibility.
  • Dress in layers—Hotel conference rooms can run hot or cold, but you can be prepared for either event. Wear a short-sleeved shirt under a light sweater or zip-up hoodie. Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes.
  • Be an early bluebird of happiness—Arrive at the convention location early and mingle in the lobby where they often serve a small breakfast. Remember, a positive attitude attracts others. Review your positive qualities and think on these throughout the day. Are you kind and caring? Have a wicked sense of humor? Einstein smart? Play up your characteristics.
  • Get the inside information—Look up the hashtag for the convention on Twitter. The hashtag term can be a guide to the unofficial activities for the event, such as impromptu meetups or side parties.
  • Charge your electronics—If you plan to take notes on your tablet or listen to music between panels, be sure to charge your electronics the night before. It’s frustrating to be in the middle of taking notes and have the screen go dark.
  • Practice striking up a conversation—Stand in front of the mirror and introduce yourself, describe your work, or discuss what you learned at a convention panel. Then put your practice to work. Talk to those sitting next to you at a panel or workshop. To start, you can ask for recommendations for books, websites, or other conventions.
  • Be prepared to skip—If you choose to attend a session, sit in the back of the room in case you get bored after 15 minutes. Since you’ve already researched the other panels (right?), go to the next session in that time slot that you were interested in. If you run out of sessions, go to the dealer’s room.
  • Plan ahead—Try to have met enough people during the sessions and workshops that you can strike up conversations while hanging out in the lobby or hallway. For dinner, set a plan early in the day. Most people will not have made plans for dinner yet, so that gives you a segue to make some. One strategy is to tell people to meet in the lobby at 6 o’clock. Whoever shows up can go out to get a bite to eat.
  • Connect others—Try to connect a new contact with someone you already know, which will enhance your standing as an important contact because of your ability to leverage relationships. If you’re able to help someone else, you’ll be regarded as an essential contact.
  • Don’t weigh yourself down—Mail yourself the materials you picked up at the convention if you live out of town. It’s easier to drop a package off at the post office than it is to lug it back home with you.
  • Sightsee—If you have time, skip a session and take a short trip to take in some sights of the city. You’ll regret having gone to a particular city and not having made the time to see the things that make that city unique.
  • Share convention notes—E-mail notes to yourself at the end of the day or write a daily summary. It will be hard to remember everything that happened during the convention by the last day. When the convention is over, clean up your notes and e-mail them out to your contacts. Share what you’ve learned on a blog or tweet them to fellow writers, coworkers, or friends. If you’ve taken video, you can post a link to that, as well.
  • Follow up—If you’ve collected business cards, sort them at the end of each day into two groups: People you plan to follow up with and those you just want to put in your address book. For those in your follow-up group, you may invite them to write a guest blog or a book review.

Put these strategies into practice at your next convention, but don’t be a slave to your schedule. Make time for impromptu meetups and side conversations. Those usually wind up being the most memorable. Good luck!

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  1. If staying in the hotel, leave a tip each day for the maid.

    Make sure you know what sort of convention you are going to. Readercon and Dragon are quite different from each other. Heck, Readercon is quite different from most other conventions: no films, no artshow, a dealer room of just books (nothing but glorious books!).

    Pretty much all “traditional” SF cons are run by volunteer labor – from chair on down.

    When you register you’ll be given a name badge. Wear it so people can see it and know who you are. Wearing it also tells folks you are an actual member of the convention. And remember: it’s a membership and not a ticket (conventions, for all of their occasional drama, are not movies or plays or some other passive entertainment).

    Conventions can be fun! You’ll make new friends! You’ll stay up late having a god time!

  2. wow! How to do a con indeed!

    I’ll emphasize one point Ceres made: VOLUNTEER. It’s YOUR convention just as much as it is everyone else’s. Real cons are shared community efforts (it’s one of the things that sets fans apart from our mundane brethren); and you don’t have to have a “staff” ribbon to help out; hold an elevator door for someone, straighten the flyers on the fan tables, pass drinks around at a party!

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