Every conference or convention is individual. This means there are different rules and tactics you, as an attendee, can use for success. You also might have different goals than another person attending the same event.
I, for example, am almost always going to a con trying to make connections that will further my writing career. At this early point in my career, mostly I go to conventions in order to meet other writers, literary agents, and publishers. I also hope to meet readers, of course, though I’m still getting my feet under me on the marketing front. Depending on who you are trying to meet, you may undertake different activities or go to different conventions. For example, I regularly attend the World Fantasy Convention, which this year will be held in Columbus, Ohio. WFC is predominantly an industry convention, so most of the attendees are writers, agents, and publishers. The best way to meet the people you want to meet at this convention is often to hang out in the bar or go to panels. However, if the goal is to meet readers and sell books, I would be more likely to head to a fan-oriented convention such as DragonCon. There an author might get a table or be on a panel (as opposed to attending one) in order to attract readers.
Obviously there is some overlap between conventions and the kinds of things you can accomplish at each of them, but its important to be clear about what your best chances are for accomplishing your goals at a given event.
Regardless of which kind of convention you are going to, there are some things I always try to do in order to be prepared and have the best experience.
- Pace yourself. I am an introvert who really likes people some days. That means that it’s really easy for me to overextend, especially at big events where a lot of strange people are crammed into a tiny space. Big conventions like DragonCon are essentially tiny cities that pop up overnight inside a series of hotels. You might never see the sun, but you won’t get bored. It’s best to not push yourself too hard and know your limits.
- Go with a friend. If you can, try to make sure you know someone at the convention you are going to. It is hard to constantly be wandering around looking to meet new people. But don’t get bogged down in your existing relationships either – you’re there to meet people, after all, so it’s important to put yourself out there occasionally. I sometimes go to conventions with my boyfriend. He gets to tour a strange city while I’m in panels, and sometimes gets invited to the parties with me afterward to help me break the ice as my personal extrovert and conversation starter. Plus it’s nice to have someone to talk about ideas with after the fact, part of that whole INFJ processing method.
- Bring a tote. You need a comfortable bag of some kind that you can pack all your stuff in. Stuff you might put in your tote includes: water, for hydration; emergency snacks; a notebook; pens and other writing materials; business cards; promotional materials; and anything you’re trying to sell. So it needs to be a pretty comfortable bag, as it is going to be heavy. At WFC, they also give you a giant bag of free books (squee!) which is awesome, but you are either going to need to find a place to stow that quickly or carry it around all day so that is something to keep in mind when selecting your bag. No one wants two heavy bags, one on each shoulder. Other conventions don’t give out decent bags at all. In either case, be prepared to carry some weight.
- Make sure you eat. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I sometimes forget to eat when I am stressed or really engaged in some exciting thing, so make sure that you take the time for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You’re going to be going full speed for several days and then probably jumping right back into your work week. Not to mention that if you’re going to be hanging out in the bar drinking, you’re going to need some food to absorb that alcohol. Which leads me to the last thing.
- Don’t get drunk. Buzzed is fine. But if you are acting a fool, it’s not going to make you any friends. And alcohol on an empty stomach is a guaranteed way to vomit on someone’s shoes.
Let me know about your convention-survival tips and tricks! And have fun!