Tuesday, 14 October 2014

BLOG: How To Survive Your First Pop Culture Convention

With Armageddon quickly approaching this weekend, I thought I would do a post on some helpful tips I've learnt from being a con-goer. Armageddon will mark the 8th convention I've ever attended - which, compared to many devote con-goers, it's actually quite a small number.

I've attended:
2011 - Supanova
2012 - Supanova and Oz Comic Con
2013 - Supanova and All Hells Breaks Loose IV
2014 - Supanova and Oz Comic Con (Day1/Day2)

Going to your first con can be super overwhelming. I've spoken to other people who have said that they really didn't enjoy their first con so if you're planning on going to Armageddon or another con, here's some helpful tips for surviving your first convention*.

* Please note that my con experience is based on getting photo ops, autographs, attending panels and minor shopping. Your experiences will probably be different to mine but hopefully some of these tips will help you out :)

Schedule. Schedule. Schedule.
I cannot stress this enough! I literally even schedule in shopping time. I've been to cons where so many people have bitched about not having time to do everything they wanted to do that weekend and I can't help but feel like maybe they would have if they scheduled their time better. I have never been to a con where I haven't done and seen everything I've wanted to see. If in doubt that you won't be able to fit everything into the one day, attend both days instead.

Before I go to a con I ask my friends what photos and autographs they want to get and what, if any, panels they want to attend. Then, I look at the schedule and see which of those we can do. If it is all just too much, I would suggest you split up and meet back later. Remember, in a panel or queue no one can see that you're alone - and you're probably not the only one there on your own anyway. Sometimes the nicest people you will meet are those who you have to kill time in line with.

Be Flexible.
Sometimes con schedules change and it can really put your plans out of whack. Autograph timing changes are the worst! The worst. At Oz Comic Con this year, Robert Englund was 45 minutes later for his panel. This was stressful because it really screwed us up so my tip is be flexible and see if you can make a quick change. Things like these happen and there's not much you can do about it - but if it does ...

Sometimes con schedules just plain suck. A panel you wanted to see may be the same time of your photo op. This happens. It sucks. It has happened to me before more than once. You have a few options: choose a later photo op time if its available, be first in line for your photo op so you can quickly get it over with and then haul arse to the panel, or go to the panel but don't stay for the whole thing (which has actually worked in my favour before as no line and ten minutes chat time. woo! I stayed for 45 minutes of the panel and then left at the very latest I could to make my photo op)
Sometimes two panels you want to see may be on at the same time. This has happened to me and I had to choose before the two. In the end I went with the panel that was in the same room as my next panel because I knew if I went to the other I would be late for my second panel and I didn't want to do that. Do I wish now that I would have gone to the other panel instead? I would have liked to but I made my decision and I have no regrets choosing the one I did.

Buy In Advance If You Want To See A Lot Of People/Things.
If you have a lot of people to see and things to do buy it advance. Always. It means you can usually walk straight in the door without having to queue up for an hour for tickets. But ...

Buy Last Minute If You Only Want To See One Person/Thing.
I always buy my tickets in advance one or two days before a con because I'm usually only there to see one person and if they were to cancel I would be stuck with a ticket I no longer want. Tickets are usually non-refundable so if you're worried that your guest may cancel, best to wait to know for sure they are coming.

Go On Sunday If You Don't Like Crowds.
Sunday's are usually quieter so if you prefer less people, Sunday is better. Also, check the schedule to see if guests are appearing on both days. Sometimes guests can only appear on the one day so make sure it is the day you are attending if you want to see that person. It may sound silly but I've seen this happen to people before.

Expect Queues.
Lines are expected and yes, they suck and aren't fun but if you can, try and work around them. If you want to meet a big name guest, their lines are probably going to be the biggest. If you see a huge line it is always good to come back later and check the lines. The line may be smaller by the end of the day and you won't have to wait so long. But expect queues ... a lot of queues!

Get A Map - and Ask Ask Ask.
Cons generally get super busy so much so that you can get turned around quiet easily so get a map. Volunteers are there to help direct you to where you need to go. Be polite as they may not always know the answers to your questions, but they can probably point you in the right direction of someone who does.

Don't Assume Things Will Be Where They Were The Year Before.
If you've been to the convention before or you're with someone who has, don't just assume that everything will be where it was the year before. This has happened to me before and I got greatly confused. Best to look at the map online first to get a rough idea or go early and scope out the place first so you know exactly where everything is.

Wear Appropriate Clothes and Shoes.
Cons are usually a lot of walking around so best to wear something you feel comfortable in. I don't mean you have to dress in trackies and a hoodie but you certainly don't want to wear a tight corset all day if it is going to both you. Same goes with shoes. Depending on what kind of con experience you want to have. I'm rush around a lot at cons so I try to wear shoes that I can easily weave through the crowd in and not be uncomfortable. I know someone who wears heels to cons but she cosplays and generally takes her time walking around. She's comfortable in being in heels all day. So my tip is wear shoes you know you can last in all day - whatever they may be. I pack heels with me for my photo ops because I'm short and I don't like to look it in photos - so that's always an option too :)

Bring Food and Drink.
Food and drinks at cons are usually expensive but not even that - you may not even have time to eat. I've been to an all day con and with back to back panels, I have just not have time to eat - so I'd always say bring a little something that will get you through the day. It's always good to be able to stuff your face when waiting in a line if you don't have time to sit down and eat.

There is no guarantee that guests will have enough time to have any one on one interaction with you during the day. Sometimes lines are HUGE and they unfortunately don't have the time to have a big long chat. So if you like one on one time go VIP. You will get to attend the VIP party where means you can mingle and chat with the celebrity guests. If you're torn between the VIP party and attending a celebrity dinner; I would always recommend VIP. If you're at a celebrity dinner with a person who takes over the conversation at every opportunity you probably won't be too happy so VIP is a safer bet. Also, with a celebrity dinner, consider the person you want to see. If the celebrity is outgoing you're probably going to have a better time with them as they will interact a lot better than someone who may be more shy or reserved. Also, jetlag pending.

Ask A Question.
If you go to a panel and you want to ask a question, do it. The chances of running into the people in that room again are pretty slim. Yes, you may see them at a convention another year, but who cares, if you're shy ask. I'm the worst when it comes to asking questions in a panel but I mumble my way through it anyway.
My other tip is if a celebrity is there for a main fandom, they will be appreciative of questions they haven't been asked a million times. When I saw Michael Rosenbaum, he got asked about five times about shaving his head for his role as Lex Luthor on Smallville. There's a thing called youtube, people! Be original - they will appreciate it. Also, depending on the guest, some may not answer your question at all and they have every right not to.

Follow The Rules For A Custom Photo. 
Always follow the con rules and respect the people around you. It may seem like a good idea to grope said guest but would you like to be groped by someone you don't know? Probably not. This depends on the guest though - if you Google con photos with John Barrowman you will see that he's quite hands on with his fans. If you have a photo in mind just kindly ask the guest if they will pose with you but don't be disappointed if they say no. We all have a friend who likes to take random wacky photos and we have ones who won't - guests are the same. Some will. Some won't. I asked James Callis this year if he would smile with his teeth showing in my photo op - he probably thought I was some crazy person - but he rarely does so in photos but I wanted to in mine so I asked. It doesn't hurt to ask. But always respect their wishes.

Bring As Much Cash As You'd Feel Comfortable Spending.
It is always good to stick to a budget but usually ATMs can be sparse at cons - or sometimes it is option the biggest line of all. Bring cash with you and keep it close. Some vendors don't take card so at least you're prepared if this is the case.And definitely:

Support The Independent Sellers.
You can find some amazing one off or special pieces that you can't find anywhere else being sold at conventions. Not only is it something unique but a good way to remember your con experience if you're not going to buy anything else. And the seller will be really appreciative for your buy.

So many people are afraid to cosplay for many different reasons. If you want to cosplay, do it! If you're worried that your costume won't as good as others, go online and see how other people have made their costume. There's tutorials for everything out there. Most other cos players will just appreciate the effect you've put into it because they understand how hard it is to make a costume. Guaranteed you will have fun and not reject if you go in costume. Be aware though people will want to take your photo so if you're in a rush, cos playing probably isn't the best idea but that depends on how much you have to see/do, of course.

Be Open Minded.
I was very judgmental my first con; I thought that I would look really odd out and be surrounded by freaks in costumes. How very wrong I was. The craftsmanship that goes into the costumes are amazing and the people aren't freaks at all. They're usually super amazing people who you find out you may have a lot of common with. Go in there with an open mind and enjoy yourself.

Protect Your Photos/Autographs.
It is not best to take a big bag with you but it is always best to take something to protect your photo ops and autographs from getting bent. I'd recommend a plastic folder or something light to carry. Also, if you plan on taking a book, comic, DVD etc to get signed think about how that could get damaged and protect accordingly.

Triple Check Where The Con Is.
I have just assumed that a con was at the same place as it was the year before. Luckily my friend has always told me I had the wrong place before I actually showed up and no one was there. Always good to double, triple check even if you're sure. And work out transport options in advance. I always recommend the train as it is usually the best way but I once went to a con where I wanted to get there really early (like front of the line early) but the train to the platform I needed to go to wasn't running yet. So I got the train to the nearest train station and walked for twenty minutes to get there. I was third in line and I don't regret a thing. That day worked like clockwork. Leaving my house at 6am was worth it.

Try Not To Be Disappointed.
Sometimes people don't click but try not to take it personally. I've been to a con where I've wanted to have a five minute conversation with somebody and it just hasn't gone down like I wanted it too. You can be nervous. They can be shy. They can be jet-lagged. Some guests I know won't say a word during autographs. Their lines are so big that they just don't have time for a chat. This happens sadly and it can really dampen your excitement. But on the flip side, sometimes you can meet guests who exceed your expectations - those are the best moments :)


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