By now, I take a bit of pride in calling myself a veteran when it comes to conferences. I know how to pace myself: knowing the amount of time I need to get from workshop to workshop and how much mental concentration I need in between. I know the times to eat, the times to meet with people one-on-one, because it’s neatly laid out for me to follow.
So, despite knowing procedures would be different and the total attendees differing in sizes as the moon is to the sun, I had the same mentality going into GenCon as I would any conference—expecting all the pieces to fall into piece.
First piece of advice: Don’t do that.
Stop fooling yourself and listen.
GenCon is big. Like, stupidly big. The FaceBook group I’m in alone has over 12,000 members and I heard one report say the overall number of attendees came out to be 70,000.
So, after my first fanatic attempt to go to the mother of all conventions and conferences (or any type of event with Con in the name), I wanted to give a few brief tips for beginners going next year that I fantastically failed to follow
1). Know the Lay of the Land
Many conferences and events keep all their events in one building. GenCon does not. While most of the events confined themselves in the main conventional halls, there were groups and events gathering in the nearby buildings connected to the Convention center, including the Westin Hotel, Crowne Plaza, and many more.
If you got tickets for things, know where to go the night before you get to the convention. Because chances are by the time you get back to your hotel room you won’t have the mental capacity to figure out where to go the next day. Figure it out all in advance.
Which leads us to number 2.
2). Get Tickets and Badges Way in Advance
I had the misfortune of being uncertain whether or not I could go to GenCon this year. And because of that, when I went to try and get tickets for panels and game sessions I couldn’t because they had filled up. Make sure you do this well ahead a time, and strategize so you can make it to all the events you want to go to.
3). Make a Plan
While you don’t want it to be rigid, you want to commit to as much of your plan as you can: especially if you’re attempting to establish contacts for possible career opportunities. Do not do as I did and skip workshops you got a ticket for because you were on the other end of a building hanging out with friends (just make sure to set up time to meet with them as well).
4). Spend Time at Company Booths and Demos
If you’re looking to do freelance work with specific companies, sign up for their demos or hang around testing out their games. Spend time talking with them as friends and learning about their new games. Show that you have an interest in their product so when that right moment comes you can say, “Hey, I’m a freelance writer, editor, artist, etc, and I’d like to discuss possible opportunities to work together.”
5). Research, Research, Research.
Unlike conferences, not all the info at GenCon is given in the main booklet. The Writer Symposium, for example, has their own entire section of the book dedicated to their workshops (a fact I only realized on Saturday). Learn what’s what at the convention, dig through the website, research till the point it becomes a part time job so that, when you arrive and begin planning things, you will know where to be and have fun with it.
6). Relax, Have Fun.
The first two days of GenCon were miserable for me because I couldn’t do this. I kept telling myself that this was a business trip. I had expectations of myself to talk to at least the three companies I mentally planned out. But by the time I got to them I panicked. My professor had to sit me down and tell me to calm down. Later on Friday night, I got a text from a good friend of mine telling me to slow down and just enjoy myself. So, for Saturday and Sunday, I did and I managed to enjoy the con a lot more.
Business and fun can go together, just so long as you don’t let one overrule the other. It may seem like a plan makes this step seem impossible to do, and if you are that kind of person you can ignore that step (though I highly recommend against it).
GenCon is intimidating, especially for the socially awkward and introverted. But the thing I loved most about it was a time just to spend with gamers and get to experience games I’d never tried before and am excited to play again.
So, remember, approach it with a clear, researched plan in mind, and relax and enjoy yourself.
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