Enjoying Your First Convention
Your first time at a convention can be very disconcerting. You don’t know what to expect. You don’t know what the people will be like and you’re not really sure how long you’ll want to stay. I still remember my first convention. While I was queueing up at the desk at the hotel, I looked at the name badge of the person next to me in the queue and found it was a name I recognised from an e-mail list I belonged to. We got talking and that gave me the confidence to approach more people. I ended up having long and fascinating conversations with total strangers. Well, they were strangers then – many of them are friends now.
There will be a couple of sessions at the convention held especially for first-time convention goers. You’ll be able to meet other people who are new to it all and there’ll be someone there to answer any questions and to help you feel at home.
Here are some tips that I hope will help you settle in and enjoy yourself.
When you join the convention, you’ll be provided with details on booking a room with the hotel.
You can choose not to stay in the convention hotel, but many people who come to conventions say that the best part is meeting people and talking in the bar/wherever until ‘the wee small hours’. There are also evening events which will go on late enough that public transport afterwards may be a problem. And since there are different events every day, you should try to attend for the whole weekend. A number of people show up on the Thursday afternoon/evening to help set up and start enjoying themselves, and many people stay until the morning after the end of the convention.
When you arrive
If you’re staying at the hotel, you can check into your room any time from 2pm onwards. Once you’ve done that, you can dump the majority of your stuff in your room, and then wander freely.
If you’re arriving after 12 noon on Friday, the next thing to do is to go to the convention Registration desk in the hotel foyer, where you can collect your badge and your con pack, which includes your programme booklet and lots of other useful information. Even if you’re arriving before Registration opens, there is still plenty to do. You will be able to find fans wandering around looking relaxed (because they’re having fun) or looking stressed (because they’re trying to get everything ready). At this point, you can:
- Relax. You’ve made it here. Go to one of the bars, obtain a refreshing beverage, and perhaps some food, and natter to other fans.
- Volunteer, particularly if you’re already offered your services. If you’ve never been to a con before, this is an excellent way of getting to know people early on. You’ll find Ops, the nerve centre of the convention, and they’ll be able to give you a job.
- Go along to the Introductory session for convention first-timers.
What happens at conventions?
The easiest way of answering this is to point you at the reports attendees have written about previous conventions.
Do I have to dress up?
It’s a common myth that conventions are full of weirdos dressed as Klingons. In fact, the majority of members just wear comfortable, casual clothing: jeans, t-shirts, whatever. Some do get dressed up, as characters or in a particular theme, and it can be a lot of fun. Others often get togged out in clothes they love, but rarely get the chance to wear: natty suits or swirling dresses, for example, or those big, chunky boots they love so much. Conventions are a clothing-friendly environment, so go with what you’re comfy with (though if the Press turn up, they won’t take a picture of you unless you’re dressed as a Klingon).
Meet online first
Redemption has online discussion areas in which you can talk to people before getting to the convention, which can be found under the “Community links” menu. In the run-up to the con itself, these will be buzzing with ideas, suggestions and plans.
Every convention uses some terminology that may be unfamiliar. Here are a few translations:
- Con – convention.
- Registration – one of the first things you will see when you enter the convention hotel is the registration desk. This should be your first port of call. It’s where you collect your membership badge and a list of events.
- Badges – when you are given your badge, you should wear it visibly at all times. Badges serve two purposes. They let the stewards know that you have paid to be a member of the convention and they help other members to know who you are.
- Programme book – registration will also give you a programme book. This will tell you what is happening over the weekend and have a full timetable of events (note that unexpected events such as guests being delayed can sometimes throw the timetable out, so it’s a good idea to check the noticeboard which will list any changes to the programme). The programme itself will probably also be available on this website shortly (a week or so) before the con starts.
- Dealers – there will be a dealers room at the convention where both professional and fan merchandise will be for sale.
- Fanzines – Books or magazines published by fans. Some are factual, but the majority are anthologies of fanfiction (fiction written by fans, set in, and featuring characters from, the universe of the book/film/programme concerned). Fans normally get a free copy of the fanzine in return for having their story published in it. Fanzines are often sold at conventions and can also be bought mail-order.
- Slash – a sub-genre of fanzines and fanfiction dealing with adult same-sex relationships. One or two dealers may have slash material for sale, although we do request it to be clearly marked as such. If in any kind of doubt as to what you are buying, just ask the dealer.
- Filk – filk songs are songs about the space programme, SF novels, Star Trek, SF TV shows and anything else that fans relate to. They often use words and melodies borrowed from well-known folk or pop songs and alter the words to suit. Filk songs range from the comic to the serious. Perfect singing ability is not required to join in a filking session. You can sit back and listen or you can join in and add volume to the chorus.
- Stewards – stewards are the backbone of a convention. They do all the boring but essential jobs such as checking badges to ensure that only people who have paid for the convention get into the talks. They watch the video rooms to ensure that the equipment doesn’t get stolen, etc. Stewards are unpaid, but much appreciated. Volunteering as a steward on your first convention is one good way of getting to know people. We have two very friendly and helpful people organising the stewarding this year and they will be organising a session to explain to all the stewards exactly what the job entails and to help out anyone who is unsure.
- Ops – operations – this is the nerve centre of the convention. Somewhere at every convention there is a room where operations is sited. The people here are ensuring that the convention runs smoothly and acting as a central point for all information.
- Tech – the people who look after things like sound and lighting equipment.
- Panels – Panels are the discussion items, on topics as varied as “How would teleporting actually work?” to “what were those costumes about?” Usually, the panel will have two to four named people who kick the discussion off and moderate it, but everyone in the room is welcome to join in and air their opinion.
- Workshops – These are programme items where you don’t just talk about something – you do it, too! They’re fun, and you can learn something as well.
- Chaos – We sometimes have a number of “Chaos” (or “Kaos”) programme items, where “Chaos” can be roughly interpreted as “winging it with whatever’s to hand.” Chaos modelling (building spaceships, etc. from household junk) and Chaos costuming (running up a costume from random fabric and bin-liners) are regulars, but we’ve also had Chaos film-making (where the cast is whoever’s to hand…)
- Cabaret – This is the major event on the Saturday night, where our members get up on stage and entertain our other members.
- Costuming – We have the Fancy Dress/Masquerade, which is a set event on Saturday evening, plus the Chaos Costuming, which is making a costume from scratch, plus the Hall Costume day, where there’s a prize for the best costume worn around and about during the day. Plus, some people just like wearing costumes.
- Masquerade – another name for the fancy dress competition. Anyone can enter. A few people like to go round in fancy dress all the time to add to the fun of the convention, but most people dress in ordinary clothes (e.g. jeans and a t-shirt are perfectly ok).