By this point, I’ve gone to a few different conferences and conventions along the east coast. I’ve been to a tiny anime convention in Virginia Beach and I’ve been to New York Comic Con (in costume both times). I have attended a single-day journalism conference in Virginia, a brief journalism seminar/conference in Athens, GA, and I’ve gone to an enormous week-long journalism conference in New York City. Earlier this year, I went to my first creative writing con in Richmond, VA. And this weekend, I head right back up to my wee hometown for Raven Con.
I am habitually a terrible packer when I travel. The last few times, I’ve only forgotten a hairbrush. That mega conference in NYC? Pretty much forgot everything; I spent the first day buying clothes to last the trip. I’m the sort who does very well with a checklist. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a helpful checklist of what to bring to a writing convention when you’re just a regular attendee.
Basic Gear for Any Convention
Paper for taking notes
Some people prefer to take digital notes, either on a phone or laptop. Panel discussions move very fast; one presenter had advanced two slides in the time it took me to pull out my phone and open the camera. Also, you have a limited amount of space that might not accommodate a laptop. At the NYC conference, none of the panels I attended had tables for attendees. I recommend a notebook or notepad you can comfortably write in with or without a table. Personally, I prefer a legal pad.
Pens and pens and pens and pens
Bring all the pens. Bring Sharpies. If you have pens with your name, logo, website, contact info, etc., bring those. You will need something to write with. Other people will need something to write with. Make friends by being the person who has a pen when someone can’t find one. It will also give you piece of mind that you have many spares when two of your pens run out of ink and one just won’t work.
Taking lots of pictures, videos, recordings, and notes will eat up battery life. Posting to social media will, too. Exchanging numbers, texting friends, and checking Facebook during that one panel that turned out less interesting than you thought also drains your battery.
Get fancy with a portable charger. You and everyone else at the event will probably need to recharge a device at some point. That’s going to lead to a lot of demand for a limited number of outlets. I have a Kodiak Plus 2.0.
Snacks and bottled water
Don’t be fooled; all conventions are marathons whether they last a day or a whole week. You will need sustenance, and the time to go buy some doesn’t always fall when you need it to. Stay hydrated, keep your blood sugar in a good place, and save a little money.
A decent-sized bag
Depending on the event location and rules, backpacks might be prohibited. Always check your event’s rules, guidelines, and FAQs. Between everything you plan to bring with you and everything you didn’t plan on taking home, a bag big enough to hold it off will come in handy.
If You’re Job-Hunting or Networking Professionally at a Convention
These are quick and easy ways to let people get in contact with you after you’re all done running around at the convention. If you’re new to business cards, include the contact information you’re comfortable with handing out and leave space to handwrite additional information for specific people. For example, my cards include my name, website, and email address. The back is blank so I can only give my phone number to people of my choosing.
If you’re trying to get a job out of the networking opportunities cons offer, this is essential to keep on hand. There’s always a chance that you won’t actually hand any out. There’s also a chance that someone will give you their card and tell you to send them a copy of your résumé. Won’t you look so organized and prepared if you can hand them a copy right then? (But attach a copy with a followup email after the con, too!)
This includes whatever handouts you have with your branding and contact info on them. Business cards, personalized pens, postcards, what have you.
Convention Dress Codes
Know your convention
New York Comic Con? Wonder Woman costume is encouraged. Journalism convention? Not so much. Anime and comic conventions tend to be casual, so jeans and T-shirts are perfectly fine. Events advertised as more professional networking opportunities should see you in business-casual.
Nice-casual and business-casual are good rules of thumb. You can still dress nice in jeans. At the end of the day, wear what you’re comfortable sitting in and what you’re comfortable presenting as your first impression.
You might think this wouldn’t matter so much if you’re spending only a little time walking between panels and the dealers room. Tired and sore feet are a major buzzkill at any event, and poor footwear can contribute to back pain. Cons are fun, educational, and exciting. They shouldn’t be painful.
For costumes, take the time to make them comfortable. Take it from someone who nearly passed out in a bathroom stall because her corset was on too tight. Make sure you can walk, sit, and breathe comfortably. And, for the love of all that is holy, make sure your costume won’t make going to the bathroom a hellish ordeal.
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