photo above by Glenn Batuyong
So, you want to go to a fan convention? Fantastic! Conventions can be a great way to discover first hand who your most die-hard fans are. While going into the fan wilderness can be a daunting task, following these 6 steps should keep you safe. Overall, it requires doing a bit of recon and being flexible about plans.
Off we go.
1. A Sea of Fans
Prepare yourself for the sea of fans you will ultimately wade through.
You will encounter people overreacting when they see, speak, or breathe the same air as one of their heroes. You may or may not be able to correctly identify said hero, but this behavior is perfectly normal for fans in the wild.
There will be people dressed as things you don’t understand. This is normal. There will be people speaking very quickly using words you may not recognize. This is also understandable (unless you are a hardcore fan of whatever the convention is about, in which case, you might also be able to speak the language). There will be high-pitched shrieking.
There will be crowds. Lots of crowds. Fans have lots of patience and wait in lines. Unless you are speaking somewhere, the whole thing is pretty egalitarian, meaning it doesn’t matter who you are or how connected you are – you will still have to wait in line like everyone else.
The waiting in line is an opportunity to talk to fans and pick their brains. It is also an excellent opportunity to overhear conversations and witness fans in their natural habitats.
The best part about fan conventions is that everyone is there because they have something in common. There is an understanding that talking to strangers in line will happen and it is a way to make friends or network. People are more open to being approached in a convention setting than they would be in their daily lives.
Take advantage of the crowds by literally going with the flow. See where bottlenecks are and that will help to determine popular spots and events.
Pro Tip: If you must get through a crowd and you are on an expo floor, head straight for the perimeter of the room to do most of your traversing. Because those are the less desirable booths, the traffic tends to lighten up.
2. Schedule in Advance
photo by gamerscoreblog
Try to schedule a few things before the madness begins.
Most of the time, schedules for conventions are published online a couple of weeks before the event. Go through the schedule and pick out what you want to attend. This is also the time to schedule meetings, as well as those crucial cocktail hours or “list only” parties.
Be sure to schedule in buffer time for waiting in lines, just in case. The easiest way to get off schedule is to be turned away from an event because the room has hit capacity. And, while nothing is more frustrating, it’s probably going to happen no matter how precise your plans are. So, mentally prepare for that moment.
ProTip: Do not forget LobbyCon. Find out which nearby hotels are the hubs for the event. This is where the late night networking goes on. Plan on spending some time there after midnight. Also, bring snacks. Nothing says expert like not having to leave a line because you have trail mix and a granola bar. Props if you are willing to share.
3. Create Goals
Presumably, your goal is to get a feel for what the fans are like, but other goals include gathering demographic or psychographic information. Or, perhaps the goal is to meet a few key players or create more of a presence for yourself or your brand with your fans. In those cases, scouting to see if you want to be a sponsor at a future event is a great idea for a convention.
Are there certain panels you want to attend or people you want to meet? Learning about the ecosystem through the event programming is a useful goal.
Having a few actionable items in mind before the event will help keep you on track while you are there. It is important to not have too many expectations going in because plans change on the fly.
The best way to enjoy a fan convention is to be flexible and take opportunities as they present themselves.
ProTip: Make it a goal to get close to some costumed guests and listen to their conversation. To really get on trend, listen to what some of the younger fans have to say, because what you hear might surprise you. Plus, documenting the experience, or being in other people’s documentation of the experience, should definitely make it into your list of goals. Prove you were there.
4. Get Your Bearings
Give yourself enough time to figure out where everything is. Where things are located also speaks to the expectations of the event organizers about who will want to attend what. Stroll through the expo hall if there is one, just to see who is there. It is also worth figuring out which of the rooms are the biggest and what programming is in there. Conversely, which rooms are the smallest and what programming is in there?
It is important to figure out where each of the events you plan on attending is, and if you have scheduled off site meetings, where those are and how long it takes to get there.
ProTip: Don’t just get your bearings in the convention center. If you know a great offsite spot to recommend and check out, this will help create a more memorable convention for others. Learn the best places to get food where you and your companions won’t have to wait for an hour.
5. Stick to the Gameplan… unless of course you stumble across something totally epic
The idea here is to follow the basic skeletal structure you’ve carefully created. If there are hard starts or hard stops for your time, be sure to pay attention to those.
If there are no hard deadlines, sticking to the schedule is one strategy. On the other hand, if opportunities present themselves for something more interesting or useful than what you had previously planned, live in the moment and go for it. And if you’re worried about missing something else, don’t sweat – someone will likely film or blog about that panel you had wanted to go to.
ProTip: With regards to stumbling across something epic, this can only happen by making friends, even if they are only temporary. That something epic can range from winding up at the same bar as that person you really were hoping to meet, or somehow getting into an exclusive party (that you didn’t know existed and certainly weren’t on the guest list for.)
6. Follow up
When going to a fan convention as a professional, or as a fan, it is important to follow up with the people you met there. Using a convention to foster professional relationships and potential future professional relationships is one of the major reasons why conventions exist.
Process your data. If you were conducting formal or informal research, taking photos or video of the goings on, it is important to process this as quickly as possible so that the details are fresh in your mind.
It is easy to suffer from post-convention exhaustion because being around that many fans and having long days is both physically and mentally exhausting. But, it is important to not lose your thoughts and power through as best as you can so as to retain as much information as possible.
ProTip: Let technology help you by documenting the process and making connections immediately. The more you do at the convention while networking, the less there is to do after you get home. This is where connecting on social media and taking photos to document the process come in handy.
Gathering fans together in one place is an opportunity worth investigating by professionals in the field and worth participating in as both an expert and newbie. As the gaps between fans and professionals are increasingly bridged, understanding your fans en masse and engaging with them one-on-one are critical steps for this new branded space.
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