I love going to conventions: PAX, Emerald City Comicon, GaymerX, just to name a few. They’re great because you’re in a place where everybody else is basically guaranteed to share a large subset of interests with you. Making new friends is simpler in a setting like that. Getting to see new things and talking to folks in the industry is another perk.
As a blogger at a convention, you have a golden opportunity: not many folks can make it to these conventions, and they provide an enormous amount of material you can blog about that few others will. As someone who’s been to a fair number of conventions (13 and counting!), I have some things I’ve learned over the past few years that other bloggers may find useful.
On with the advice!
Ensure you’re allowed to blog
The first thing you should be aware of is a small number of conventions actually disallow blogging, tweeting, or any dissemination of information outside of the convention. Sometimes it’s just specific panels or booths that have that limitation. In my experience, PAX DEV is relatively unique in this aspect. While a convention, it’s about developers meeting in a press-free environment to talk with each other about game development without worrying that folks are there to report on their every word. So before you head off all excited to blog about it, ensure that you’re okay to do so.
Have a plan
Are you going to cover a bunch of panels? Or perhaps the exposition floor or artist’s alley? Maybe find some random folks to interview to get their opinions on the event? Whatever you want to do, I highly suggest making a plan ahead of time. Especially at an event like Comicon or PAX, where there are far more panels a mere human without a TARDIS or time turner can attend. Most conventions have a schedule and who’re the big names attending posted online a few weeks in advance, and you can use that to figure out what you want to cover, and build a schedule around it.
Leave room in your schedule
Don’t pack your schedule to the gills. First of all, you’ll want time to travel (getting across a large convention can be a 15 – 20 minute process in some cases), to use the facilities, to get food and drinks, and just to rest. You’ll also need to give yourself time to stand in lines, because oh my goodness, so many lines. Some panels I’ve had to line up an hour in advance or I’d have never gotten a seat.
In practice I find that I can make no more than about 2 panels a day, interleaved with everything else I’m doing that day. Also, convention parties are awesome and totally worth going to, so make sure you leave room in your schedule for those, too!
Bring your devices
You’ll want to be careful with your devices and ensure they don’t get lost or stolen, but a good smartphone with a great camera can go a long way. Even better is a tablet on which you can take notes. If you can take video of panels to which you can refer to later, it’ll help you create very accurate blog posts. I guess it depends on what you’re aiming for: a rundown of the panel or event, versus creating commentary around the panel itself. Do note that many conventions record their panels and post them on the Internet these days—PAX and Blizzcon, just to name a couple—so this may not be necessary. But if you want to perform interviews with folks, your smartphone with sound recording software may be sufficient. Just remember to get people’s permission before you record them.
A good tablet or phone can also keep you entertained in any lines you find yourself waiting in.
This is just general advice for any con-goer, really. But if you’re doing any interviewing, you’re going to be in contact with folks a lot more, shaking their hands mostly. I got stuck with the Swine Flu out of PAX Prime 2009, and let me tell you, it was the most miserable two weeks of my life. So, ensure that you have hand sanitizer to use after shaking hands with folks—or better yet, don’t shake hands! Most people are pretty sympathetic if you say why you didn’t shake hands.
You’ll also want to ensure you have a bottle of water on you at all times, and bring healthy-ish snacks like granola bars to keep you going between times where you can get food. Also, try to eke out as much sleep as you can manage. It’s hard, especially if you’re going to a party until 1 AM one night, and have to be at a panel at 10 AM the next morning, but a lack of sleep makes you dumb and susceptible to illness.
Step out of your shell
This, I think, is the hardest bit of advice to follow, especially if you’re remotely introverted. Tens of thousands of people crammed in a couple of buildings, and you have the worst nightmare of many introverts. But remember: all of these folks are there because they love the same things you do! I find far more awesome people than awful people, even standing in lines. Actually, lines tend to be the easiest place to meet new people. Play a game with them, ask if you can interview them, or just dive into a conversation around you.
When in an exposition hall or artist’s alley, you’ll want to introduce yourself to artists, authors, developers, marketers, and so on. They’re all there to promote their products, and will gladly talk your ear off about what they’re making, so don’t be afraid to just walk up and simply say, “Hi! Please tell me about your game/comic/book!” That’s enough to get them launched, and as you learn more you can ask clarifying questions. Also, grab marketing materials to refer to later.
Write about it while it’s fresh
Finally, you’ll want to jot down the information in your head and materials into somewhat cogent posts as soon as possible, even if you don’t publish them immediately. Human memory is fallible, and even with reference materials, you can often lose a lot of contextual information. So take fifteen to thirty minutes sometime each day to get what you’ve seen out onto “paper” in a rough form, and go back to polish it to your normal bloggy-sheen later on. Get down the facts, and a few notes on your opinions, and then fill out the rest later.
You’re there to have fun! Do some things just for you, which you don’t necessarily need or want to blog about. Chances are that as an independent blogger, you paid for your ticket rather than getting a press pass (because outside of E3, most cons don’t give random bloggers press passes), so make sure you get your money’s worth. You’ll also feel better about the con itself.
Get excited! Make new friends! Play new games; see new artists! Go to parties! Enjoy yourself, because that’s what most of these conventions are really about: fun.