It may seem strange to talk about "surviving" conventions, given that I've scheduled myself for so many of them this year. Why would I do that to myself if I don't enjoy them for their own sake? Well, of course, I do
enjoy conventions. Or rather, I can
enjoy conventions…if I plan for success, have appropriate win conditions, and have a little bit of luck.
My surprised comments when I succeed in having a really good convention experience tend to go on facebook (or maybe twitter) rather than appearing here. But as I'm sitting here at the Holiday Inn in Tampa, Florida, the day before Rainbow Con is to begin, it might be worth ruminating on just how
a shy introvert plans for success (on the off chance that someone else might find my techniques useful). Not saying that my plans always work out as intended! But having a plan is better than not.
1. Don't have unrealistic expectations. I will never be one of those people who shows up at a convention where I don't know anyone and walks away with twenty new best friends. I will never attend a convention where I have hordes of adoring fans clamoring for my time and attention. I will never attend a convention where simply showing up is all I need to do to have a good time.
2. Whenever possible, identify lone individuals who may be open to interaction and take the opportunity to "become real" to them. This will make it much easier later to approach groups of people that they are included in and use them as a way to include myself. For example, this afternoon I wandered down to the lounge/bar for a snack, spotted someone with a laptop and manuscript pages laid out on a table, and engaged in a lengthy interaction on the (correct) assumption that they were also here early for the convention.
3. Use my (carefully-budgeted) social energy to enable other people's interactions, rather than focusing on my own. If I have meal plans, look for other people to include in them. If I'm in a conversation, keep an eye peeled for others who might want to join in. Hard to do if I don't have that starting interaction to include people in, but it takes my focus off my own comfort and lets me feel like I have social power, which helps.
4. Know my limits. Sometimes this is knowing the point in the evening when, in the words of the Mabinogi, "it is better to go to sleep than to continue partying"[*] Sometimes this is knowing which scheduled events are going to be major pitfalls for me. Crowded noisy room parties where I don't know anyone and there's no scope for easy one-on-one conversation are pretty much a dead loss. I try to remember not to bother. I've developed some techniques for cocktail party type situations (see my post here
) but I need a good reason to make it worth pulling them out.
5. Pre-arrange structured interactions with people, especially ones that will result in adding new individuals to my comfort-circle (i.e., people I feel comfortable spontaneously initiating interactions with). This goes beyond simply asking "who do I know who's going to be at event X?" It's "I'd like to meet up with you at some point during event X; could we pencil in a specific meal in advance?" I have a calendar alert set up currently to contact a couple of specific people a couple weeks out from Worldcon to make specific arrangements to get together there. Yes, an actual calendar alert. It's silly, but it's better than relying on luck. And, of course, participating in programming is an ideal sort of structured interaction. I don't have to justify my presence or my right to interact, both with the other panelists and the audience. I then have an easy reference point when meeting those panelists again.
6. This is going to sound like a contradiction to #5: avoid locking myself in to a specific schedule and program too much; leave room for spontaneous interactions (or for opting out of interacting at all, if necessary). One of the opportunities for Rainbow Con was to have an "author's table" to sell my books and as a locus for interacting with others. I immediately saw this as more of a trap than an opportunity, because if I were tied down to a table, I was at the mercy of other people choosing to interact with me. And that way lies isolation with only The Bad Voices for company. (Also, with only two publications to sell, it didn't seem like a productive use of my time.)
7. Take notes and turn them into introductions. This is a technique I learned when I first started going to academic conferences. For each panel/session I attended, I made note of a specific follow-up question for a specific person, so that I later had an excuse to approach that person and initiate a conversation. (And everyone
loves talking about themself! To be sure, it's also enjoyable to have other people interested in what I have to say. But if the "win condition" is "have an interaction", the surest way to accomplish that is to give the other person an opportunity/excuse to talk.)
8. Because it bears repeating: know my limits. Know when to opt out. If I get to that point in a social event when all my emotional energy is going toward holding myself together because nobody is interacting with me or acknowledging my existence, it is well past the point when I should have left. Because once you're hiding in the ladies' room crying, the evening is never going to get any better. Trust me.
So you're thinking, "Wow, that sounds like a lot of work! Why in the world do you go to conventions when it seems like the most you can hope for is to fail to fail?" Well, because when it does
work, it's fabulous. And because I do
enjoy making friends and hanging out with them at conventions…when it works. And the only way I can make it work is to work at it. Other people may have a natural talent, but all I have is my talent for over-analysis.
[*] No, seriously. There's a point in the First Branch where the narrator says, "A phan welsant uot yn well udunt kymryt hun no dilyt kyuedach, y gyscu yd aethant." That is: And when they saw that it would be better for them to take sleep than to continue partying, they went to sleep."