Making The Most of A Virtual Convention

As conventions start to come back, some are still virtual, while many others contain virtual components. After working as staff on over a handful of virtual conventions, here are my tips for getting the most out of the virtual side of the convention.

Many of the points from my Morgan’s Complete Guide For Attending A Convention convey, a convention is a convention.

Should You Attend The Convention?

There are many factors that go into it, and you’re the only one who can make the right call for you. Should you go in person, attend virtually, or skip it all together.

Here are eight questions to ask yourself.

  1. What is the focus of the con?
  2. Who are the guest speakers?
  3. What events are available to you? (What percentage of the con will be accessible from home?)
  4. What are the expenses involved? (Staying home saves a lot of the costs from traditional cons)
  5. How accessible is it? (What is your internet connection and what is the connection from the site? And are there adaptive technologies used to make it work for people for whom accessibility is a concern?)
  6. Will your friends be there?
  7. What are the health numbers looking like in the region of the convention, and are there any health concerns for yourself or people you will be seeing after your visit?
  8. What could you get out of it?

What To Do Before The Convention Starts

No two virtual cons do things identically. But in general:

  1. Make sure you’ve registered for the convention and any workshops or limited space items
  2. Make sure you can log onto all of the platforms that the convention is using that you might want to access, from the device you plan to use (EventSpace, Meetup, Zoom, Webex, Discord, Skype, Gathertown, Secondlife, Youtube, Twitch, whatever) and familiarize yourself with the basics of the platform. Update to the latest software, so you don’t get forced to update in the middle of an event.
  3. If you plan on using technologies to talk or video chat with others, check your audio and camera on the technologies you intend to use — adjust your lighting situation, and test out blurring technologies if your background space is messy. Consider investing in a headset if you have housemates.
  4. Check out the schedule and see what sort of events you may want to attend. Set alarms if you want (it’s easier to get distracted by life and the internet when at home)

Types of Events At A Speculative Fiction Convention

  • Book signings (Sometimes you can order bookplates or signed books from the author)
  • Readings
  • Workshops — writing, dance, singing — many you can do from home, but the experience can be both connecting and isolating.
  • Ceremonies
  • Panels — group discussions of a variety of convention-themed topics. Advantages to virtual panels are the ability to make comments, and catch that book title they mentioned without derailing the discussion — via the chat window.
  • Presentations
  • Gaming
  • Craft chats
  • Art show
  • Vending
  • Con Suite – Which is a general chat and hang out space for all attendees
  • Party Rooms – often open after 9pm. Some virtual ones turn into 1-2 people “holding court”, but with texting DMs or publically chatting, you can usually get a word in.
  • General Socialization

Take Care Of Yourself

Some people end up just listening to panels all day long, in lieu of getting up, getting real meals, and getting sleep. With people able to join from around the world, times zones have no meaning and you can find yourself chatting around the clock.

Some end up volunteering to do all the things because conventions can almost always use more help. Pace yourself and acknowledge you need breaks, too. If all else fails, tell yourself you’re leaving that time-block open, so you can fill gaps in case of emergencies!

How To Network Virtually

The struggle with the multitude of virtual conventions is that it can be harder for desired speakers to say no to a convention when they don’t have to go anywhere. And virtual conventions have become so commonplace that many speakers end up showing up for their panels or other speaking engagements and not being otherwise available.

So, with your expectations now sadly lowered, some of the best ways to network are:

  1. Attend events and make a few topical questions or comments — if just thanking the speakers.
  2. Joining the social spaces and parties, and contribute conversation without dominating the room. Make sure that everyone gets a chance to talk.
  3. Making sure your badge/nickname/display name matches the name you’re using for the event. I’ve been in too many panels where a speaker got there late because they logged in under an unassociated name.
  4. Be open to new experiences and courteous to everyone.
  5. Volunteering can be a great way for people to meet you.

Tips for Vending Virtually

While I’m not a vendor myself, I’ve helped many set up and these are my main takeaways in this virtual age.

  1. Have a clean, easy on the eyes and easy to navigate website.
  2. Make purchasing items easy.
  3. If you have convention space to hawk your wares (Their website, a discord channel, etc), make sure to have a brief description of what you offer and a small selection of images that showcase good samples of your work, in a space that doesn’t make the reader scroll.
    • ADDENDUM: If you have this space – have a featured item(s) or sale for each day of the convention and announce it in your space, and maybe once a day in public spaces — but only if the staff permits it. Don’t start spamming the channels or you’ll leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouths.
  4. Be accessible for questions — be it text, audio, video, or email.
  5. Attend other things — with your product name on your badge/name display — and follow those networking tips above.

After the Con

I find virtual cons equally draining and only half as fulfilling as an in-person convention. Be sure to hydrate and give yourself plenty of rest after the convention.

Many people find the end of a convention, especially a virtual one, anti-climatic, which can really make your energy tank. If possible, have something set up for after the con ends – either social time, a good meal, or a book/tv reward to lose yourself in for a few hours.

Have you attended virtual conventions? Which ones have done it right?
And what takeaways have you gotten from the ones that stumbled out of the gate?

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