Let me start off by saying I mean ‘Surviving Your First Convention’ and not ‘Surviving Your First Confidence Trick’ because a) I’ve only ever done the first one and b) I’m pretty sure being a con-man/lady/person is illegal, so no advice from me there.
Cons can be really really awesome, but also really really overwhelming. If you have problems with crowds and wandering aimlessly like I do, it can be a less than fun experience. Thankfully, I have learnt my lesson and can share some advice on how to survive your first con.
What I’ve found, as with the rest of my life, is that planning ahead will save you from a lot of strife. You can just go to a con. You can, but you shouldn’t. If you go in all willy nilly you’ll have no idea what’s on the main floor, what you have to pay for, who is giving talks, what celebrities are going to be there, what artists are going to be there, where those talks/celebrities/artists are going to be, when those talks/celebrities/artists are going to be. I didn’t look anything up before my first con and was not only overwhelmed, but not too impressed with what I saw because I didn’t actually see half of the stuff that was happening. Since that first con, I have learnt to plan ahead and see if there are any talks being given or famous people attending that I want to see (if any, because sometimes there aren’t), and to get a map of the main floor as soon as I can. That map will save you from getting lost, will tell you when/where artists and talks will be held, and will help you find all the awesome stuff you’re looking for at a con.
For all the planning ahead you can do, nothing beats going to a con with a like-minded friend. Having a friend with you is always great. It’s even better if you can find a friend to cosplay with, and who will drag you to meet-ups and photoshoots for said cosplays. I have met some very cool people and seen some of the best fan-made costumes ever at cons. People spend a lot of time on that shit and having a friend there with you makes it a lot easier to approach people (and also point out people, because 4 eyes are better than 2).
Another mistake I made at my first con was not bringing cash or my camera. Man do I regret not having either. Bringing cash is a biggie because ATMs are scarce in Con venues (especially if the con is in a hotel and not a convention center), and hardly any of the artists set up will be able to take anything but cash. That being said, don’t take hundreds of dollars with you unless you have something specific in mind to buy: weapons and other paraphernalia can be hella expensive at cons, but you can get some really awesome fanart for less than 25$ – it all depends on what you can and want to spend your money on. Not having my camera seems like a really stupid move now, but at the time I had no idea what I was getting myself into and missed the opportunity to take pictures of/with some really awesome costumes. There are only so many photos I can take on my iPhone without grumbling. If you plan on cosplaying and don’t want to hold a camera, that is another time that having a friend there with you can come in handy. They can take pictures for you.
The last thing that will help you survive your first con is this: BE NICE. BE FRIENDLY. To everyone there. EVERYONE. The staff, the security, the attendees, the artists, the people working in fast food restaurants within a mile radius of the con, everyone. Having someone want to take your picture or compliment you on your costume can really make someone’s day. Asking to take a picture of a stranger can be awkward at first, but once you see how jazzed people get about it it’s a lot of fun. Cons are stressful things for a lot of people and going out of your way to be helpful (I helped a very stressed out lady hold her wig in place while she was trying to hot glue some last minute additions to her costume in the bathroom) and kind and thankful – especially to the people running the con. The fact that conventions like Comic Con and A-Kon and Dragoncon exist is pretty damn cool, and you don’t want to have your experience ruined (or ruin someone else’s) by having a negative attitude.
To conclude: be nice, have a camera, have cash, take a friend, and have a plan. Due to the immense amount of people that attend cons, it can be overwhelming – if you don’t know what to expect. But now that you do, go forth and con away. There are cons all over the world and in almost every major city in the states.