I just returned from rocking my butt off at ConNooga this weekend with some of the most amazing friends a girl could hope for. Seriously, my convention family is incredible and I adore every single one of you.
Cons, for me, are a ton of fun and just about the most exhausting thing in the world. When you spend most of your time alone or with just a few people being in a situation where you're suddenly surrounded by thousands of people can be overwhelming. Especially when you're on and working the whole weekend.
Yes, at conventions I'm working, connecting with readers, writers, publishers, and friends. From the moment I get there until the moment I go back home, I'm on and working. What that means is smiling, answering questions, and interacting with people. As an introvert with some serious anxiety issues, it can be incredibly difficult.
Over the years I've gotten better. I no longer hide in my room between panels, or eat alone, or go to bed as soon as my last panel is over. I talk to strangers, don't let one jerk ruin the weekend, and I stay out and interact with people (which includes occasionally uncomfortable, creepy situations). I also have fewer moments of 'Oh god why am I here with all these incredibly talented people when I am a potato' which helps as well. I figured that now was as good a time as any to share a couple of things I've learned over the years and see if maybe it can help anyone else have a better time.
1. Have a comfort group
Have a person (or a few people) that you can go to when you get overwhelmed and that calm you down. This can be a friend, a mentor, etc. It's great when you have a table near this person, but that doesn't always happen. I'm fortunate to have built up a great network of people that make me feel safe and I can go to them when I get frazzled and get my head right again. I also have a great group of people who remind me that I have a right to be here and that my point of view is valuable.
2. Take some time before your panel
Panels scare the ever-loving daylight out of me. The thought of something stupid coming out of my mouth gives me nightmares weeks before I even get to a convention. But they're also one of my favorite things because I love helping people. So, before most panels I try to find a chance to escape to the bathroom and do the wonder woman pose in a stall for a few seconds. There's an awesome Ted Talk that explains more about this, but it helps me feel more confident. I also try to make a conscious effort to not cross my arms or slouch. If I project confidence long enough, I start to feel confident again. I often stand with my hands on my hips behind my table or twirl from side to side to work off my anxious energy. It makes people laugh, but it helps me feel better.
3. Study the convention before you go
Knowing who is going to be there and where it's going to be can help immensely. Learning that a convention is at a hotel you've been to before makes it less frightening (especially for me because I have zero sense of direction and get lost in my own neighborhood frequently). Make a list of addresses you need to know (hotel, convention center, gas station, restaurant, etc.) and keep them in your pocket or purse.
Also, don't be afraid to reach out to people who are going to the same convention. This is especially true if you're a guest and don't know anyone. Email some of the other guests, introduce yourself, and make plans to meet up there! For me, talking to someone on social media first is awesome and way less frightening than talking to a stranger in person.
4. Know when you need a moment
Going to hide in the bathroom or your room when you get overwhelmed is okay! The point is to come back out and get at it again as soon as you can. Take a few deep breaths, and try to calm down. Try listening to your favorite song, reading something you love, or just going on a walk. It's okay to freak out, but the point is to not let it conquer you.
5. Don't let one thing ruin your weekend
At some conventions I have unfortunate encounters with creepers who make it difficult to enjoy anything after it's happened. What I've found works for me is to take a walk with a friend, get out of the area, go get food (or drinks or nothing). The movement helps calm me back down and reminding myself that awesome people way outnumber the creeps helps me remember why I'm here and that at the end of the day I love conventions and the wacky, awesome family I've found in them.
6. Play pretend
Sometimes when I go to conventions I pretend I'm someone else. I pretend to be a really outgoing, boisterous, confident person. I wear outrageous clothes, talk loud and play pretend like when I was a kid and would pretend to be a power ranger. By the end of the weekend, I'm ready to take that persona off, but it can get me through the convention. I have a particular skirt, and a particular pair of shoes that 'transform' me into this persona and when I'm really worried about shrinking away at a convention I'll wear those and fake it till I make it in the confidence field.
7. Remember everyone else is nervous too
Almost every person you meet at a convention is nervous about it. I've even had someone nervous about talking to me (to me!!) and it's strange to suddenly realize that no one is perfect and always confident. This weekend I heard a New York Times bestselling author say that they felt like at any moment someone was going to realize a mistake had been made and come take everything from them. That's a feeling I fight through every day, and realizing even the people you admire fight that battle is incredibly comforting.
You're not alone with your fear, we're all wrestling with it too.
I hope maybe that helps someone else, and if you have any tips or ideas I'd love to hear them!