After attending several events as of late, both conventions and play parties, I thought I would bestow some wisdom upon those of you who haven't ever been to such events. Specifically, a kink convention.
Now, there are many different aspects to kink conventions. I find it best to go in with a goal in mind though you may find that you achieve other benefits along the way. To have the most luck achieving your goal, it helps to have a plan before attending the convention. Take a good look at the website for the convention you are attending; what strikes your fancy? Which classes look interesting? Do any presenters stand out? Is there a vendor or a toy you're interested in seeing in person? Find out what is happening when to make yourself a personal itinerary so you don't miss anything important to you.
Typically, a kink convention is broken down into parts. There's education, vendors, play parties, and special interest groups. Let's take these parts individually.
I love kink education! Usually at kink conventions the organizers have secured well-known presenters from the area, if not nationally or internationally known, who are very knowledgeable in their field/kink area. Each presenter will come and discuss their topic of expertise, typically doing a demo and answering questions. These classes are amazing because they usually cover topics that don't come around that often at your smaller local groups.
While attending the presentation, try to remember your manners. Just like in school: eyes open, mouth shut. Be respectful of the presenter and your fellow attendees; other people are trying to learn, and causing a disturbance can throw off the vibe of the room as well as the presenter's pacing. Raise your hand if you have a question, though the presenter typically will have time for questions throughout. If you have a specific question, occasionally you can wait till after the presentation and speak to the presenter directly. If you decide to do this, ask if they have time for a quick question, make sure your question is succinct, and thank them after they answer! They are busy people; they just finished a class, probably have another one to prepare for, have a ton of people who want to talk to them, and require time for personal needs like food, going to the bathroom, and rest.
Bring a notebook and pen so you can take notes during the presentation. Even if you're not big on studying or note taking, the presenter might mention a product, vendor, or event that you'd like to look into more later and it's best to write that tidbit down before you forget!
Get to the presentation a few minutes early so you can get a good seat. Do not reserve a seat and leave, or try to reserve a whole row of seats. If it's a lab type class, try to conserve floor space.
Don't be afraid to get close to your neighbor--sit next to somebody. This will help you make friends and conserve space.
Pick up the presenter's business card and make sure to follow them online. You can learn a lot from their online presence--etiquette, play tips, cool events, and people to follow.
Most conventions have a vendor area. It would behoove you to take a stroll and check out the wares. The vendors that come to these events typically are very friendly, carry quality goods, and are willing to do custom work. The toys we play with are coming in contact with our skin and sensitive areas, as well as being expensive--we want them to be of high caliber. It's very difficult to get a good idea how some of these toys will be in real life when you're looking at them online. This is your opportunity to pet the floggers, feel the impact of the toys, see how they go together, how they work, and try on some gear. Even if you don't have any money to buy something right now, go check out the toys! You can pick up a business card and order later with the confidence of knowing that you'll be getting superior merchandise.
Ask the vendors questions about their goods. Do they do customs? Do they do layaway? Preferred payment methods? What's the best way to contact them in the future? You typically can try the merchandise as well, either topping or bottoming. Vendors are normally more than happy to show you the correct way to use a toy if you haven't ever tried it before.
Special Interest Groups (SIGs)
Because "our people" are so rarely able to get together, often at long events like a conference there are special interest groups that gather. Check to see what sorts of meetings are happening and where. The following are types of groups and get together at events.
Have business cards made before attending your event. They're not that expensive to have done and are an easy way to connect with others, especially if you're trying to network. You can have whatever information you wish printed on there--FetLife name, scene name, Twitter handle, fun email, pictures, plain, etc. We so quickly forget the names of others, especially when meeting in large groups and with frequency that being able to give a card is a great way to make sure you don't lose that new friend you just made.
Frequently, at the end of the day at a convention, there is open dungeon time also known as a play party. This is a time to practice new skills you've learned, connect with friends for a negotiated scene, or show off something you've been working on. If you are attending solo, this is not a guarantee that you will get to play unless you're playing by yourself. Simply put, the convention has supplied furniture, space, cleaning materials, and a dungeon monitor--you need to supply the partner(s). The rules for the play space should be spelled out in the program and will typically be the same as many other play spaces.
If you're going to watch a scene, do so from a distance so as to not disturb the scene.
Do not attempt to enter a scene unless invited, even if you're making eye contact with the participants. If there is ANY question in your mind, ask to double check before attempting to join.
This is not the time to go talk to a teacher/presenter/performer. They're people too and they're also enjoying the dungeon. Respect their scene.
If you feel something dangerous is going on, get a dungeon monitor, do not attempt to handle the situation yourself.
Be mindful of the rules regarding electrical play, fire play, and bodily fluids
Don't get high/drunk before playing
Clean up after yourself! There are supplies around for a reason. Bonus points if you stay till the end and can help with final clean up.
If you're hoping to make friends, you will have to be somewhat outgoing. Introduce yourself to people. You can even do this before the convention. Typically there's an attendees group for the even on FetLife where you can introduce yourself and start a conversation in a thread. Some threads are helping people meet up and make new friends or finding partners for classes. Other ideas:
When you sit down for a class (before it starts), talk to the person next to you--you obviously have similar interests. If someone threw out something interesting during class, go talk to them.
Dining alone at provided meal? "Hey, I don't know anyone here, may I sit with you?"
At a social gathering? "Hi, this is my first event (here, or ever) and you looked (approachable, lost, bored)."
At the end of the conversation make sure to thank them for talking to you, exchange information, and maybe make plans to meet up again for a meal, class, or even in the dungeon!
Another way to meet people is to stand out. If you are nervous about approaching others, you can always try to draw them in. In general, the kink crowd is very friendly, accepting of others, and gets excited about mutual geekery. Wear something obnoxious or carry a prop that will grab attention. Would you like to hear what I remember from my last convention? The large inflatable pool unicorn, the girls carrying giant plushies, the demo for the plastic wrap suspension, everyone in the cabaret, and the severely bruised bottom who got quite a beating in the dungeon. I didn't talk to any of them directly, but I was able to find and network with them later.
Typically, after an event, there will be a thread on FetLife, "Who were you at (name of event)?" People will write in and say, "Hey, I was the one wearing _____ with the _____ hair. You may have seen me carrying my signature ________ or in the play space doing (insert crazy kinky act that drew a lot of attention)." This is a great way to connect with someone that you didn't catch their name or have a chance to talk to.
Ask before touching, whether it be props or people.
Ask before taking pictures! Most conventions don't allow you to carry your cell phone or camera with you (which is why the notepad/business cards are important) but those that do, you still need to ask before taking someone's picture. You don't want to accidentally "out" them.
Practice good hygiene. It's an enclosed area with lots of people. Shower, use deodorant, brush teeth, lay off the cologne/perfume.
Be mindful of where the dress code. Events are typically held in a hotel, and even if it's a "hotel takeover" there are still some "vanilla" areas, so don't go streaking through the hallways.
Don't be a dick.
I hope this will help better navigate conventions and give you the confidence to attend a future one!