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Life Skills for Fanboys:  The Art of Conversation

written by Tony DiGerolamo, Copyright 2013

So this is a skill that’s particularly near and dear to me, as I was horrible at it.  To this day, I struggle to keep up my end of a conversation without looking bad, nervous or just plain weird.  This column is not meant to talk down to anyone, it’s help for fanboys that need it.  If you don’t need it, then this column won’t speak to you.  If you do need it, don’t be afraid.  Read on.

Talking at the Table

The first thing fanboys have to understand about etiquette at a comic book or sci-fi/fantasy convention table is that anyone behind the table is working.  We’re trying to make money.  It’s not that we don’t want to talk to you, you just can’t monopolize our time.  So, with that in mind:

1)  Tell us what you want:  It’s fine to look around and ask questions, but get to the point.  There are other people in the convention besides you, so you have to be aware that time is limited.

2)  Stay on topic:  The topic is whatever is on my table, not your screenplay, not your comic book, not your favorite movie, not your favorite RPG character, not your search for a rare action figure, not direction to the bathroom, not explanations on refund policies for product I don’t sell—  Whatever is on my table, that’s what I’m there to talk about.  Going off topic is a waste of my time.

3)  Be polite:  If I’m talking to another fan, wait your turn quietly.  Adults are polite, children barge in front of other people and interrupt.  Cosplayers, we know you have no money in your costume so stay out of Artists’ Alley.  Your costume blocks things.  Come back later after you change.  Stay in the nice wide aisles where people can pose and take pics, not in front of a table or booth.

4)  Buy something or get going:  Once you’ve determined you don’t have any interest in my product, we’re done.  Sorry.  It’s not that me and the rest of the creators aren’t nice people, but we have a limited time to sell our product.  Talking to us like we’re you’re friends is like walking into any random store and striking up a conversation with the cashier.  You might catch her at a slow moment, but really, she’s just there to work, not engage in small talk.

5)  At a con, know the difference between social settings and business:  The room where you buy stuff is all business.  Panel discussions are a lot looser and allow you to ask questions, but it’s also business.  We only do them to get the tables and to promote ourselves.  Room parties or events specifically scheduled as social are social settings.  That’s where you can act more social.  But there are still rules to that.

Talking in Social Settings

Now, assuming you get into a social setting because you know you’re in one, the rules are different.  Still be polite, but also:

1)  Understand the context:  Take a moment to understand the sort of social setting you’re in.  A “Meet the Creators” event is different from, say, a “Dance Party”.  And within the parties and events themselves, people break up into subgroups.

2)  Say hello and introduce yourself:  If you’re meeting new people for the first time, it’s polite to greet them and introduce yourself.  If you’re with anyone, introduce them as well.

3)  Ask about other people:  A good ice breaker in a conversation is to ask the other people what their deal is.  “Hey, I’m Tony and I make webcomics.  What brings you guys out to the convention?”  It shows that you’re concerned and interested about people other than yourself.  I cannot tell you how many times I was at a con event and some fanboy just barged his way into my conversation, without introducing himself, just because the people I was talking to mentioned something that was interesting to him.  It’s fucking annoying.

4)  Don’t cockblock:  Cons are often places for people to hook-up.  If you see two people talking, laughing, getting drinks for each other and giving each other a very satisfied look—  STAY THE FUCK OUT OF IT.  That doesn’t mean you can’t talk to any groups of two people, but at least scout out the situation before your barge over there and start blathering about your fucking D&D character.

5)  Listen:  If you’re going to be in a conversation, listen to what other people are saying.  If you’re not interested in listening, then you’re not interested in a conversation, you’re interested in performing in front of an audience.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t force your performance on people who don’t want it.

6)  Be honest:  Nothing’s weirder in a conversation than to have someone you barely know lie to you about something you don’t care about.  Some people at cons are loud and boisterous.  If they ask you an embarrassing question, you’re under no obligation to answer or even continue the conversation.

7)  Don’t be tactless:  Just because you’re honest, doesn’t mean you can’t still be polite.  If someone with a terrible cosplay costume asks you for an opinion, don’t blurt out “That costume blows.  What the fuck were you thinking?”  Say something positive or say nothing or duck the question in a positive way.  “Wow, you made that?  I could never make a costume.”  You don’t want to be embarrassed or humiliated, don’t embarrass or humiliate others.  Remember, this isn’t the Internet where you’re hiding behind an avatar.  You’re talking to real people.  Be real.

8) Be positive:  Conventions are supposed to be fun.  If you’re going to be a miserable fuck, stay in your hotel room or stay home.  No one is interested in dealing with your passive-aggressive, heart-on-your-sleeve, bullshit.

9)  Be confident:  The easiest way to be confident is to be quiet.  Blathering betrays your nervousness.  Silence is your friend.  Take a moment to think before your speak and your confidence will be there.  Confidence is sexy.  It’s the easiest way to attract someone.

10)  Think:  Geeks are supposed to be smart.  Be that geek.  Don’t let people rush you.  If someone’s too impatient to wait for your response, then they’re being impolite.  Responding well is better than responding quickly, especially if you’re nervous about being in a conversation to begin with.