HOWTO Approach Someone At A Convention

I recently read Monica Valentinelli’s post about having someone ignore her at WorldCon, and I really, really hope I’ve never come across like that to you… but I probably have.  (I did it unintentionally to my girlfriend once;  that means the odds I’ve done it to others is high.)  While Monica’s experience seems rather different (her account is of someone not being busy, but deliberately ignoring her through the whole con), I can too easily imagine someone else reading her account and imagining me.1

So it got me to thinking:   What are some tips for folks when you want to approach someone at a convention?

  • Arrange an actual time ahead of time (preferably around a meal or drinks).
  • Be cool with the idea that you may not get solo time with the person you’re approaching (even if it’s arranged around a meal or drinks).
  • Room parties are not good – they’re often too loud and hot and crowded.
  • Acknowledge that the other person may have significant others who come first.
  • Respect when the person you’re approaching says “Sorry, I’m meeting X or Y”.
  • When the person you’re approaching is deep in conversation, avoid approaching altogether or wait at the edge to be acknowledged (see examples below).
  • Make your contact short and brief – and leave the choice to continue interacting with the person you’re approaching (see example below).

Right.  Real-life examples:

I saw Monica in a hotel lobby at GenCon this year.  I was talking to someone else at the time – and she was talking to a few other folks.  (I’m not even sure she saw me.)  The person I was talking to asked if I wanted to go talk to Monica.  “Nah,” I said.  “She’s busy right now, and I don’t want to interrupt.”

I saw Pat Rothfuss at Origins.  He was talking to several other people; I waited unobtrusively until he acknowledged me, then moved over and talked to him for about three minutes, and then got out of the way and let him get back to his conversation.

When I saw Mary Robinette Kowal at Origins, she was between commitments, so I just said a quick “Hi”, thanked her again for the classes she does on reading aloud, and said “It looks like you’re busy.”  At that point, I was providing an opening for her to say “Yes, I have X to go to,” and naturally allow the conversation to close… but if she’d been free and wanted to continue the conversation, she could have done that as well.

The three people above were very professional… and very busy.  Had I not followed my own tips above, I could have felt ignored and upset.  Because I did, I (hopefully) did not come across as an overbearing jerk and I felt good about the interaction.

While I’m still really small fry in the world of publishing and writing, I’ve already hit the point where there isn’t enough time at conventions to have all the conversations I want to have… and if I’m having these problems, I’m sure that others who have been around longer have the same issues as well.

Obviously, this won’t help if you’re trying to approach someone who isn’t being unprofessional – as Monica unfortunately experienced.  But it will help when you’re approaching just about anyone else.

1 Or maybe not. But I’d rather be sure than sorry.

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