Con Season on a Budget: Being a Great Volunteer

Welcome to Part 2 of Con Season on a Budget. This post is about being a great volunteer so your favorite con will welcome you back, year after year. If you missed it, be sure to check out Part 1: How to Volunteer at Your Favorite Convention. I also wrote about surviving your first convention in Conventions 101!

Okay, so you’ve done all the legwork and gotten a sweet volunteer position at the convention you’ve been wanting to go to for ages! Now what? You definitely want them to like you enough to allow you to continue to volunteer. Even if, in the future, you decide to go as a paying attendee, it’s never a bad thing to have convention directors like you!

So let’s talk a bit about how to be a great volunteer.

Before your shift

You should get your volunteer schedule in advance of the convention itself, which is great, because then you know when you’ll be working. Within your schedule should also be information on where your volunteer shift will be. You may also get the name of the person you report to, though not always. You should know your department head’s name, at the least.

I always try to do a little legwork before my shift, especially if it’s a new place to me. It’s a great idea to scope out the event space, in general, so that you know where you’re going. This is especially important at larger conventions, where things are more spread out and perhaps a little more difficult to find.

Dress appropriately. If you’re doing load in or load out (which is helping to set the convention up or breaking things down), you don’t want to wear a costume to your shift. Or, really, nice clothes at all. Because you’ll likely be hauling stuff around and getting all sweaty. (I guess you could cosplay as Rocky or something!) Conversely, if you’re working the Hospitality Suite or Guest Relations, you’re the face of the convention for a lot of people. So don’t show up in raggedy clothes without having showered. (Ewww.)

Before you head out for your shift, think about what you’ll be doing and how long your shift is. You might want to bring a snack if you’ll be working for more than a couple hours or if your shift will require a lot of physical energy. Definitely bring a water bottle. Most conventions have stations in the hall with either water pitchers or water coolers, so you can refill. But it’s always good to have your own container for your drink.

Working your shift

This should be common sense, but arrive on time. Five or ten minutes early is even better. Give yourself enough time to get to where you need to go. Remember that you’ll likely be moving through larger convention crowds than you did when you were scouting out the location. So factor the extra people into your travel time for when you head over.

When you’re given instructions on what your responsibilities are, pay attention. If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification. You won’t look stupid if you ask questions. You’ll look like you care about your job, which is very important to those who are in charge.

Once you know what your job is, do it well. This isn’t the time for you to hang out and goof around at the convention. You’re working, not playing. Your department is relying on your to do the tasks you’ve been assigned. If you don’t do them, or don’t do them correctly, that means someone else who was assigned a different task that also needs to be accomplished will have to come around and do the things you were supposed to. That is a surefire way not to be welcomed back at all.

Don’t forget to be friendly! Be friendly with the other volunteers on your shift — after all, these are people you want to work with in the future. If you’re in a forward-facing role that interacts directly with guests or attendees, be friendly and professional. Again, you are representing the convention itself for these people.

And on the topic of guests — people who are on panels or giving classes — you might be in contact with celebrities. It can be a little overwhelming and you might be tempted to fangirl/boy all over your favorite author/actor/artist. Don’t do it. You’re working with them in a professional capacity, so act professional. You absolutely can let them know that you love their work. I think you should! But leave it at that, then do your job. In my experience, these folks really appreciate you treating them as people rather than stars, and they will remember you for that, particularly if they’re a regular guest at that convention.

Don’t be that guy.

Also, if you are in a position, such as security, where you have some power over attendees, be very aware of how you exert that power. Don’t be a douche. I was recently at a convention where one of the security people seemed to have it in for a friend I was there with. Every time he saw her, he told her that she was doing something wrong. And it wasn’t even the correction that was the problem. It was the attitude he had of condescension while doing the correcting. He was power-tripping. In a conversation later with higher ups at the convention (I was a guest), I mentioned it and they conveyed that there had been other issues along those lines and that he likely would not be asked to work security again. Attitude matters.

After the convention

Whew! You made it! Great job!

There are no real requirements for after the convention. But I do have some suggestions.

Keep in touch with people you worked with. You’ll likely have made some friends on your shift(s), so don’t let the opportunity to have convention friends slip. Exchange emails or phone numbers and reach out a few days after the convention. It never hurts to keep in contact, especially if you want to work in that department again.

You should also take some time to ask yourself a few questions. Did you enjoy the work? Did you like the people you worked with? Were there other perks that are beneficial to you? And, most importantly, are you interested in working in this department again?

Volunteering can be hard, but it should also be fun. And the overall feel for your shift should be a positive one. If it isn’t, then you might consider volunteering for a different department. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad volunteer or that you were in a bad department. It likely just means that department isn’t a fit for your particular personality. It may take shifts in a couple departments to figure out which you like best. That’s completely okay!

What do you think? Ready to go out and snag a volunteer shift?

Do you already volunteer at conventions? Any additional tips for newbies?


Unless attributed otherwise, all images are CC0 licensed.


  • ketherian April 13, 2017 at 10:49 am

    Great article!
    I`m sending links to friends and family that want to try out conventions.
    I meant to comment on the first one. So, please pardon the length.

    When the convention ends, there’s still lots for a volunteer to do! Tear-down and load-out are almost as massive jobs as load-in and set-up. Some conventions offer additional perks to their volunteers. So, even if you didn’t sign up for helping after the convention officially ends, if you still have any energy, and you see people packing up, find a convention representative and offer to help.

    Also, con-runners want their volunteers to enjoy the convention, so spending some time perusing the schedule and choosing things you want to see is important. Once you have your schedule of not-to-be-missed events, you can schedule your volunteering around it. If something comes up (a panel is moved, or a new panel added at the last minute) talk to whoever is supervising your shift. Most folk will try to help you out so long as you’re honest and forthright. Con-runners often started as volunteers, and should remember the agony of scheduling two (or three, or four…) things at once at a great convention.

    And then there’s the 5-3-1 rule. Every day you must have a minimum of : 5 hours sleep, 3 meals, and 1 shower. Note that these numbers are not interchangeable. When you’re volunteering (especially when dealing with other people), your appearance and your cleanliness is important. Since patience is often required, avoiding situations where you are angry due to lack of sleep (or food) is always a good idea. Sounds simple, but it’s easily forgotten in the chaos that is a convention.

    Before you leave the convention, make sure your contact information is up-to-date. If you change physical or email addresses during the year, send the convention a change of address note/email. If you can address this to someone specific, even better.

    Watch for events. Most conventions have a facebook, twitter, and numerous other internet presences. Follow them. Otakuthon (in Montreal) does an open house in the spring, where we actively recruit for staff! But we also have volunteer training sessions, just so you can figure out what`ll be expected before you arrive at the convention. Our internet presences and forums are pretty lively and staff try to answer questions when they see them.

    • Venessa Giunta April 13, 2017 at 2:48 pm

      Thanks for the response and the additional suggestions! Otakuthon sounds really cool! It’s definitely got more online presence than many conventions, which I think can only be a strength.

      Thanks so much for jumping in!


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