Monday, 27 July 2015

Stewarding at a Convention: My Experiences

So, for those of you who don't know, I am occasionally a steward at conventions and as con season is drawing to a close I thought I'd talk a little about what stewarding has been like for me. 

Stewarding is where you volunteer to help out. At the conventions I've been to usually this is for a couple of 2-3hr shifts each day of the convention, but I've been known to do a whole day stewarding (meaning a 7am start at 10/11pm finish and very few if any breaks). However if you're not completely insane like me, you wouldn't do that ;). That is unless you volunteer for one of those events where you get a free ticket if you help out all day, I think there are a few that run like that.

It can be a wonderful experience, I wouldn't keep going back to do it if it weren't, and I’ll go on to talk about that momentarily but first I want to be honest with you about some of the drawbacks. Obviously my experiences could be totally different to everyone else’s and depending on which event organiser you’re helping things can be very different. 

One of the big drawbacks to stewarding (apart from the possibility of having to be up way too early on a con weekend because you're working first shift and having to set up) is that you might end up missing stage talks you wanted to see. Unless you’re working on the doors for the stage room then it’s guaranteed you'll miss at least a couple of the stage talks, and you can’t be sure of where you will be positioned for stewarding duties. None of the staff members I was working with would let us miss anything we’d paid extra for (such as photo ops), as long as you told a staff member you had a photo op during your shift then they would do everything they could to make sure you remembered and wouldn't stop you going.

The only other real issue is that sometimes, as someone with “authority” (you don’t really have much, if any), you can be seen as the person to go to if anyone has any complaints or problems. Of course, sorting problems is part of the job and I love to help people, but if you struggle to deal with people who are perhaps a little stressed out and not always the most polite humans you’ll encounter, or just the fact that you can’t always solve people’s problems then it can be hard. Obviously the first of these two things is just a hazard of working with the public, and I try to be as understanding as possible – I know conventions can be really stressful. Just guys, if any of you ever attend one, please always try to be kind to the volunteers and staff?

There might be a couple of drawbacks but there are way more reasons why it’s amazing.

You get to meet so many more attendees than you would do regularly. I’ve worked on the doors for some of the halls and photography rooms before and you see nearly everyone! I’ve also helped out on the registration desk which was just fantastic, even if I’m sure by the end of a very long day I was convincing people I was crazy. Great times.

You also get to help so many people have the best con experience they can. Whether that’s something small and simple like making sure someone gets to the right place at the right time, or getting someone with a disability that stops them standing for long a chair to sit in, or maybe something a bit bigger like the staff members and stewards I saw helping someone through a panic attack or finding someone’s lost purse/photo op tickets and making sure they got them in time.  This also means you get to hear some of the praise and the happiness coming from people, which is just so rewarding.

Another of the perks, which may not apply to everyone (it depends where you’re working, on top of the obvious differences between organisers) is getting to spend more time than you would otherwise with some of the celebrities. Not the “big stars” of course, they usually have handlers with them and no one gets near, but when I’ve been lucky enough to be working in the photo studio sometimes I get a chance to talk with smaller guests while we’re setting up or when the session has finished and they’re waiting the extra ten minutes for late-comers. Not one for people who get totally overwhelmed at celebrities, but if you’re laid back it’s pretty cool.

Volunteering is also, of course, a fantastic thing to put on your CV, and depending on where you are you might get other “compensation” like exclusive photos, lanyards or something. It’s an experience I would totally recommend and I’m going to keep doing it on and off for as long as they’ll let me!

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Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, I really appreciate everything you guys have to say and I shall endeavour to reply as soon as I can! If you need a swifter reply please feel free to email or contact me on twitter @katiefrank_x