So you want to exhibit at a convention?

So you want to exhibit at a convention?

Exhibiting at Conventions

The TARDIS Guy crew smile at the camera having fun in front of the TARDIS Guy booth at a convention

Exhibiting can be fun

It’s not for everyone. Being an attendee can be amazing, you get to enjoy the show and not have to worry about all the background stuff, like, “how did all those booths get here?” and “who put all those cool things neatly on that table for me to look at”. I love being an attendee, it’s brilliant. Being and exhibitor is a completely different experience.


Exhibiting at a con is like learning a new language. Bumping in, shell schemes, hi-vis vests, power drops. Learning the language is important. Just like any industry, the people in it talk a certain way and being able to communicate is important when talking to convention organisers or other exhibitors.

Learn from those around you, exhibitors and convention organisers. Listen to them, ask questions and learn. No one will think you are silly for wanting to know how to make this work. If you ask questions but don’t understand the answer, ask again. Be clear in your communication with the convention organisers. Have a firm idea of what you wish to communicate before you send any email off, conventions are busy places before and during the event.

Know why you are going.

There has to be a good reason to put yourself through exhibiting at a con. You are there before the doors open and leave after everyone else has gone home. You prepare for the con weeks, no months, in advance and you collapse when it is done. You have to know very clearly why you are there. It is likely that you have a product you want to sell. Taking your wares to a con is a financial and emotional investment. If you don’t have a clear goal you will most likely have a bad experience. Set your expectations before you enter the door. Here’s how I do it and it hasn’t failed me yet;

  • My home town convention in Melbourne is going to cost me about $1000 once I factor in the booth, travel, prep, food and everything else. Interstate cons are even more with flights and accommodation. You can do it cheaper but I’m being generous here. I mentally let that money go. It’s a cost. I have to be able to live with the idea that I will never see that money again. I prepare for the worst and if I can still have a good experience, I am on a win.
  • Decide what a good outcome is, is it meeting lots of new people, selling everything you take, covering your costs? Be mindful of this goal during the con.
  • Decide what the bare minimum is that you want from the con that you can live with. Set this one low and you will be happy. Remember, I’ve already let the cost of being there go. This one doesn’t have to be about the money, it could be a picture with a guest star or seeing all the amazing cosplayers.
  • Do not rely on others to make your convention experience a good one. Look after yourself and those around you. Be responsible for yourself and those with you. You have a duty of care as an exhibitor, have fun and be safe.

There isn’t much to having a good experience as an exhibitor but there are countless ways to ruin it for yourself. I stick to my simple plan and it works for me.

There are rules, play the game and get the outcome you want

Conventions are large machines, they run on a model. They have to run the same way in different states and deliver the same experience. This means they follow rules. I treat it like playing a game. Follow the rules and you will have a good game. Try to bend the rules, or work around them just doesn’t work. Conventions basically go like this.

  • You book your space online at the convention before the cut off date and you pay.
  • You turn up to the convention on the date and time you have been told in the emails you have received from the organisers.
  • You set your booth or table up during bump in wearing your hi-vis vest during the prescribed times you have been told by the organisers.
  • You turn up for the convention before it opens at the prescribed time you have been told by the organisers.
  • You work your booth all weekend like a trooper bringing a positive energy to the convention.
  • At the end of the convention you pack all your gear away, wearing your hi-vis vest during bump out and quietly leave, perhaps you say a thank you to the organisers if you see one.

You may notice that at no point did I once say, “bother the organisers every five minutes for stuff”, or “constantly try to circumnavigate the “rules” in order to gain some minor advantage.” You get in, you do your thing and you get out. This is by far the best way to treat a convention. This doesn’t mean they aren’t there to help, but they are running a convention, it takes a massive effort to organise, so if you do need help, choose wisely and try to solve your problems on your own or with the help of other exhibitors. Once you have been to a couple, you will see that there is a flow to a convention, it’s really quite a nice experience once you are in the flow.

Everything is Last minute

Conventions can run well, they can run poorly but they turn slowly and often appear to be moving like glaciers. That is until they are upon you, when they turn into unstoppable behemoths that roll over you. Everything appears to happen at the last possible moment. You will have booked months in advance and then, with only one or two weeks to go, the floor plan will be released, bump in and bump out times will be released, a cascade of information sending a wave of panic through you. Don’t panic! It’s OK, this is just you getting your first view of all the work that has been happening behind the scenes. It’s your cue to double check all your preparations and hard work. You are about to exhibit at a convention. If you have done your preparation, checked all your times and dates, set your goals and expectations, you will be fine.

Why do you bother?

This all sounds like hard work, why bother? It is hard work, but that’s what a convention is. For exhibitors it is a trade show, it’s what we do, it’s our job. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. I can’t tell you why you should bother, but I can tell you why I do. On a business level it can be very good trade, I can sell enough to make it cover costs and sometimes more. I get to meet other exhibitors and network. I make contacts that lead to further business. Thousands of people see my work and that’s good advertising.

On a personal level I meet so many people and that is so cool. Seeing people enjoy my shields or the TARDIS and get joy from it is amazing. The kids who hug the TARDIS, wow! The doors it has opened and the places I have been. Did I ever tell you I met Stan Lee [link here] or about all the great cosplay?[link here]. Believe me when I say that exhibiting is very much worth it. I love it and I hope you will too.

Next time; Dipping John Barrowman

Allan, AKA “The TARDIS Guy”

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  • Pingback:So you want to exhibit at a convention? | Table...
    Posted at 08:26h, 10 June

    […] Exhibiting at Conventions It’s not for everyone. Being an attendee can be amazing, you get to enjoy the show and not have to worry about all the background stuff, like, “how did all those booths ge…  […]