by Nishelle Denson, nerd
Being a volunteer at conventions can be defined in two words: rewarding and exhausting.
Becoming a volunteer versus an attendee you may think you get to be the man behind the curtain, the truth is you are the curtain. You get to see both sides, you are able to interact with the general public and depending on where you’re at you get to see in the inner workings of a convention.
Let’s look at what it means to be a volunteer in all aspects that you can visit at a convention. When approaching most venues the lines will be wrapped around the building this is where you see your first volunteer, the line team. Their job is to guide you and thousands of other guest to correct lines or doors to make sure you get into the con as quickly as possible. While it appears that these volunteers have a relatively easy job, remember con season happens during the warmest parts of the year. The line team is usually outside for hours at a time, corralling and guiding attendees to the best of their abilities WITH a smile and a helping hand. They help set the tone of every volunteer that you’ll encounter throughout the con.
You’ve made it into the venue, now it’s time to get your tickets. This is where you meet the welcome or registration team. These are the volunteers that make sure that everyone gets their tickets, or badges, or the extra special VIP badges and bags. These volunteers are in charge of getting people in and out as quickly as possible to make sure that everyone has time to visit the con.
While the registration team gets people their tickets, you notice that off through another door way someone is attaching ribbons to “weapons”. These are the weapons check volunteers, they help keep the convention safe by making sure that all of the weapons brought into the convention are truly fake or prop weapons. These few volunteers are critical in making sure that every weapon that comes through the door is safe. These volunteers are made of people who have previously worked security or are familiar with weapons. In more recent years this job has been delegated to hired security officers, who can take on the liability if a real weapon makes it through.
So now, you have your badge and your orange ribbon, it’s time to hit the convention floor. What to do first? Where to go? You stare hopelessly at your map while you stand against a wall. You spot a volunteer shirt, but you’re too nervous to ask. But that’s where the floating volunteer steps in, they make sure that people can read the map or program and help people get where they need. They’re the ones who move seamlessly throughout the con making sure that not only con attendees, but volunteers are happy and well.
You’ve decided to sit in on a panel, this is where you meet our programming volunteers. They make sure that all of the panel rooms are set and ready for each guest that are speaking or performing in each room. Cleaning up any left over giveaways or flyers that are still in the chairs. They also clear the people from the busier rooms to make sure that all of the VIPS get the best seats.
As you sit in the panel, you notice that there is a volunteer with the talent, that’s a handler, they are the ones who make sure that the guest get to and from where they’re going within the convention. The important thing to remember as a handler is that there is no fangirling/boying allowed. You have to keep your composure and be helpful. You’re there to be a physical representation of the con as well as keeping the talent on schedule from photo ops, to table time, to panels. The other thing is these volunteers are not assistants, the talent usually brings their own or have an agent that they work with.
The very last and most important volunteers are the floor workers, these are the volunteers that are in the vendor/exhibitor hall, these are the volunteers that help keep the aisles clear, they show people where to find certain exhibitors and make sure vendors are
able to get up and away from their tables. These volunteers also deal with the ire of the attendees, they are the faces that people see first so they have no trouble voicing their opinions about long lines, ticket prices, vendor prices and anything else. But they take it in stride, these volunteers have huge hearts.
Although all of these volunteers work in different parts of the convention they are all one team, and for those volunteers that have joined the con life family, which is a group of volunteers in any locality that perpetually volunteer, those particular volunteers have found the joy in being the feet on the ground for the cons. Year after year, these volunteers put themselves out there for 3-4 days straight setting up the con, walking the floor, and tearing down. If you encounter a volunteer give them a smile or a thank you, they’ll appreciate it. If you want to become a volunteer, go to your favorite conventions page and scroll to the volunteer section and sign up, be honest on your application so that the coordinators can use your talents as best they can. Remember to have fun, be aware and welcome to Con Life.