Science Fiction is about the Shock of the New, about Cognitive Dissonance. Today the most cognitively dissonant thing occurred when I stepped outside of the convention center. No, not the giant blue bear that's hammering at the entrance doors, but the fact that in Denver, they keep water in the sky and it falls on your head in drops as you are walking back to the hotel. I'm told this is called 'precipitation' or 'rain' for short.
It completely took me by surprise, despite the following things being true for me:
1. I used to live in England, which also had this feature
2. Southern California has had 'rain' as recently as two years ago and I should have remembered it
3. My two hour flight to Denver was delayed by two hours because of a thunderstorm at Denver International Airport. And when the pilot said this – because of course he didn't tell us we weren't going to take off until after we'd been shoehorned into the cabin – I said "Typical! There's a thunderstorm every day there in the summer – I've been delayed at Denver before!"
Still it was a bit of a surprise. I was not wearing any wet weather gear, which according to someone I overheard in the elevator later, is called 'a hoodie'. I must get me one of these things.
The convention so far has featured the least organized line for badges I've ever encountered, but that might be some sort of a teething problem. I've been to several panels – one on the early reading of Tolkien, which seemed to alternate between people who read Tolkien early (in the 50s and 60s) and people who read Tolkien while young (we all seemed to start around 12). I was probably hoping for something different, a journey through the relationship between beatniks, hippies and Tolkien, but I can't say the panelists were wrong in the tack they took and they were certainly very interesting. One asked, "Can you imagine what it was like to read 'The Two Towers' when it first came out in the 50s and then have to wait almost a year for 'Return of the King' to be published? There are probably people still in asylums who went mad wondering how the fellowship would get out of their predicaments." To which I wanted to answer, "Yes, I waited for the last Harry Potter book and it's exactly the same thing!" But I thought the room would rise up and suppress me, so I didn't.
Then I went to a panel on how to schmooze, featuring John Scalzi, who could schmooze anyone at any time, and so was a great panelist. Some of this was general (how not to be a wallflower at a party) but since this is Worldcon and the panel included a Famous Person and an Agent, it also talked a bit about schmoozing for business and meeting famous people. Things I learned included:
- "Hello" is a great opener. It's tried and tested and always works, if only because the automatic response "hello" is generated, so you have the other party's attention
- It's okay to have a squee moment when you meet a hero - they do actually like it - but get over it and get on to the interesting stuff if you want to get anything out of the encounter
- Find common ground for a discussion, even if it's the weather or the flight in
- If you're meeting someone who is at a convention, you can get an idea of what interests them from their panels. Use an item they discussed as an 'in'
- If you meet someone who is in conversation with others as you go up to them, listen for a while to get the gist of the conversation and ease your way into it that way
- Remember the other person is always the most interesting and don't try to monopolize the conversation with tales of ME!!!11!
- If you've met someone before and they say, "And what have you been up to lately?" Don't say, "Same old same old" or "Not so much". They've probably forgotten how they know yo and this is your chance to remind them who you are and what you do.
- If someone gives you a business card or tells you to drop by their website, do it. Follow up with a "I so enjoyed meeting you at Worldcon and having that conversation about…" on their guest book or email. They'll remember you much better after a follow up
If your conversation about the weather is returned by an invitation to talk about yourself or your book, have an elevator speech ready. Use tiers – one sentence to describe the concept and then thirty seconds to round it out. One panelist described her book as "CSI with a Mae West AI" which I can see would generate attention for the next thirty seconds. John Scalzi, once invited to pitch his second book before he had actually written it, came up with "Man solves diplomatic incident through action scenes and snappy dialogue." Very clever
- If you are invited to follow up with something more, do follow submission guidelines and don't trust simply to "Remember me? We had the conversation about the weather at the Worldcon."
The last panel was on whether the ubiquity of Google means people don't have to learn anything any longer. I didn't take notes but the general conclusion seemed to be, "Kids of today with their long hair and so called music. They don't know anything. It wasn't like that in my day. Get off my lawn!" Plus there were a number of contributions from a representative of Google who was in the audience with a suspiciously generic black suit and a generic name "Tom". Methinks he was a spy. Not that he could have spied much as Google already knows everything about me, including many things I don't even know about myself.
I didn't go to the opening ceremony, because I was tired by then. I think that's why they usually put them at the start. However, Denvention is all about breaking the rules! And Klingons.