Nerdiquette: How to Properly Treat Your Con Staff and Volunteers


This weekend I had the great pleasure of working at my local convention, Albany Comic Con. It’s my 3rd or 4th show working with them, and I am always honored to be asked back. Albany Comic Con holds such a special place in my heart, because it was one of the first events I attended upon moving to the Capital Region two years ago. I was so nervous and excited to get my feet wet in this community of creativity, and I had a blast going to a smaller, homegrown show. Since then, I’ve since become friendly with other convention owners and have had the opportunity to work at many other shows.

But it’s my local shows, in particular, where I notice a trend. Perhaps it’s because I’m so involved and keep up with the local group on Facebook, but I notice people complaining or blaming staff for many things out of their control. As someone who volunteers much of her free time to help out with these shows, I do really take personal offense to this, as do many of my peers who also volunteer. It’s because of this that I decided to compile a list of responses to these grievances.

“It’s too hot/cold in this building.” Literally this could not have less to do with volunteers and staff members. The temperature is affected by so many things. If the convention space is particularly crowded, body temperature and closeness of others raises the temperature significantly. Not to mention — we don’t control the heat/AC — the convention space does. If you come up to us and yell about the heat/cold…there’s literally nothing we can do. Except agree with you — because if you’re feeling it, we’re probably feeling it too. The only difference is that you have the option to leave and we don’t.

“Why are tickets so expensive? You guys should make this more affordable/free for us! Don’t you care about your guests?” Yes, we do care about the guests. That’s why volunteers/staff work closely with convention owners to make sure you’re getting the best show possible. And, surprise! That costs money. If we gave you a free event, chances are, we wouldn’t have the cash to get in the comic guests, vendors, and other people you so love to see at these things. Money also goes to securing a venue, so unless you want to host the next convention in your backyard…but I digress. Sometimes the venue or space increases the rental price and the convention needs to charge more for admission in order to make up the cost. Trust me, the convention is likely not raising prices to pocket more of your money. Most owners will tell you that they barely make back their losses at the end of the convention.

“Why don’t you have more famous people?” Some shows, like Wizard World Cons, NYCC and SDCC, are run by corporations rather than small/local convention owners. It’s just like in the outside world, here. There are Mom and Pop shops, and there is Walmart. Comparing local shows to corporate run shows is like comparing apples to spaghetti. They’re two totally different things. While some small cons use their money to get in media guests, it’s not how every show runs things. Some cons prefer to have artists/vendors as the priority. It’s just the way it works.

“The Staff wasn’t smiling. It looked like they were all miserable.” This shit is hard work. We’re doing a ton of stuff all at once, for absolutely no pay. (I mean, maybe some people get paid? I’ve really never gotten paid while staffing a con. For guesting, yes. But not staffing.) I can recall one local show I worked, where a guest complained on a local group because the staff looked tired, one of the cosplay judges wasn’t even in cosplay, didn’t smile or high five her child. What this person didn’t know was that the day prior, almost all the staff was volunteering at another event, where we were outside all day and nearly all got sick afterward. Sometimes, for shows that are more than one day long, there are afterparties or after hours events that ALSO need staffing, so sometimes staff and volunteers are kept up late. Some shows run continuously for 24-48 hours. Guess what? The con still needs to remain staffed. You never know if someone got stuck working third shift. Also, we’re human beings. Not robots. We have lives outside of volunteering/staffing the convention. You never know what another person is dealing with.

“Why didn’t I win the costume contest? Your judges are biased and they pick only their friends to win.”

This is, perhaps, the one point that hits closest to home for so many of my fellow ACC volunteers. This is someth

ing we hear after every single cosplay contest, and let me just make this perfectly clear…it is 8000% false. I can literally say I wasn’t close personal friends with any of the main ACC winners. I barely know people in this area. I’ve only been here 2 years. My fellow judges are NOTHING but PROFESSIONAL, and to insinuate otherwise is disgusting and shows poor sportsmanship. The majority of people who make this claim do so when they lose to someone else, yet when they win, they have glowing reports of the contest. We work our asses off to pull off a good cosplay contest for everyone. It takes months and months of planning, preparation, and cash (to put towards prizes) and it’s downright disrespectful to treat people who work so hard, to put together something that is requested time and time again. We could simply not offer a cosplay contest, but people would complain about that as well. True story: I know a 9 year old girl who takes loss more eloquently than some adults in this area. If you didn’t win, it’s probably because someone was better than you. It has nothing to do with you personally, and does not define you as a cosplayer. It doesn’t even mean that yours wasn’t as good as person x or person y…it just means, in the eyes of 3-5 judges, someone was viewed as better than you.  If you cannot handle losing, you have no business entering a costume contest.


Now that I’ve addressed some of these frequently heard complaints, you may be wondering if there’s anything you can do to resolve some of these issues. The first thing I would suggest is to VOLUNTEER, VOLUNTEER, VOLUNTEER! Cons could always use more staff and volunteer support, and usually, there are nice incentives for helping out — like free lunch and free admission to said event. Also, it’s the absolute best way to get some of your concerns addressed. My 3rd grade teacher always used to say, “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” If you want a specific area improved, volunteer there. There’s no better way to know how a cosplay contest is being run, than to help run it!

If you have concerns, the best way to go about it is to go directly to the source. The con owners welcome constructive critiques and use them to make their show better time and time again. A good business person always takes the customer’s concerns seriously, and it’s no different in the convention world. Facebook posts bashing convention staff are NOT the way to go. Address it with the convention owner, if there’s a satisfaction survey offered, take it and air your grievances there. It makes your concerns more valid and doesn’t make you look like a petty vaguebooker. Believe me, I know how great the temptation is to complain all over social media. I have been guilty of this in the past. But going straight to the source is the best course of action for all involved.

I hope I shed some light on what it’s like to be a volunteer/staff member. I honestly love doing it and it’s how I have met so many dear friends. If you don’t volunteer/have done some of the things mentioned on this list/rant thing, I hope that this enlightens you as well! I encourage anyone who’s worked a con to share some of their stories in the comments or with me personally on the Facebook group. Don’t forget to say “thanks” to a volunteer or staff member at the next con you go to!