5 Tips to Conquer Chaos & Maximize Your Convention Experience: SDCC 2015


People participate in conventions for a variety of reasons.  Some attend to be inspired while others join to learn, network, promote their business, or simply have fun and play.  Despite one’s goals for attending a conference, the experience can be overwhelming.  The huge convention centers, the pushy sales people — it’s easy to find yourself mindlessly roaming the expo floor for days, leaving the convention exhausted, with sore feet and a bag of tchotchkes as your only takeaways.  But conventions can be a rewarding experience if you plan ahead and make thoughtful choices.

That was the case when my husband and I attended our first San Diego Comic-Con International (SDCC) last year. From Betty White and William Shatner having a lively debate about zoos and ‘Blackfish’, to Buzz Aldrin‘s talk about his experience walking on the Moon, to attending panels of casts and writers from some of our favorite TV shows like Fox’s BONES, ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and CBS’s Big Bang Theory to meeting the founder of Atari, Nolan Bushnell . . . our SDCC 2014 conference experience was amazing and truly one to remember.SDCC Schedule 2page_1

In this week’s post, I’ll share 5 tips to conquer the chaos of conventions so you can maximize your next convention experience.  To demonstrate, I’ll share with you our plans for participating in this year’s San Diego Comic-Con International’s off-site events.  An easy way to remember the 5 tips is C.O.M.I.C.:

  1. Create Your List
  2. Organize & Prioritize
  3. Manage Expectations
  4. Identify What You’ll Need
  5. Consolidate & Communicate


Researching the convention agenda in advance is the first step in taking charge of your convention experience.  Take a look at the key note speakers, find out who will be conducting the workshops and breakout sessions, and what organizations will be represented in the exhibition halls. Creating a quick list will make the planning process a whole lot easier.

SDCC listSmartDraw Tip: To create a mind map, navigate to the Popular Category.  Select the Mind Map template.


Once you’ve noted the sessions in the mind map, you can simply click and drag the shapes according to priority, day, time, etc.  You may also choose to add additional information such as meeting room, times, etc.

In an effort to stay up-to-date on the Comic-Con off-site events, I decided to capture my initial online research in an information hub (below).  An information hub is a diagram, in this case a mind map, that contains hyperlinks to different resources such as documents and websites.

SDCC infohubClick to download the SDCC 2015 Information Hub pdf with live links. 

SmartDraw Tip: To add a hyperlink, navigate to the appropriate shape or text.  Right-click and select Add Hyperlink.  Copy and paste the URL address into the field.  Click OK.


Convention centers and hotel meeting spaces vary drastically in size.  As a result, travel time between sessions may play a significant role in the selection of which sessions you will be able to attend.  You may need to reconsider and determine what is going to be realistic.  It’s best to find out in advance so that you can manage expectations and plan accordingly.

Generate a Data Map

Unlike most conferences, Comic-Con’s off-site events are decentralized.  There is no governing organization managing all of the events and schedules.  Since the off-site events span over an 8-block radius of downtown San Diego, I decided that the best approach would be to create a map.

Although I use SmartDraw every day, there are templates that I have yet to discover.  To be honest, I’ve never used the Data Map template until now.  Its so easy to use.  SmartDraw took the data from the spreadsheet and automatically placed visual indicators for each of the off-site event locations.  Once the markers were in place, I was able to compare venue locations against their respective schedules.

SDCC Data MapSmartDraw Tip: In the Left Pane, navigate to the Maps Category.  In the Popular Map Templates preview screen, select Data Map. 

Add Markers

Using the symbols found in the Library, I began to place markers on the map like chess pieces.  Within minutes, I managed to create our itinerary.

SDCC 2015 OffSiteEventMap

Click to download pdf of the SDCC 2015 Off-Site Event Locations Map.

SmartDraw Tip: To utilize a symbol from the Symbol Library, simply click and drag it into the Work Area.  
SDCC 2015 Restaurant Discounts

To save without a Comic-Con Badge, click to download Discount Coupons and the Map of Restaurants (diagram above).

SmartDraw Tip: To make the text legible, you may choose to fill the text box.  Click the text, navigate to the Ribbon. Click Home. In the Fill menu, select the appropriate color and transparency.

A special thanks goes to the San Diego Convention Center for making the discount coupons available.


Whether you’re attending a one day or week long convention, planning is the key to a successful convention experience.  That includes planning what you will have with you throughout the day.

SDCC 2015 Day Pack Checklist1

Click to download pdf of the SDCC Day Pack Checklist.

SmartDraw Tip: To achieve the diagram above, begin with the mind map template. To add a table, navigate to the Ribbon.  In the Table Tab, enter the appropriate values in the Rows and Columns fields.  Click the Table control. Click and drag the table to the appropriate shape.


Conventions are attended by like minded individuals, those who are in the same field of study, or who work in a similar industry.  As a result, conventions are an opportunity for reconnecting and networking.

By consolidating your convention schedule into a single diagram, such as a matrix, it can easily be shared with colleagues.  And with SmartDraw’s quick access controls you’ll be able to share any of your diagrams with just one-click!  It’s that simple.

SDCC matrix2

Click to download the SDCC 2015 Off-Site Schedule Matrix pdf with live links.

SmartDraw Tip: The matrix above was created from an existing sample diagram.  In the Left Panel select Forms. Navigate to the Quality Management Forms, select the Requirement Feature Matrix.  Modify as needed.