SDCC Sundays: Tips for Navigating the Schedule

It is here! We are two weeks out from the behemoth of an event known at San Diego Comic Con where thousands upon thousands of nerds will storm San Diego’s Gaslamp District in the name of popular culture. By now you and your team of nerds have no doubt cleared a number of hurdles to get to this point. Badge sales, hotel roulette, and deal hunting for airfare are all part of the quintessential SDCC experience. 

Now comes the next step: the schedule. Per tradition, SDCC has rolled out a day-by-day schedule chock full of all sorts of nerdy goodness. It can be intimidating sifting through four days of content, trying to figure out what you will take and what you might have to give up. Prioritizing is hard, especially when so much is left up to chance.

To help ease the stress we’ve compiled a list of tips that have helped us with schedules past and let me tell you – despite bumps, we’ve always had a hell of a time. Or, if you just want to jump right into it, we’ve got links to the schedule right here:

Have a plan A and a plan B

This is just planning 101, but it is worth noting. Outside of the absolutes (those being panels, signings, or other events you absolutely do not want to miss out on), your schedule needs to be flexible. For all of the panels or other events you don’t have your heart entirely set on, it is always good to have a backup. Picking 2-3 things every day that act as support posts for the rest of your schedule has worked for me in the past. 

Pick those 2-3 absolutes and then pepper in other ones you would enjoy, but wouldn’t be absolutely devastated to miss. That way, when something comes up (can’t get to where you’re trying to go, the panel gets canceled, you need to eat and really can’t make it to a panel), you have something else to fill its place readily available. This will keep you from scrambling when the inevitable happens.

Recognize right now that you cannot do everything

You can’t do everything. 

I want you to tell yourself that over and over until it is seared into your brain. I know the compulsion is there to try and fit as many things into the day as possible but here’s the truth: you can’t. You might think you can jump from one panel to another, but if you do that all day you’re going to be tired and miserable. By the third panel, you’re not going to be paying attention. 

There’s a way to schedule things so that you don’t lose your mind, and that means leaving reasonable space between events to do simple things. Eat, take a nap, take some time away from the crowds, and I promise you the events you do end up making will be all the better. I know some people will ignore this advice for the sake of chasing the next thing, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over nearly ten years of going to conventions it is this: I enjoy them a lot more when I don’t try to do it all. 

Create a visual representation of your schedule

Whether you want to use an online calendar or a physical one, I would suggest sitting down and blocking out a visual schedule. This is how we here at Nerdophiles manage our schedules during big conventions like San Diego. Days of the week across the top, time blocks down the side, and everything in between is blocked out with the event, the exact times, and oftentimes the room number/venue. 

This makes it easier to reference your schedule at a glance when you’re adding things in, or when new off-site events pop up. It is better than keeping a list or trying to keep it all in your head. The key to schedule making is to make it as simple and intuitive as possible to reduce stress while at the convention itself. Once you’ve got it, bring a hard copy with you to the convention so you don’t have to rely on your phone.

Build in the wait times

The biggest mistake I made my first year at SDCC (in 2009 when it wasn’t anywhere near as big as it is now) was not adding in enough buffer time between events. If you’re planning on camping out in Hall H all day this won’t apply to you, but for anyone who needs to get from a Point A to a Point B sometime during the day, they’re going to have to build that time into their schedule. 

Navigating the convention center is no simple task, and that takes time. Getting out of the convention center to an offsite event takes time. Arriving at a destination and waiting in line to get into the room takes time. Each of these things has to be considered when building out your schedule. 

The kicker? Your gut instinct is probably wrong. Take the amount of time you think it will take and add half an hour as a basic rule. If you’ve allowed too much wiggle room? Great, you arrive early or have time to grab a snack. Building in wait times gives you time to make mistakes or get distracted, which can and probably will happen. 

Look for hidden gems

We have talked about this before but it warrants repeating: look at everything on the schedule. It is easy enough to scroll through and skip over panel titles that don’t have connections to big, popular networks or series but you might be surprised who shows up for those panels. There are a lot of talented people doing popular work who also agree to join in to discuss other, broader issues pertaining to the industry as opposed to only showing up to their sanctioned panel. 

If you take your time to carefully flip through some of the smaller panels, odds are you are going to find some gems you won’t want to miss. Plus, smaller panels are less likely to be recorded and available later. The biggest panels are almost always recorded and can be caught on Youtube after the convention. 

Those are our big tips for con-goers this year for SDCC. If you have your daily schedule figured out already then you should start to think about your evening plans, too. My final piece of advice is this: leave time to be spontaneous and remember, even if you can’t do everything you are still going to have an experience like no other.