Badges at Conferences

Laurent Haug blogs about [conference badges](http://liftlab.com/think/laurent/2007/12/13/badges/) and his desire to make [LIFT](http://www.liftconference.com/) a badge-free conference.

Funny, I was also thinking of badges at LeWeb3. But actually, the main thing I was thinking was: when are conference organisers going to stop making one-sided badges dangling at the end of a thingy that is designed to let them rotate freely?

I personally like badges and would be quite unhappy without them, because I’m a *very* bad physionomist. I index “person data” by name. Dozens of times at conferences, people come up to me saying “hey, Steph, how’ve you been?” — sometimes their face looks familiar, others it doesn’t even ring a bell. Half the time, I’m saved by the badge. I catch a glimpse of their name, and all I know about them, our shared history if we have one, comes back to me. I index people by name.

So, take away the badges, and I have to use the awkward “excuse me, before we say anything more, would you mind telling me your name, because I’m so bad with faces?” — I do it (I’m not one of these people who can pretend very well), but I really prefer the badges. I’m one of these rude people who’ll turn your badge around to read your name — but the presence of the badge makes it easier, because it suggests that we’re going around reading people’s names.

Also, I know a lot of people online without knowing their faces, and badges do help with that.

There are things I do not like about badges, though. I’d like to highlight two of the “cons” Laurent points to, because I agree with him:

> – Chest navigators. People who walk through the conference starring at badges looking for keywords like “CEO”, “Facebook” or “Press”, usually for bad reasons. You end up losing your time with these 95% of the time.
> – Misconceptions from titles. This is especially painful for people working for big companies where you HAVE to have a lousy and arrogant title. From a really cool dude I met at Leweb working for Microsoft: “People see Microsoft on my badge, so their crap filter goes up one level. Then they see Marketing and they start to draw strategies to get away from me”. The guy is brilliant, open, helpful, all the opposite of the stereotype that his badge could push you into.

Laurent Haug, “Badges”

I would definitely go for the following:

– get rid of “castes” on badges
– get rid of formal company names or job titles: let people choose what they want written on their badge
– print them on both sides!
– look for creating solutions like headwear — or maybe stranglers?! — to get badges off people’s chests
– absolutely avoid pin-on or sticky badges (as a woman, I have to say I really don’t like putting them smack on my breasts, I’d rather have something hanging around my neck)

Some thoughts in the “Devil’s advocate” department, though:

– there are situations where it *is* useful to know what company the person you’re talking to works for, or what position they have
– badges printed on only one side are handy: write something on the back, stick business cards in, or the programme of the day
– no badges adds serendipity to networking, which is good.

Feel free to share your badge thoughts and experiences.

5 thoughts on “Badges at Conferences”

  1. Uhm, yeah, I agree with your points: I’m afraid I’m also bad with faces and a name is usually a quick way to those hidden memories.
    But yes, let’s leave the “casts” out of it. The “three tag” system in use during unconferences like barcamps could be successful in that… you can choose the three labels you want to be associated with.

    On a lighter note, as a man, I obviously think badges smacked on a breast can have their charme 😉

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