18 conference etiquette tips to build a stellar reputation & avoid looking like a jerk

18 conference etiquette tips to build a stellar reputation & avoid looking like a jerk

Don't be a conference jerkConference season is upon us–does it ever really end?–and there’s a good chance that you plan to either attend, or speak at, at least one conference in 2013. I’ve lost track of how many conferences I’ve been to in my career, but there are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way and there have been plenty of observations to share–all designed to help you make it through any conference with your reputation unscathed.


[highlight color=”yellow”]1. Bring extra batteries for your latops or tablets.[/highlight] Likely there won’t be enough outlets and you might kill someone if they have trip over your legs and cables as you sit along the wall–that is supposed to be used  as an aisle–because you’ve set up shop next to an outlet. Tip: Pick up a battery pack from someone like Zagg.com. Bonus tip: Bring extra charging cables. Just in case you lose one, or decide to be a hero and lend your spare one to someone that forgot theirs. 😉

[highlight color=”yellow”]2. Don’t upload/download video on the conference network.[/highlight] Seriously, conference Wi-Fi is known for its suckitude. Please don’t add to our woes by being the person that uses it to upload video or download the latest episode of The Walking Dead for the flight home. Tip: If your device is 4G/LTE enabled, use it. You, and everyone using the conference network, will be happier.

[highlight color=”yellow”]3. You will be judged by your appearance.[/highlight] This applies equally to both sexes. I’m not going to tell you not to wear your skirt above your knees or your pants below your boxer shorts, but know this: what you wear will go a long way to how your reputation will be perceived. Embrace it, or go with business casual and not worry about it. Tip: If you are going to wear a comical t-shirt, why not make one to promote your business? Zazzle or Cafepress offer reasonable rates on single shirts.

[highlight color=”yellow”]4. Silence cell phones.[/highlight] The moment you enter the conference building, turn your ringer off. People have paid good money to hear the speaker, not your cute ring tone. Tip: If you do have to take a call, leave the room. No matter how quiet you think you are talking, you are still causing a distraction.

[highlight color=”yellow”]5. Respect a speaker’s time.[/highlight] Know this about a conference speaker: at the end of the session they may a) be scheduled to speak at the very next session, b) may desperately need to use the restroom, c) may not be able to solve your problems in 2 mins. Tip: Certainly ask a question, but if you break out the laptop and ask for a consultation, you are being rude. These guys get paid for their expertise–don’t freeload.

[highlight color=”yellow”]6. Don’t build a kingdom of chairs.[/highlight] That empty seat next to you is not reserved for your backpack or handbag. Be considerate about taking up more than one chair, especially if the room is crowded. Tip: If you see someone looking for a chair, and there is one empty next to you, raise your hand and let them know–you just made a new friend!


[highlight color=”yellow”]7. Don’t present with a hangover.[/highlight] I understand that the lure of an open bar can be very tempting, but if you’re hungover the next day your presentation will suffer. No one wants to see a disheveled speaker that sounds like he just got out of bed. Tip: If you must drink the night before your presentation, drink plenty of water and get up at least 4 hours before you are due to speak–so you have time to eat and clean up.

[highlight color=”yellow”]8. Add your Twitter username to each slide.[/highlight] You may share the best information of the conference, but it’s wasted if the audience doesn’t know your Twitter handle. Don’t assume they will either know it or remember it. Place your @username in the footer of at least every other slide. Tip: Don’t get cute and create your own hashtag for your presentation. Attendees have enough to remember as it is and you may annoy the conference hosts, if they have their own hashtag.

[highlight color=”yellow”]9. DO.NOT.READ.EACH.BULLET.POINT.[/highlight] Nothing will ruin your reputation as a speaker faster than lengthy bullet points that you then proceed to read to your audience. Your bullet points should be conversation starters, not your entire thoughts on a topic. Tip: Speaking is 50% education, 50% entertainment. You will be fondly remembered–and score higher on evaluations–if you provide valuable info in a memorable way.

Dilbert on Powerpoints

[highlight color=”yellow”]10. Don’t make a sales pitch.[/highlight] Yes, you can talk about your company, but do so in a single slide, preferably at the outset of your presentation. No one paid money to hear you sell your service or product. Tip: Don’t hold back on your expertise hoping to get hired. You are more likely to get hired if someone thinks to themselves: “Wow, this speaker gave a lot of great info, she must know what she’s doing!”

[highlight color=”yellow”]11. Don’t abuse your allotted time.[/highlight] If you’ve been allotted 10 minutes to speak, don’t take 20. Seriously, you’re just going to bore the audience and annoy your fellow speakers. Tip: If you’re not the rehearsing type, then assume at least 1 minute of speaking time for each slide in your deck.

[highlight color=”yellow”]12. Get off the stage when your session is over.[/highlight] When your session has reached its end time, please take it “off stage.” Don’t continue to sit there and consult with those audience members that have come forward. Likely the next guys are eager to get set up for their session. Tip: You don’t have to end the discussions, but suggest taking them to the hallways.


[highlight color=”yellow”]13. Remember your elevator pitch.[/highlight] In 30 seconds–or 140 characters if you like–practice describing who you are and what it is your company does. That may be all the time you get to introduce yourself. Tip: Explain your company in terms of benefits, not features. Bonus points, if you can relate your business to something personal to the person with whom you are chatting.

Moo Cards[highlight color=”yellow”]14. Don’t go cheap on your business cards.[/highlight] While business cards are no longer as important as they used to be, they’re still a great way to make a connection. Just like your appearance, you will be judged by your business card. Unless you seriously have no budget or time, avoid printing them at home or using Vistaprint. Tip: Get your business cards from Moo.com for something unique and interesting.

[highlight color=”yellow”]15. Know your business card etiquette.[/highlight] In Japan, it is custom to read both sides of the business card before stuffing it into your pocket. Whenever I am handed a business card, I take the time to read what’s on it and show respect. It helps me to remember the person’s name and I may find something on the card to talk about (“Oh, you’re from San Diego? I love the zoo there, have you been?”) Tip: It is better to be asked for your business card than to force it on someone.

[highlight color=”yellow”]16. Don’t make a sales pitch to everyone you meet.[/highlight] Seriously, networking is not the time for selling. You are there to make connections, let the business side of things happen naturally. Tip: Talk more about the other person, than yourself. You will be remembered more fondly.

[highlight color=”yellow”]17. Hands on your glass.[/highlight] The only time your hand should be touching another person is to shake their hand. Unless you are already friends with someone, do not hug, do not touch their leg, do not rub their back. This goes for both genders. You’ll either send the wrong message or become the subject of a blog post.

[highlight color=”yellow”]18. Follow up.[/highlight] If you say you’ll send someone an email or follow up, do so. Don’t miss that opportunity to reconnect and perhaps do some business. Ideally, you should follow up with someone within a week of returning home–so the connection doesn’t go cold. Tip: Do not add someone’s contact info to your email mailing list unless they specifically asked.

OK, what have I missed. There has got to be other tips that you feel are worth sharing. What else would you suggest to someone looking to work a conference like a rock star?

ByAndy Beal

Andy Beal is The Original Online Reputation Expert™. A bestselling author of two critically-acclaimed reputation management books, a keynote speaker at dozens of events, and brand consultant experience with thousands of individuals and companies.

    44 Comments for “18 conference etiquette tips to build a stellar reputation & avoid looking like a jerk”
    1. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for these invaluable tips! One I’d like to add: attendees – someone has to sit next to you during sessions. Please practice good hygiene! Bourbon breath, BO, and last night’s clothes may seem funny to you, but it is just gross. Same goes for if you’re unwell. Please attempt to cover your cough, I do not care to bathe in hand sanitizer.

      In Addition, yes, us ladies know where those badges tend to land on our person. Gentlemen, please take note of our name and our company, and move the eyes on upward. We do appreciate it when you make eye contact and talk to our faces 😉

      1. Erin – I Always have a clip badge pin in my suitcase so I can take it off the lanyard and clip it to my lapel – that way I dont look like a walking chest billboard……..

      2. One more thing… Show some respect. If you’re going to a session, pay attention. Don’t walk to the front of the room with sunglasses on, lay on the floor, and make a big show of putting your feet up. Presenters can easily turn attendees into evangelists by acknowledging them and treating them the same way they’d treat an industry “celeb”. I guess it all comes down to basic manners for attendees and presenters.

        1. Good one, I forgot to add that one. Be nice to everyone, even if you think you’re celebrity! I remember Rand Fishkin telling me that, before anyone knew who he was, he spoke to me at a conference and, thankfully, I was really nice to him. That first interaction led to a great friendship, him hiring me for consulting, and many opps to work together.

          1. I (and I’m sure many others) are very grateful that you chose to follow that advice! Conferences can be intimidating, knowing a friendly face at the podium is very comforting!

    2. 3.a You will be judged by your smell. Deodorant – use it. Gum – chew it. Great tips, Andy! And a good reminder before SMXWest – you going?

    3. Great advice, Andy. Since you did ask, here are two things I’d add: 1) Attendees – don’t be disruptive when entering or leaving a conference session. If you’re showing up 20 minutes late, sit or stand in back and be courteous to everyone else. 2) Speakers – If you’re on a panel take the time to divide up the topics. I get it, you’re busy, but do a conference call or at least respond to an email thread so you don’t overlap material. Seen it happen.

      1. Great additions, thanks. Yeah, that’s where a good moderator is key. They should guide the panelists to ensure little overlap in presentations.

    4. The battery tip is awesome – I actually never thought of it. Step one to not being a big fat jerk-face. I hope every person who ever attends the same conference I do in the future reads this post, haha.

    5. LOVE the part about the business card and standing out. Nothing says lame like a old school plain jane white business card. Kick it up a notch and be noticed!

    6. I’m going to SMX West in a week and it’s my first big conference, so thanks for these tips! They’re both relevant and timely.

    7. I’ve seen people bring multiple plug outlet strips, so while they charge their laptop, they can let four or five other people do the same. Those people are popular!

    8. Nice roundup of tips! I’ll add one for the moderators… have a couple of questions in mind for the panel in case no one asks questions at first. You may need to get the ball rolling. And one for the speakers… don’t hide out in the speaker room! The best conference I ever presented at didn’t have a speaker room at all.

    9. Layers! Conference rooms are very hard to cool off or warm up. Therefore, they are kept cold on purpose. Wear a sweater and/or a coat. Business casual says: sport coat. Air conditioner says: smart!

      Fill out those surveys. I product conferences and am *desperate* to know what you think of a given speaker. Should I invite them back? For the love of all the schwag in the exhibit hall, fill out those surveys!

    10. Vegas specific : if taxi queues are outrageous at dinner time and you have a group of 5 or more people its often just as cheap and very quick to order a limo. If Uber is too busy just get the concierge to call a limo the old school way.

    11. Just saw your tweet about this post (thanks) while I was doing my favorite conference activity.. following the #pubcon tweets before the conference starts. Living it Vegas, I get lots of opportunities to meet new people, set up meetings with friends and get to know people before they get her.

      I’ve started doing this on the road to. I fly in a full day early and catch up with people online. I usually have a project or two going.. but likely to get interupted with a serendipitous invite when friends are getting in. Sometime 3-4 meetings before the meeting starts and I get to meet people while we’re all fresh.

    12. Speakers: Bring your presentation on a thumb drive… even if you’ve emailed it to them, the chances are they don’t have it on the laptop, or they don’t have that latest version you emailed them last week. Yes, it’s great to have it on dropbox, but you know how great conference wifi can be

      Speakers: If the speaker notes tell you what type of presentation it is i.e. powerpoint only, then that’s what you should deliver it in. There’s nothing worse than a gap between presenters because Johnny did his presentation in some arcane format that only works on his mac and therefore have to switch his mac in, only there’s no dongle…

      Speakers: If you have anything fancy on your presentation… get there early and make sure it works.

      Speakers: The audience have paid to hear you speak… they’ve not paid to have you play video after video… they can watch them at home. You’re there to give insights, and to talk about your experiences in ways they can relate to

    13. It seems like there’s a lot that goes into being a respectable speaker. I would imagine that the meeting room itself is a good factor into a good presentation. I pay more attention in a naturally lighted room with some space. If it’s dark and damp I won’t get much out of it.

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