Sign up for our newsletter

That felt right. We’ll be in touch soon about our new secret handshake.

Sorry, something went wrong!

Let’s keep this relationship going.

Please also send me occasional emails about Zendesk products and services. (You can unsubscribe at any time.)
Please select an option


How not to be an asshole at a conference

Everyone loves a good conference.

There’s free swag, good food, and inspiring talks that send you back to work ready to make a difference. But conferences can also be overwhelming to navigate and draw together a whole host of personality types—which sometimes for me, as an antisocial, introverted, work-from-home freelancer, can be a bit much.

Whether you’re more like me and go searching for a quiet re-charging station, or have larger than life personality type, here’s a heads up about what behavior makes you an asshole when we’re all trying to share the conference space. Watch out for these folks at the next conference you attend—I bet you’ll spot one or two.

The unauthorized salesman

You know those people who sell knock-off purses out of the trunk of their car or from a bedsheet laid out on a street corner? You see them at conferences, too.

Not with bedsheets, of course, but there are those that have come ready to sell their own products, not endorsed by the company hosting the conference or by the event’s sponsoring vendors. Networking is one thing, but slipping in your own sales demo on the side is something else—something even the newest, hungriest startup founder shouldn’t do. Unless, of course, someone asks or shows genuine interest. The snack line should be a sales-free zone.

The trick-or-treater

People joke that if you buy pizza, college kids will show up. If we all have our own breed of assholery, this one is certainly mine—I’ve never grown past chasing free food.

When we’re talking about a conference, I’ll totally put two of those free kombuchas you’re handing out into my purse for later. Same goes for the other swag, too. I mean, you never know when you’ll find yourself in need of 70 stress balls, seventy zillion branded pens, and an unlimited supply of notepads.

(Okay, let’s be clear, I get it with the notepads. I’m a writer and I’ve also got an unhealthy obsession with Sticky Notes and all things paper.)

I’m guilty and I’ll admit it, but even I have limits. For one thing, there should be enough samples to go around. So watch yourself and don’t go overboard. And if you are a trick-or-treater like me, there’s a way to build your karma. If you try a product and like it, write a review or mention that company on social media. That goes a long way towards making up for your bulging canvas tote bag—and the messy trail of discarded swag you’re probably also, inconsiderately, leaving behind.

Note to swag stealers: Pay it forward by writing a review or mentioning the company on social media.

The wantrepreneur

Also known as a superfan, it’s cool to bring buckets of enthusiasm to a conference—as well as all your business book smarts and knowledge of entrepreneur-focused blogs.

It’s less cool, however, to be the person that knows more than the speaker, or the one that hogs the mic during Q&A sessions or holds up the meet-and-greet line. Putting in 110% at a conference generally means showing up on time, listening well, and taking home learnings that you can apply in the real world. It’s not about fangirling all over speakers, waiting for an autograph, and tweeting at every speaker just to get some social media recognition. Seriously, rockin’ out to tips on managing your team or whatever-it-is-you-do is just a little weird.

The disengaged

Conferences take us away from work—meanwhile work is still going on. We all get that. Sometimes we need to log on to take care of a few things, or else we’re trying to take really great notes to prove that we did, in fact, attend the conference.

Conferences also benefit from those who blog and provide free marketing or live-tweet events. No company wants to put the lid on that, but sometimes this behavior is counter to what makes a conference a success. Hiding behind a screen, headphones in, comfortably aloof isn’t really a good look. Moreover, social courtesy is still a thing. Be a good audience member and don’t keep your eyes on your phone for the entire session. Presenters want eye contact and to know you’re listening.

Also, keeping your Twitter profile up is one thing, but getting your shopping done on Amazon Pantry is another.

The over-networker

Must. Meet. All. The. People.

Indiscriminately handing out business cards is counter to what they’re meant for: confirming an authentic connection. Any conversation you have, even at a conference, shouldn’t begin with, “Here’s my business card.” Instead, save them for when someone expresses an interest to stay in touch, or when there’s a need—this is how you make conference connections that last.

This kind of networker is using a kind of “spray and pray” marketing tactic, and while it may result in a few calls or some business, chances are the success rate, and gains, will be low.

Any conversation you have, even at a conference, shouldn't begin with, "Here's my business card."

Playa, take your game elsewhere

My snark wears thin here because as much as I want to think society is good and kind and there’s no way that we need a code of conduct for public spaces, it’s just not true. Conferences are professional events, focused on forward momentum and shared learning. They are not an elaborate scheme for getting some, so don’t spend a sponsored happy hour trying to take someone back to your hotel room. Let your fellow conference goers relax or make a new friend without worrying about fielding your lame pickup lines.

That being said, if you find love at first sight or simply fall head over heels for one of your fellow conference goers, you’ll find no judgment from me. Go for it. I met my "couplepreneur" partner at an evening lecture in college. You know that whole “our eyes met across the room” thing? That’s us. The only problem was that he knew right away and it took me a few years to get on board. ;)

Happy conferencing friends! Try not to be an asshole, and if you discover you are... it’s ok, we still love you. Maybe.

In a time when we're all inundated with self-improvement advice on how to go from good to better, maybe what we need is some help being… less annoying. For more where this came from, read our tips for how not to be an asshole in the office kitchen, while commuting on public transit, in a meeting, on an airplane, while taking a selfie, or when you've got a flexible schedule and your colleagues are trudging in for the 9-to-5.