Illustrations by Tyler Zenk
I’ve been attending and speaking at digital conferences since the late 1990s. I’ve spoken to rooms as small as 18 and as large as 3,200. I’ve spoken over 200 times and talked to thousands of attendees. And when it comes to conference attendees, I’ve noticed some patterns.
So treat this post as more than mere anecdotal evidence. It should be taken as cold, hard truth.
The Line Cutter
The Line Cutter is a scammer extraordinaire. He (it’s always a male) gets in by loudly insisting that his ticket was somehow lost in the system and he knows he paid and someone is going to hear about this outrage. The conference usually lets him in if only to shut him up. He then hones his line cutting skills at lunch, the keynote, and at the vendors who have the good freebies. Avoid at all cost and do not feel bad about “accidentally” leaving a foot out in the aisle as he passes.
I fall into this group. The Floater doesn’t stay with a group, or a partner, but prefers to drift about, hanging with different folks and meeting a few new folks here and there. Floaters are good and won’t bug you.
The Greeter can be awesome to know–and a little bit annoying after a while. They feel it is their mission to greet every attendee they recognize—and that’s a lot of people. Not to be confused with the Professional Attendee, the Greeter spends more time meeting and greeting than actually seeing the conference sessions. Worst place to be caught by the Greeter? Definitely at the urinal, as they will strike up a conversation anywhere.
The Lone Wolf
Lone Wolves are easy to spot. Just hard to talk to. They aren’t there for your opinion or your friendship. They have one of two agendas:
- Their boss is making them attend. Look for an extra surly snarl and grunt greeting.
- They genuinely need to learn something. They are not listening to you, but are in fact, mentally weighing which talk to attend to next.
The Autograph Hound
The Autograph Hound is here to collect autographs like a serial killer collects skulls. They are the only known conference attendees who can beat Line Cutters to the front of the line for getting a book signed. They will demand a lengthy, personal inscription—for a book they have no intention of reading
The Speaker’s Shadow
The Social Fresh conference is very fun and the year I attended it was on a cruise ship bound for Cozumel. While mid-conversation with Chris Brogan, I encountered the Speaker’s Shadow for the first time. Chris was literally tailed by a group of young Shadows who were obsessed with his fame and clung to every word from his lips. Being on a cruise ship, Chris had no escape.
My research has led me to discover that the Speaker’s Shadow is not, in fact, a living groupie, but rather an undead fanboy who is haunting the conference.
The Selfie Queen
The Selfie Queen is generally a female that wants a selfie with every speaker, despite their active protests and will go to great lengths to get one. After the conference ends, expect to see several posts about the, “Time I spent with my new bestie [insert name]…”
No relation to the Selfie Queen, the Photobomber is not even intentionally doing this. Somehow the Photobomber simply appears in every conference photo, usually in the background with a terrifying visage, like a toddler lost in a grocery store.
The Vendor Groupie
The vendor groupie misses most of the conference talks in favor of chatting up the vendors in the hallway. There are two subspecies of Vendor Groupies:
- The “I LOVE your product” Groupie. Self-explanatory.
- The Creepy Vulture, who is there to creep on the pretty models that many vendors bring along to provide eye candy for an erstwhile boring product.
The Contrarian, aka, the Know-it-All
The Contrarian is often an old professional in the field who actually knows what they are talking about. Perhaps too well. Contrarians, be they male or female, are mansplainers at heart. They wait patiently for the speaker to slip up and attack. The attack can take on three forms:
- “I have a question, well, a correction to your third point, really…”
- A barrage of angry tweets ridiculing the speaker.
- A blog post that was written solely to troll the speaker and gain 15 minutes of Reddit fame.
The Unrelated Questioner
This type is easy to spot. They spring up like meerkats at Q and A time with questions that have nothing to do with the topic. Nothing. An example. After having sat through an informative and exhaustive presentation on cyber-security, I witnessed an Unrelated Questioner ask the speaker why people are watching on-demand TV instead of prime time. The speaker calmly asked her if she was in the right conference.
The PickMe wants to ask a question, be chosen to join onstage, or win the raffled off Apple Watch. Problem is, PickMes are well camouflaged from the keynote speaker and from the balding guy who walks around with the audience microphone. The PickMe can be any age, height or body type, so look for a desperate expression, dilated pupils, and unrestrained hand waving.
The Professional Attendee
The professional attendee seems to attend every conference ever created. Professional Attendees know the ropes and will leave the casual observer alone. It is unclear how they are able to attend so many conferences. Presumably, they work somewhere. More research is needed on this fascinating species.
The Swag Collector
A once-common species, now critically endangered, the Swag Collector should be sought out by the serious conference participant. Their life mission is to stuff their swag bags with every pen, fidget spinner, t-shirt, and glowing temporary tattoo at the conference.
Their call is shrill and unrelenting. “Hey, can I have your extra Hubspot pens? Can I? Can I? Can I? Thanks, buddy.”
The Solitary Supermodel
Every tech conference has at least one attendee who is an immaculately-dressed, European supermodel. Those who cautiously approach her are left wondering what a La Perla lingerie model is doing attending the Mobx-state-tree Workshop.
The Phone Charger
The Phone Charger is a newer species, often a Millennial, who can’t seem to keep her phone charged. She spends 90% of the conference in the hallway, working on her MacBook Air, while her phone is permanently affixed to the one available wall socket.
Avoid this type. She will steal your charging cables without your knowledge.
The Work Skipper
This type has no interest in conferences. They are there for two reasons:
- Avoiding their day job
- Attending the after parties
The Work Skipper is a fun species and always knows where the beer line will form.