Den McHenry

People Not To Be at Tech Conferences

This is a brief list of certain types of conference attendees drawn from my very limited experience. It is, therefore, perfectly accurate and wholly unassailable in both its characterizations and its conclusions.

That framework’s documentation isn’t here to stand up for itself. If I don’t speak up, who will?

The Advocate

The speaker is still in the early stages of the talk and gives a brief description of a given technology related — but not central—to the hour’s topic. I know it’s tempting, but do not be the person who says, as though participant in a dialogue, ‘Well, it’s much more than that.” And when the speaker naturally hesitates to check the room number, worried they’ve accidentally crashed your talk, do not proceed to explain all of that technology’s capabilities, even in list form.

Now, when the speaker says, “yes, it can do that, and I’ll get to that later in the talk,” trust them. They may know something about the thing that you know about. They may know more. They may know less. But maybe they also know how much of it is relevant to this talk and this audience.

Pick your bones when the meal is done. And if you don’t, that’s fine too. Your favorite technology will not die because someone at a conference didn’t provide an oral performance of the docs.

I’mma let you finish, but me too, amirite guys?

The Chimer

Chimers think they’re part of the show, always adding to and never taking away from the experience. Sometimes they fancy themselves heroes, bailing out a sinking ship. None of this is true.

I know that you’re a very funny guy. You’re even wearing an ironic tee shirt with a coding pun or something. And I know that “there’s actually a very interesting story about this shirt.” But let’s stay focused.

These talks aren’t about you, and they aren’t about the relationship you think you have with the speakers. They’ve written their own bad jokes, and they’ve already heard the ones you’re offering at full voice from the back row. They have their own anecdotes, and they put them in the right places in this talk that they’ve honed and molded and practiced down to the minute.

If they need you, rest assured, you will hear the call to action. It will sound something like this: “We have a few minutes for discussion.”

Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more?

The Mumbler

You don’t think you’re bothering the speaker, but you probably are. You mutter little comments to the people around you, dribbling out a string of Dilbert-esque truisms in the mock-wearied tone of the perpetual ironist. You’ve been there, all right! I mean, haven’t we all? And you want the person next to you to say, “yes! I also understand what the speaker is saying. We sure do have some shared understanding, you and I.”

Some of those around you are polite, and give you the ol’ elevator smile and a bob of the head. Some are careful not to make eye contact, as they aren’t sitting through a required assembly in middle school, trying to escape their boredom. They don’t want to encourage your behavior, and yet you persist, desperate to be acknowledged in a time and space that isn’t really yours.

To your credit, it is a good thing to make connections with like-minded people, to make friends and engage with people, and so your impulse is good. But keep yourself in check. Don’t try too hard. Timing is everything.

The No-Show

It’s tempting to stay home. I get it. You work. You don’t have enough time for side projects. You could be spending more time with your kids. It’s an eternal struggle. But conferences need more people, and we get great value from attending.

I mean, have you seen how many sandwiches they throw away at the end of the day? How many name badges never get claimed?

For every one of you who fails to show or who never signs up in the first place, the advocates, chimers, and mumblers get an extra sandwich and a little more elbow room at the table. Crowd them out!

I can’t ignore them all on my own. There’s a lot of stuff to learn if you’re willing to listen, and I bet you can find some folks to grab a beer with and continue the conversation.

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