4 ultimate truths about conference relationship networking


Conference etiquette is a complex, unspoken dance for event attendees. It’s a time to catch up with old friends and colleagues and hopefully meet some new people too. And let’s not forget the main mission: get business done.

But I have to laugh during every event. Why? I am witness to an unwritten social code we’ve all agreed upon. It’s not like we had a big meeting about it, but we’ve somehow adopted the same strategy to deal with interpersonal interactions throughout the event.

If you didn’t read our “Conference Cocktail Party Survival Guide,” check that one out now!

Before we get starts here there is a disclaimer: I have never, ever never done any of the points I am writing about below. Never! ;-)

The One-Time Hello

We all have a different levels of relationships from one person to the next. Some are our close chums and some we never met. But what about that in between group where we sort of know them, but aren’t too close? Well, it seems we’ve all decided that a one-time quick hello to each other is fine during the event. The rest of the time, well, feel free to ignore each other.

Of course, sometimes there’s the requisite acknowledgement head nod when walking past each other, but mostly it’s about going about your business once you’ve gotten through the one-time pleasantry. See you next for another hello in the next city!

I Don’t See You

Perhaps you’re late to a meeting during the event, or you haven’t had the chance for that formal hello yet with someone. (See above.) Well, simply look like you are headed somewhere and pretend you don’t see the other person. Sure, they know exactly what you’re doing, but he or she is cool with it. You’ll get to that hello, eventually. But for now, you’ve got places to be. Chances are the other person is relieved to not have to take a moment for this politeness either.

Just Fakin’ It

I am so sorry I have no recollection of who you are: It’s not my fault! After all, Malcolm Gladwell said it’s hard for us to get to know more than 150 people. And I am on my 5,000th person. Now, I certainly don’t want to be embarrassed, and you seem to really know who I am. I also know I should absolutely know you. So, I’m just going to pretend I know who you are. It’s OK, you just did the same thing to someone else on the other side of the room. But this time, I swear I’m going to remember you next time. Maybe. OK, I won’t. But I am going to try. Well, I think I am going to try in the moment at least.

The Name Tag Peek

A close cousin to just faking it is when you totally forgot someone’s name and need to peek at their name tag for a refresher. But heck, you don’t want them to see you doing it. Chances are, if you’re in my personal space I know exactly what you are doing. My advice: If you recognize that face, but have slipped on the name, try to catch it from afar before you make eye contact. Once you do, you’ll be sucked in tractor-beam style into a hello from which you cannot escape. And a note to conference organizers: Stop with the itty-bitty-teeny-tiny fonts on name tags. It’s too small for aging eyes, and if you want attendees to have a better event, this is an easy way to help facilitate networking. 

What are some of the unspoken rules of conference etiquette you’ve discovered? Share them with me for a follow up article. Don’t worry, I’ll change names to protect the innocent. Email me at [email protected] or on Twitter and Instagram @TravelingGlenn and let me know your opinions.

Glenn Haussman is editor-at-large for HOTEL MANAGEMENT. His views expressed are not necessarily those of HOTEL MANAGEMENT, its parent company Questex Media Group, and/or its subsidiaries.