It’s a new year, a new business quarter, and there are a raft of new conferences to attend. Some you look forward to, some you dread, but no matter how good or how bad, some people you’ll meet there are best avoided. Lucky for you, conference-goer, we’re here to help. For your sanity as much as your productivity, and to assure your physical survival, read on.
The essential valuation of any conference is attendance. There must be a certain number of attendees, you know, conferring, to justify holding the thing in the first place. Even if someone’s managed to book Richard Branson, if a keynote’s emoted with no one to hear it, has it made a sound?
With any gathering larger than a birthday dinner and smaller than a U2 concert, there are statistics of inevitability to consider. As soon as a conference swells into the low hundreds, indistinct but wholly concrete mathematics guarantees certain conference-specific personalities will be present, pursuant conversations so grating it’d be in your ultimate interest to defenestrate yourself before having to suffer engagement.
Some are more insidious than others. You may not know you’re trapped at a corner table with Semi-drunk Senti-man until the first mention of alimony, for example. And once he latches on, you’re in for a struggle. Or, Captain Passive-Aggressive may keep things under control for long enough for you to miss a more valuable mingle elsewhere.
Despite several variants of subspecies, all conference-goers will recognize from one experience or another, the common characteristic here is the persistence, the glomming on, the sheer adhesiveness of how this person just won’t let you get on with your day. The Leech can be tough to spot, giving few visual cues in their appearance on how long they plan to overstay in your personal space. This makes them the primary risk, their innate camouflage of intent. Stay sharp, and always have a friend on hand to text or call once you flash the previously agreed-upon signal for “get me the hell out of here right now.”
Every conference has a speakers list and attendees who want to listen to what the speakers have to say. For some, gathering imparted wisdom is a noble pursuit towards self-improvement, whereas for others, it’s all an excuse for extended fits of critique, where, if you, dear conference-goer, have found yourself in this unfortunate line of sight, you will be told everything the expert speakers paid and flown in to be should have, and could have done better. You, as a stable and balanced person, will extricate yourself from this fiery ring of whataboutery by any means necessary, and the best tactic here is a diversionary one, as in, “Holy shit is that Al Gore over there?” As soon as the windbag’s head is turned, run away. There is, sadly, no more dignified option. This is survival. Even having your ear seen in proximity of this person’s flapping mouth could destroy your professional reputation. Just bolt.
“Yeah, in public Bill says he cleared 65 mil, but trust me, he’s 6 months away from foreclosing on his mortgage.” You’re not sure who Bill is. Nor can you really confirm the identity of the man whispering this hush-hush information to you. Not that you need to know his real name. He’s Johnny Insider and he’s everywhere. He’s more dangerous than other specimens because like the purportedly secret information he so desperately needs to share with you, a stranger, it’s often impossible to see it coming. The good news is, unlike the previous two interlopers into your conference life, you can slip away relatively easily be reciprocating some kind of implied-secret gesticulation. A thumb-shot finger-gun, a wink, or an index finger across the end of the nose. It’ll throw him off guard, like you’re already in on an even better secret, which should paralyze him long enough for you to make your escape.
The Want-Job Dresser-Forer
Fake it ‘till you make it. Dress not for the job you have, but the job you want. The problem with this time-machine of not-yet-big-time is not the depth of his social malignancy, but the sheer number of him to avoid, which can add up to a serious amount of conference time wasted. If everyone one above are dangerous individuals, the Want-Job Dresser-Forer is the zombie hive-mind that will wear you down, use up all your bullets, and just keep coming, slowly, endlessly, until you are dead.
You really need to watch yourself around the conference sad boi, because all too often, he starts out as super-fun happy-to-be-out-of-the-office guy. But beware, once your guard’s down, perhaps once moderate to more-than-moderate drink has been taken, Sad Boi will strike so fast you may be halfway into a sob story of how everything’s gone wrong this year, even before you get to tell your zingy anecdote you’ve been waiting patiently to drop for the last 15 minutes and two shots of Jack. Option 1: drink through it. Option 2: Drink so much he has to shut up because you’ve puked on his shoes.