Nametag with knotted lanyard

Are you wearing your conference nametag wrong?

Well, that’s a stupidly arrogant thing I just asked, isn’t it?  Who am I to tell you you’re wearing your nametag wrong?  But here’s the thing: you may not be, but I can make a good case that many of your colleagues are.

Two weeks ago, I groused about poor nametag design.  I left you, then, with the teaser that there’s a lot the nametag’s wearer can do to facilitate, or to interfere with, the nametag’s function.  What’s amazing to me is that most attendees at most conferences seem to wear their nametags in their “default” configuration: exactly as issued at the registration desk.  There’s no way that default is the optimum for all people, so this is strong evidence that my (admittedly buzzfeedy) post title isn’t that far off base.

So: how can you wear your nametag better?

  • Wear it. Seriously, just wear the &^#(@ thing. Don’t put it in your pocket.  Don’t leave it behind in the hotel room.  Don’t take it off when you go off to get lunch or out to get a beer* (believe me, people who live and work near conference centres are used to this kind of mild dorkiness).  If you’re an old fogey like me, here’s what not wearing your nametag says: “I’m famous. You should know who I am. And if you don’t, I don’t care to talk to you.”  (You may not mean that, but you’re saying it anyway.)  If you’re early-career instead, leaving your nametag off isn’t obnoxious, but it does sacrifice opportunities for others to notice you and for you to make the resulting connections.

  • Customize it. If there’s blank space (and there usually is), add your Twitter handle, e-mail address, or a brief message (“Looking for Postdoc!”).  Print it neatly and make it big, of course.  Add a colourful sticker of your study organism, if you have one – anything that draws the eye will help people notice your nametag, and therefore you.
  • Put your name on the nametag’s back side. Few conferences bother to print nametags double-sided, but they frequently get flipped over – presenting an uninformative blank rectangle to the world.  You can fix this.
  • Think about where your nametag is sitting. It’s there to be seen, and it’s both difficult and awkward for someone to read your nametag if it’s riding somewhere south of your navel.  I typically shorten the provided lanyard with a simple knot (pictured above) to move it a lot closer to my face** – and I’m always surprised that people comment on this MacGyvering as if it were clever and original. It’s neither, but it works.  Ease of reading may not, I acknowledge, be your only consideration.  People will look at your nametag (that being its whole point), and you may want some influence over which body parts their gaze passes as a result. Fair enough.  You have options: for instance, shortening a lanyard or (if you’re prepared) lengthening it, or bringing along a safety pin to convert the tag to a lapel pin.  You can do more than one thing, too, as your wardrobe changes from day to day.

  • Wear it. Yes, I know this was my first bullet too; but it just drives me bananas how many people leave their nametags behind.

Do you have other suggestions?  Please leave them in the Replies.

Look, I realize that suboptimal nametag wear isn’t one of the Big Issues Facing Science Today.  But it’s low-hanging fruit.  Just a moment’s attention can make a difference, and why wouldn’t we do that?  It puzzles me that many of us don’t.

© Stephen Heard ( November 10, 2016

*^Some women (at least) prefer to remove their nametags away from the convention centre because leaving them on makes it easier for strangers to be overly familiar. That this is even a consideration saddens me, but it is.

**^I look forward to the day that holographic name displays will hover next to people’s faces – either projected by them, or more likely simulated in some kind of Google Glass-like system using RFID-equipped nametags. This will be a game-changer, and it won’t be science fiction for much longer.



23 thoughts on “Are you wearing your conference nametag wrong?

  1. Pingback: Conference nametags mostly suck | Scientist Sees Squirrel

    1. ScientistSeesSquirrel Post author

      If there’s room on the nametag (and there almost always is), write in a phonetic version in quotes. I know I am hugely grateful for help like this, because I hate mangling somebody’s name, and it’s awkward to decide whether to try or not.


  2. Abigail

    My nametag comes off as soon as I leave the conference center. It’s a safety thing. I don’t need random guys on the street or at the bar thinking they can harass me because they know my name. (This has happened to me.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jeremy Fox

    I agree with you completely that everyone should wear their nametag inside the conference center. And I make sure mine faces forward and that it’s at a useful height (which is why I shorten the lanyard on the ESA nametags).

    But I’m still taking it off when I’m away from the conference center, so that I don’t look like a dork. It’s not that I don’t want students to talk to me, or that I arrogantly expect them to know what I look like. As evidenced by the fact that I’m very happy to chat with anyone who comes up to me, whether inside or outside the conference center. But sorry, I think it’s perfectly reasonable and not at all arrogant or standoffish for me to take my nametag off when leaving the conference center for meals. Here’s why (tl;dr: I respond to a post making a big deal of a small thing by making a big deal of my small objections):

    -Almost everybody at the ESA meeting, very much including students, takes off their badges when leaving the conference center. Does this make all of them–even the students–standoffish and arrogant? No. Rather, it means that *none* of them are standoffish and arrogant, because they’re just following common practice. Conversely, leaving my badge on outside the conference center at the ESA meeting does *not* signal to students “Hey, come up and chat with me, I don’t bite.” Rather, it just signals to them “I forgot to take off my badge”. Now, if you want to argue that the usual practice should change so as to facilitate more chance interactions outside the conference center, ok. But you can’t make that argument by trying to make this an issue of bigwigs being standoffish and arrogant. Because it is *not* just bigwigs who do this at the ESA meeting.

    -When I’m away from the conference center for meals, I’m always with at least some people I already know. They don’t need me to wear my nametag. And I’ll introduce myself to the people in the group whom I don’t know, who subsequently won’t need me to wear my nametag.

    -In my admittedly-anecdotal experience, students who would hesitate to approach me at meals mostly would hesitate to approach me whether I was wearing my badge or not. They hesitate because they see me deep in conversation with people I already know, not because I’m not wearing my badge. I wish they wouldn’t hesitate to approach me, I’d be very happy to stop chatting to the people I know and say hi to them. But in my experience I can’t make them any less hesitant to approach me by wearing my badge.

    -When I’m walking to the conference center in the morning from my hotel, and I’ve forgotten to put my name badge on, no biggie, I’ll be at the conference center in literally 60 seconds, at which point I’ll remember to put it on.

    -The number of people who don’t know me but want to meet me is vanishingly small. As evidenced by the small number of strangers who come up to me to say hi at the ESA meeting every year in the conference center when I’m wearing my badge. It’s like, I dunno, maybe 5 people or less annually? And as evidenced by the fact that a couple of years ago Brian, Meg, and I held a meetup at the ESA meeting during a poster session, to which we invited anyone who wanted to meet us. We advertised it heavily on Dynamic Ecology. About 5 people came. (a fair retort would be “This just shows that you’re not a bigwig Jeremy.” 🙂 ).

    -It is vanishingly unlikely that somebody who doesn’t know me and doesn’t know what I look like but knows who I am will be deprived of the opportunity to have a substantive interaction with me because I’m not wearing my badge outside the conference center. Anyone who doesn’t know me or what I look like but knows who I am is *vastly* more likely to happen to cross my path inside the conference center than in some restaurant or bar that necessarily contains only a *very* small proportion of the conference attendees. And anyone who doesn’t know me or what I look like but knows who I am and is inclined to stop and say hi upon seeing my badge almost surely doesn’t want to do any more than just that–say hi. I’m sorry, I’m sure this will make me sound unfriendly, but if somebody who doesn’t know me or what I look like but knows who I am misses out on the chance to say hi to me because the only time they happen to cross paths with me is in a bar one evening, well, that’s life. I don’t see how I’ve done the least harm to anyone. Saying that I shouldn’t take off my badge away from the conference center in order to prevent this unlikely and harmless possibility is like saying that I shouldn’t change my appearance, say by growing a beard. Because after all, there’s a remote chance that, if I grow a beard, somebody who knows who I am and sees my name badge but also sees that I look very different from what I used to look like might mistakenly assume that I’m some other Jeremy Fox. Should I not grow a beard so as to reduce to zero the chances of this far-fetched and totally harmless possibility? (aside: purely hypothetical example, I will never grow a beard)

    -A response that only applies to me personally: I’ve advertised on Dynamic Ecology that I’m happy to chat with anyone who comes up to me at a conference, and I’ll probably say it again before the next conference I go to. And I’ve written posts encouraging students to approach people at conferences and offered advice on how to do it. That’s not mutually exclusive with wearing my badge outside the conference center, of course. But I’m confident that it’s done much more to facilitate student-faculty interactions at conferences than me wearing my badge outside the conference center would. So if you reject all of the more generally-applicable arguments above, I’m going to fall back on “my blogging has earned me the right to take off my badge and not look like a dork away from the conference center; I’ve already done my part to facilitate faculty-student interactions”.

    p.s. If you reply that I always look like a dork whether I have my badge on or not, I’m going to reach through the internet and punch you. 😉


    1. ScientistSeesSquirrel Post author

      Well, that comment sets a length record for Scientist Sees Squirrel, although not, I think, an importance record 🙂

      I think you’re probably right that the benefit to wearing your badge outside the conference centre is small. But if “looking like a dork” is the only cost you can come up with, well, that’s pretty close to zero, and that seems to make (small benefit) > (trivial cost).

      I find rebuttals from Abigail (above) and others like her more convincing. You and I may be fortunate that for us the cost is only dorkiness. If the cost for others is a meaningful increase in P(harassment), well, I can completely understand their cost/benefit calculation.

      And I will not tempt you to reach through the internet and punch me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jeremy Fox

        You forgot to account for uncertainty. Guarantee of small benefit vs. an uncertain small cost. The cost will often be literally zero (if no one who knows who I am and wants to meet me but doesn’t know what I look like happens to pass by me in a restaurant but never in the conference center), and otherwise will be small. Accounting for uncertainty of costs of course tips the scales towards the certain benefit. /end pedantry 🙂


        1. ScientistSeesSquirrel Post author

          I think our (mutually trivial) arguments are flipped. In mine the costs and benefits are of having the nametag ON. In your reply, they seem to be of having the nametag OFF. Although by this point if anyone is still reading I’ll… um… never mind.


    2. sleather2012

      Regarding wearing your badge away from the conference centre – reasonable – my comment about breakfast was in relation to those conferences where the whole event including accommodation takes place at one site – usually a university campus. On the other hand I note on my trips to London (thankfully a lot less frequent than formerly) that there seem to be a lot of ‘normal’ people wearing their work lanyards and swipe cards in public on the underground and in the street – so not only identifying themselves but where they work!


  4. Amanda Valois (@what_fish_eat)

    I love the twitter handle suggestion. I’d love for a bright sticker to put on name badges says “Follow my conference tweets, ask me my handle” to facilitate conversation. Only because the only opening lines I can think of are awkward comments about the quality of cheese at the buffet.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Friday links: NSF proposal tips, WHEEEEE!!!, and more | Dynamic Ecology

  6. AJ Kunce

    Hi, I make name tags for meetings, luncheons, etc. Nothing as big as a multi-day conference though. My boss sent me to your previous post on name tags, not because she thought I did a bad job, but that I already make the name VERY LARGE and easy to read. I like the suggestion of printing on both sides, offering lanyards and clips, and having space for twitter id etc. I’ll definitely try to incorporate some of your points in my future designs.


  7. Pingback: Negative results, conferences, and the open file drawer | Scientist Sees Squirrel

  8. Pingback: Posts for conference season | Scientist Sees Squirrel

  9. Pingback: Brian, Meghan, and Jeremy will be at #ESA2018–say hi to us! | Dynamic Ecology

  10. Pingback: 5 Reasons You Should Attend That Next Conference | NFICA

Comment on this post:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.