Nametags at conferences have one main purpose, and one related subordinate purpose:
- Make it easy for attendees to identify each other and each other’s organizations.
- Make it easy for attendees to pretend to remember people they’ve met, but whose names they’ve forgotten.
This yields five possible ways nametags can fail:
- The type is too small, often because the nametag focuses on things like the conference name—even though everyone knows what conference they are attending—rather than the participant’s name.
- The type for the participant’s name is large, but the name of the participant’s organization or department (when the conference brings together people from various groups) is small, or even entirely omitted. That’s bad, because knowing a stranger’s organization can be a great icebreaker—”Oh, you’re from the Judean People’s Front; you must work with my old classmate Otto,” or “You’re the guys who work on sanitation, medicine, education, and wine; my colleagues and I just litigated a wine-related case in Anderson County, Texas ….” (Related problem: Poor color contrast either for the participant’s name or the participant’s organization.)
- The nametag is hanging down on a lanyard by the participant’s bellybutton, so one has to look there in order to pretend to recognize someone.
- The nametag is hanging down on a lanyard by the participant’s bellybutton, so when people are talking over a meal, the nametag is below the tabletop and thus invisible.
- The nametag is flipped around, which is especially common with those lanyard hanging-down-by-the-bellybutton nametags.
The solution to #3 and #4, of course, is to have the traditional clip-on nametags or things like them (some versions use magnets) and not the hanging nametags. If you want to offer both a clip and a hanging option, that’s fine, and it might be helpful for the people whose clothes lack lapels, and who can’t attach the nametag to the clothes’ neckline. But absolutely have the clip or the magnet as at least one of the options.
(I’ve blogged about this before, but I was recently at a couple of conferences where I ran into some of these problems, so I thought it was worth mentioning again.)