Big Little Things

Is a name tag a conversation starter?

There’s an interesting post on Seth Godin’s blog about name tags and large groups of people. Apparently, homeboy loves name tags:

…doing name tags properly transforms a meeting. Here’s why:
a. people don’t really know everyone, even if they think they do.
b. if you don’t know someone’s name, you are hesitant to talk to them.
c. if you don’t talk to them, you never get to know them and you both lose.
d. if you are wearing a name tag, it’s an invitation to start a conversation.

At first read, I thought he was advocating sticking your name on your breast-pocket like the rest of the herd and hoping someone will talk to you simply because they can read your name—and maybe he is—but I think there’s more to it than that. What he’s really advocating is doing something, anything really, that will invite conversation between strangers. And in that regard, he’s right on.

But to my mind, name tags alone don’t cut it anymore. Nor do the 2-sided lanyards they often hang from. These things reek of a meeting or presentation where power point rules, and every one’s got their elevator-pitch nailed to their foreheads. These are the kinds of gathering that make me want to kill myself.

But if you can do something to start a real conversation—and if that conversation’s about the people you’d like to talk to, rather than about what you’d like them to know about you—you’re gonna go far.

This doesn’t happen by accident or by chance. You gotta want it. You gotta work at it. And you gotta prepare for it. The world’s best pick-up artists are constantly honing their game and developing ways to engage other people. So come bearing gifts or conversation pieces that anyone can engage with. Create a game whose success depends on people working together. Learn as much as you can about the people who will be in attendance so you can draw the interesting ones into conversation. You’ll wind up getting a lot more out of it than just a name.

Do you have any other good suggestions for creating conversation with strangers?

2 Responses to “Is a name tag a conversation starter?”

  1. seth godin Says:

    we violently agree

  2. Deborah Khan Says:

    As I am technically incompetent, and it is very late in London, I will respond here and copy this to Mr Godin’s site.

    I hate tags and refuse to wear them, much to the chagrin of security staff on many occasion.

    Name tags are indeed often aesthetically nasty, low tech, they leave huge holes in your clothes (in your best event clothes, to boot) and do not support effective communication.

    Far too often they are devisive. People talk to you if they believe the organisatrion you represent may be of value to them. For me, an independent, I could flutuate between a range of organisations. And some with the word Royal in the title at that. But ultimately, so what.

    The responses are often to the organisations not to me and can be extraordinary.

    What do any of the tags signify, paricularly to visual leaners? Yes Seth, I too have lead large events for diverse clients and I find that a commitment to learning names and faciltating work connected to peoples values, their stories, their thinking and their hopes far more memorable.

    I have experimented. I believe in the empathetic and experiential approach- what connects me to this person and how will I remember them?

    I am useless with names. I need to find a method of remembering that does not neccessitate staring at their chest or somewhere esle inappropriate on their body.

    The tags poduce lazy engament.

    Finally- my name often generates what I would consider intrusive questioning- ethnic names often do. If only I didn’t disappoint them with my response.

    But. If you insist. One fun and useful method I had was to design tags for someone else based on their responses to situations and questions. They can be visal, abstract and immediately create a link with one other person-your personal designer.

    How lush…

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