Day 139: Notes from a PyCon sponsor booth — an anthropological exercise

I’ve been to a lot of conferences in the tech sector, and my preference is to work a booth. Last year I attended PyCon as an attendee, and it wasn’t quite a fit for my interests. I’ve learned how to hack the engagement experience from the vantage point of a booth using just a little bit of people-watching.

Here are a few of my secrets.

“Take things!”

It’s a weird phenomenon, but I have to constantly remind people to take the things in my booth. I gesticulate widely to encourage people to come by and swipe a pen or lens cleaner whenever possible.

It’s actually a wonderful ice-breaker to take the initiative and get people more comfortable to act on their instincts. I can tell by their eyes that they want to just grab whatever’s on the table — they just need the green light.

Keep it low-pressure

Nobody likes the hard sell, especially in the tech sector. Of course, in the back of my mind, I’m hoping that all of these efforts result in more people joining our community, enrolling in our programs, and becoming data scientists.

All in due time.

The best I can do is introduce who we are to the broader tech community and, if we’re lucky, invite people to follow up with us later. I prefer to inform, not persuade, and ultimately it creates a more trusting relationship when I’m more focused on their interests as opposed to mine.

Pace yourself

Engaging with people can take up a lot of energy, even if you’re self-identified as extrovert like me. Whenever I get a chance, I try to eat, take breaks, go for a walk, and even goof around.

The worst thing you can do is let the stress of engagement get to you. Even if you don’t know it’s happening, people pick up a lot on body language, tone, and facial ticks. It’s always preferable to be well-rested.

Just have fun

Nobody wants to be around someone who is there reluctantly to work. I sometimes bring games, have casual conversations, or even find something fun to do with the neighboring booth members.

Once at a conference, I created an entire multiplayer game using a partially-inflated beach volleyball and a recycling bin. The results were slightly dangerous but overall quite epic.

Got any other tips? I’d love to hear them.

— Lee