Someone at work posted pictures of herself working a hosting company booth at a Joomla! Day conference and it reminded me of my times “behind the table.”
At tech conferences and geek get-togethers everywhere, there are sponsor booths or tables, typically giving away some trinkets or t-shirts in an effort to get you to buy what they’re selling. I sat behind those tables many times, and it was always interesting.
When I worked for a group of hosts in Los Angeles, we set up a table at dozens of Southern California code camps and traveled up north several times for the Silicon Valley code camp. After a few return appearances, you start to see the same people and get to know them. For better or worse.
When I say “worse,” I’m thinking of the kind of people who will monopolize vast chunks of your time when other people at the table clearly want to ask you a question. They don’t seem to understand social cues (which isn’t an unusual trait among very technically-oriented people – no offense if that’s you, I find it charming.)
Also, “worse,” some people lose their minds over free stuff. We would always time it to dramatically open a big box of “premium” items when the crowds were at their peak. The premium items were things just a notch above our typical unexciting table items which were pens, notebooks, candy, etc.
For instance, we opened a couple boxes of aluminum water bottles once, and you would have thought it was a run on a bank or something. We were tossing them into the crowd just to relieve the crush of people at the table. I’m not kidding.
Other seemingly innocuous items that caused chaos when they were unveiled were (branded) full-size Frisbees (the mini ones pictured above were popular, but not mass hysteria-popular) and Slinky’s. Go figure. You could have bought any of those items for $5, but people hovered them up like they were rare and valuable artifacts.
As far as the “better” aspect, at one of the So Cal Code Camps I Tweeted:
Free hosting for anyone who can bring us a Pizza! 😉 #socalcodecamp
Which got a couple of retweets, as well as – kind of unbelievably – a stack of California Pizza Kitchen pies. “I didn’t know what you wanted, so I brought a variety,” our benefactor said.
He turned out to be a customer who graciously declined to take me up on my offer of free hosting. Which was lucky for me, since I hadn’t run the offer by anyone else at the company before I Tweeted it.
But free pizzas aside, one of the best “better” things was how many customers would approach us just to say hello. I don’t think we sold many accounts; the Code Camps weren’t really conducive to selling. But I got to meet many of the people we served, something most of the other people in the company never got a chance to do.
I wouldn’t volunteer to do it again, but it was fun for a while.
Traveling for work, I’ll tell you, when I started to do that, I thought that was the greatest thing ever. Get to go somewhere else for a few days – Portland, San Jose, Atlanta, San Diego – stay in a nice hotel, eat room service meals, go see a Penn & Teller show in your slippers. It was a cushy assignment.
But after a couple of years going to Las Vegas for the New Media Expo, the bloom was off the rose. I don’t like Las Vegas. Which is a kind way of saying I hate it. Thankfully, I never had to work a table there, and I really enjoyed most of the conferences. But the city – no.
After the fourth Vegas trip, I told my boss I didn’t think we could gain anything from the conferences anymore, and I retired from business travel (for the most part).
I just remembered a funny story from a Silicon Valley Code Camp, but this is much too long already. Maybe in another post.