Tales from the Booth #1 (or, One of the times I Worked at a Tech Conference)

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.

take a leap

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.

My coworkers enjoying the fruits of the pizza Tweet.

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.

day 70


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