Nametags at Conferences: Three Fails

Three errors conference organizers often make with nametags, and how to avoid them.


Nametags at conferences have one main purpose, and one related subordinate purpose:

  • Make it easy for attendees to identify each other.
  • Make it easy for attendees to pretend to remember people they've met, but whose names they've forgotten.

This yields three possible ways nametags can fail:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. The nametag is flipped around, which is especially common with those hanging-down-by-the-bellybutton nametags.

The solution to #2 and #3, 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 as at least one of the options.

And if you're wearing a nametag with a clip, clip it up as high as you can (e.g., on the lapel rather than on the jacket pocket), so people can see it easily with a minimum of looking down. You might even deliberately clip it on the right, so it's extra easy to see when people are shaking your hand, though that's not strictly necessary.

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  1. Or, you can just stop pretending to remember people's names, and try to remember people's names, and be honest when you can't.

    1. Well, I *can* stop pretending -- I just don't want to.

  2. tags?

    In the 21st century?

    How about an app that everyone gets when they apply for the conference.

    Then you hold up your phone to the unknown person you want address and the phones will sync, and will then display each others info.

    People can then decide whether to delete their info after the conference or keep it on line for the other attendees to see if they wish to contact them later.

    Any patent lawyers here? Can I patent this idea?!?

    1. conferences have apps and accessible databases of attendees - and other apps sync contact info by 'bumping' phones - so a lot of this is out there already. Not a patent attorney - but i suspect you'd have a lot of trouble with obviousness rejections if you applied for a patent on this. (i.e. given the prior art, someone skilled in the art would find it obvious to combine these ideas.)

    2. Yeah, just what I want at a conference - even more ways for a hacker to insert malware onto my phone. No, thanks.

      Besides, you don't think it would be rather obvious that you're suddenly holding your phone at eye level before addressing the person in front of you? That would defeat objective 2 (the ability to maintain the social fiction that you remember me). Might be feasible if you had a pair of google glasses or related technology but it's not practical yet.

  3. Is there a problem with people having fake nametags with joke names like "Dick Hertz"?

    Or is that just me?

      1. This sounds straight out of the season 1(?) finale of Silicon Valley on HBO.

  4. Putting the tag on the right is a vey good idea.

    1. I still don't get this. Do people lean their right side forward when shaking hands, rather than face forward? Or is it a matter of naturally looking where their hand is, then up, so right is better?

      Seems to me, if i face forward, and reach my hand out to shake, it will cross the right side of my chest, potentially obscuring a nametag in that location, but leaving clear the left side of my chest.

      1. Try it in front of a mirror sometime. Or better, videotape strangers meeting for the first time. Most Americans have a relatively large sense of personal space. They have to step through that space to shake hands. In doing so, we lead with the right foot and right hand and the left side naturally drops back slightly.

        It's not much but it's enough that a nametag is now at an oblique angle and harder to read. At least for the majority if us who aren't getting enough exercise to have chiseled leading-man chests.

        A nametag on the right, though - you are correct that the arm can obscure it, but only if you're wearing it down around your belly-button as described above. If it's on your lapel or pocket, your arm will stay well below that visual line.

  5. Of course, the other issue with clipon name tags now is that they are instruments of rape, because they lead you to look at a persons breast. Likewise one that hangs around the 'bellybutton' (were you afraid to say genitals) is also a statement of sexist male domination. The only sane action is to ban all conferences.

    1. Name tags are yet another vehicle of domination and male entitlement, forcing others to look at their genitals, and me to look at women's breasts.

      1. Holy cow - are some folks unfunny, or what

  6. The more elegant solution to problem #3, which supports both clip-on and hanging nametags, is to make the name tag double sided so it is readable no matter which side is facing the front.

    1. Well, that would solve problem #3 for hanging nametags. But it wouldn't solve problem #2 -- and it's generally not needed for clip-on nametags, because those generally don't flip around.

  7. The clear solution here is to make the nametags baseball hats that everyone has to wear during the conference.

    Then everyone's name will be right on their forehead.

  8. Is this a tip from the "libertarianish' gathering known as CPAC?

  9. Wear your name tag on your right lapel where ones eyes are drawn during a greeting handshake.

  10. I think I would avoid a conference of gauche hatted people.

    I am a hat person, I wear a fedora. The purpose of a hat, and then a cap, is to honor others by appropriately removing it. The honor is in the inconvenience, of a salute, of a doffing, of an opened door, of the respectful silence.

  11. Does the proper placement of the nametag change depending on conference? I'm thinking of my favorite math joke.

    How do you tell a introverted mathematician from an extroverted mathematician? When talking, the extroverted mathematician looks at *your* shoes.

  12. "1. The type is too small, often because the nametag focuses on things like the conference name..."

    This may indicate that you've misidentified the primary purpose of conference nametags.

  13. Write your name in large marker on the back, so if it flips around people can still read it.

  14. Suggestion for a 4th, "Don't do it." Don't use illegible fully-saturated colors. Want to keep your name secret? Put it on the tag in a color like the orange used on this website for some of the names. Why aren't all the commenter names the same color, by the way? Why some blue and some orange?

  15. i learned long ago to put my name tags on the right side of my chest. When you shake hands (people still do that dont they?) you eye automatically looks at the other person's right side (ie left side as you look at it)

  16. Another problem - sticky name tags that can't stick to nice suits.

  17. Another trick: to avoid the backwards-nametag on a lanyard, simply write your name on the back side of the nametag, so that whichever way it's hanging, you can see your name.

    Also, lanyards can be shortened by knotting excess cord behind your neck. This way, the nametag sits higher up.

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