Conference Etiquette – Swag

This week I attended TechEd 2014 in Houston, TX.  It was the very first time I’d ever been to TechEd.  What an experience!  There were SO many people there!  It was amazing to see all of the different speakers, vendors, and attendees.  I was also incredibly impressed by the caliber of the folks that surrounded me.  While at TechEd, I was working at the Microsoft Premier Support Services booth.  I gave a small presentation on Performance Profiling with Visual Studio in addition to chatting with all of the folks that stopped by the booth.  Now, I’m about as far from as a salesman as it gets, but I loved having the chance to talk tech with all of the folks that came by the booth.  I had some amazing conversations in those four short days.  It was great hearing about the different projects that folks are working on currently.  Microsoft’s Premier Support Services really is a fantastic offering, so it’s easy to talk about that as well.

Like most of the other vendors at TechEd, our booth had some swag to give away.  In our case, we had LED light up ice cubes.  They’re water proof and freezable so that you can actually use them in your drinks.  They were awesome and looked like this:


Not surprisingly, they were also popular amongst the conference goers and we had a pile of them at the booth.  On the last day of the conference, we needed to get rid of the last of them, so we stacked them up like a pyramid.  It turns out that a stack of 150 or so blinking light up ice cubes is like a beacon from outer space.  It drew in so many folks that we couldn’t keep up with all of our guests.  Our pyramid looked like this:


I’m on the right and the fellas on the left are fellow Premier Field Engineers, Luke Newport and Heath Lawson.  It turns out that three engineers can turn on all of those lights and assemble them into a pyramid in about 10 minutes.  Impressive, no?

As we stood at the table, I was surprised at the number of folks that came up to the booth and just grabbed one of those little ice cubes and then left without talking with us at all.  Don’t misunderstand me: I like to collect volumes of swag as much as the next person.  However, swag exists to attract folks in to a booth and have a conversation with the vendors running the booth about whatever they’re offering.  So, the purchase price of the swag is a conversation with the people providing the swag.  I understand that this happens every day at conventions around the world, but it still feels wrong.

At one point, we had about 15 of these little ice cubes sitting on the table.  I was the only person working the table at the time.  An attendee walked up and asked a question that I didn’t know the answer, but I knew where he could find the answer.  We walked about 40 feet down the conference floor and I introduced him to the other Microsoft folks that could answer his question.  I was literally gone less than 20 seconds.  When I returned, every single ice cube had been taken.  Every.  Single.  One.   I can’t begin to describe my disappointment.

So, what’s the conference etiquette for swag?  Is it naive of me to think that if someone wants a little piece of swag that it’s worth a conversation?  Or, should I just give up hope and give the swag away as fast as possible to whoever comes by the booth?  Further, if the swag is just taken from the booth when nobody is around, is it theft or is it just the cost of doing business?  What do you think?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.