Belly Up to the Bar (the Badge Bar)

How do you get people interacting informally as soon as they arrive at a conference?

That was one of the design questions we considered when planning TEDxIndianapolis. One of our solutions was to create Badge Bars where participants could turn the standard conference badge into a personalized networking tool.  This activity turned out to be a conference highlight for many.  Here were the simple steps included:

1.  We designed 4x6" vertical name badges with a variety of blank squares people filled using pre-inked stamps to indicate some of their interests.  Stamps were made for about 20 different topics and were chosen based on our conference theme of Design Learning.  In addition, people could write in other topics and interests using permanent markers.

Photo credit: Big Car
2. An over-sized center square was left for a portrait of the participant.  Individuals could draw themselves, attach a sticker chosen from about 50 avatar-style illustrations, or have a personal image drawn by one of about a dozen volunteer sketch artists. That last option was a hoot.

3.  We had five Badge Bars (each with the same stamps, markers, and stickers) spaced between the registration tables and the program auditorium, four at bar height and one at traditional table height for individuals who wanted to sit while they created their badge or who were in wheelchairs or scooters.

Such a simple effort turned out to be a wonderful welcoming exercise for the conference attendees.  The majority of participants opted to decorate their badges, and the informal interaction in the hallways created a engaging buzz before the official program began. Adjacent to the Badge Bars were three activity rooms (more on those in a future post) where people could engage in various informal experiential learning activities during breaks and meals.  This "meaningful adjacency" was leveraged by having simple activities outside each room's doorway to entice people to stop by after decorating their badges.

If we were to do it again, we might make the badges a bit larger (5x7 or 6x8), as well as make it easier for people to know where their stamped images would land on their badges.  Those are minor tweaks to what was a popular first-time initiative.

How have you seen conference use name badges to better facilitate networking?

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