For years, name tags looked something like this (above): Name, title and organization. Small, business card size and with a pin on the back that always meant that no matter how many times you adjusted it, it listed slightly to starboard. The printing was also pretty small, making people with personal space issues perpetually nervous.  Name tags are changing, here are two I received more recently that start to work for you on a lot of levels.

This GTD Summit name tag is twice as big as the first, measuring 9cm x 11cm and popped into a sleeve hung on a sturdy cord. The first name is pulled up by many font sizes, and your identity within the community gathering is added to the information given. For an international group, skipping the official title and adding your country helps give more backstory for discussion.

This name tag, used by TED Global this year (as last year), is even bigger. Measuring in at 12cm x 19cm, it is laminated into a block hung by a cord connected by clips on both sides – this you can see from a distance which helps at crowded receptions and also presumably to monitor entry to the venue and satellite events held all over the city. On the name tag the first name again stands out, encouraging people to be on an informal,  first name basis. The photo is an interesting addition (mine is pretty standard, but many people had unusual studio photos that gave away some secrets of their passions). Below the title, organization and place of origin (also helpful for languages), comes a section called “Talk To Me About:” followed by three key words. We were asked to pick these to add to both our online profiles as well as our badges, to give anyone approaching a substantive starting point for a discussion. Again, lots of creativity can go into these three words.

Another cool feature of this  name tag was that on the back you had the programme for the week, colour coded day by day, with the session titles, speakers names and timing. Social events and venues were also added. So when you are sitting in a big conference hall waiting for a speaker, or at coffee wondering if you wanted to go back to the big room or sit in the simulcast lounge, this information was at your fingertips to update you on what’s happening and for quick decision-making about where you should be at any moment.

In the end, a name tag is both for the person wearing it as well as everyone else attending the event, it provides provenance, establishes identity in the group, and also, if it is designed to do so, can help encourage engagement that starts further down along the usual small talk trail of questioning.

The next time you make one, think about how the name tag can be an intervention in itself? Think about how many different items of information are useful to include – and what you want the impact to be. Can it help people be on time, help people find their own language groups,  identify similarities and diversities for you so that you can get right into the most interesting conversation, encourage informality by picking out the first name, give you the sense of being one of the in-crowd by wearing a huge identifier?

Now, that’s what’s in a name (tag)! Any other innovations to this workshop staple to add?

5 replies
  1. GreenHearted
    GreenHearted says:

    For a smaller workshop format, I sometimes add animal stickers to the name tags. If I want groups of two, I make sure two of the name tags have the same animal, etc. Sometimes I make it more challenging and participants have to form their group by finding the other animals from their ecosystem.

    You're right though … the bigger the name, the better. Name tags so often are pinned or hang at chest level, and I think that's caused all sorts of discomfort when men and women are mingling at events! 😉

  2. Gillian Martin Mehers
    Gillian Martin Mehers says:

    Thanks so much for adding that nametags can also serve another utility, which is to help group formation. Putting on stickers is a great idea, and you could even put a few – we have sometimes put a letter, a number, a shape, and one of the four suits on cards, and that way you can use those for small group formation several times, depending on how big and how many groups you want.

    Having adjustable cords is definitely a good idea, just for the reason you point out. Thanks so much for adding these ideas!

  3. Rozie
    Rozie says:

    another way in which the small details matter and how we can enhance experiences with a little thought

  4. Gillian Martin Mehers
    Gillian Martin Mehers says:

    Thanks Rozie and Margaret, I agree that everything can be an intervention for learning and interactivity if we just adopt that perspective about the decisions we take in our events.

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