Name badges as conversation starters

Posted by  Robyn —November 7, 2007
Filed in Anecdotes, Collaboration

Graham Harvey in his book ‘Seducing the Vigilante Customer ‘ tells of his experience in a restaurant.

“Even though I sort of half guessed what the answer might be, I went ahead and asked the question anyway.

“Why do you have Cardiff, Wales written under your name?”

“Cardiff is where I was born.” replied the waiter.

The conversation then continued for a couple of minutes centring on how long she had been in Australia, why she had left Wales etc. She also explained that everybody in the hotel had their birthplace inscribed on their respective name badges and how positive the idea had been in creating conversation between guests and staff.”

Although Graham is looking at this from a sales and marketing perspective his point is relevant to any group that is trying to build relationships. A key step in establishing rapport is engaging in conversations on a first name basis as quickly as possible.

You could have a lot of fun with this. Here are a few possibilities from the conventional to the quirky:

* your nickname

* sports you love to play or watch

* the footy team you follow

* your favourite biography

* what’s on the cover of your diary

* a thought provoking quote

* your personal motto

* the beginning of an interesting story

Can you suggest any better ones?

Add something interesting or unexpected to a name badge at your next seminar, conference or community of practice kick-off meeting and watch curiosity get those conversations started.

About  Robyn


  1. Stuart Reid says:

    How about ‘title of the book I’m currently reading’?

  2. Krista says:

    At the recent ACT-KM Conference we had an activity where we turned our name tags around and put a word on the back (as it was blank). There was no specific reference. It was meant to be any word we felt had a special meaning to us. People chose anything from hobbies to special interests to the name of one of their children. I had ‘song’ on mine, and I found ‘jazz’, ‘bass’ and ‘music’ within the first few moments of the activity. I went on to meet people with many other interesting words on their name tags. It was a really enjoyable activity.
    In retrospect I think it would have been good to have put our words under our names, as suggested in your blog, Robyn. I might then have remembered the actual first names of ‘jazz,’ ‘bass,’ and ‘music.’
    I also like the suggestion of choosing a topic, as you’ve noted.

  3. Robyn Ciuro says:

    Thanks Stuart and Krista. I like the idea of questions that, like yours, have just enough complexity to trigger curiosity and conversation without being completely baffling. I plan to add both of those suggestions to my list along with two more I thought of this morning…”The most interesting biography I’ve ever read” and “My favourite website”.

  4. Tushar Panchal says:

    Very insightful. Next time around, I might try something like this when we all turn up with our name tags.
    Humans have a natural tendency to be inquisitive of unusual and interesting artefacts within a group/community, especially when there is an element of fun/reward attached to the behaviour.

  5. Nerida Hartn says:

    I concur with Krista. Some of us added a sticky post it instead of turning our name badges around. I now know who else is interested in Patterson’s Curse and who has rural properties thanks to adding mine as just plain old ‘PC’. It was a great ice breaker as I ended up talking to people I would probably not have started a conversation with in the normal course of events.
    I intend to use this again at workshops.

  6. Daryl Cook says:

    Great post Robyn. This reminds me of the “Hi, my name is Scott” story about the guy (Scott) who deliberately wore a name tag around everywhere to increase his opportunities for interacting with other people. It was a great success!

  7. Douglas Schultz says:

    I would like to suggest an acronym or other term used in your business, particularly if you are in the consulting or other sales business. It would give you the opportunity to talk about your product, particularly if it is not a common acronym.

  8. Ford Harding says:

    This techniques has a side benefit: If you don’t remember someones name, you have an excuse to read it on her nametag, while pretending that you are just looking at the birth place, book title or whatever other message is included on the tag.
    Ford Harding

  9. Robyn Ciuro says:

    Great point Ford… all those courses on memory are based on “pegs” and this gives people another peg to hang the name of the person on as well.
    This is obviously a technique with plenty of applications – icebreaking, connecting and the plain old fun of finding out something new about someone.
    Tunshar’s comment reminded me of the role of curiosity in learning as well. In the deep, dark past of my teacher training I can vaguely remember that there were two kinds of curiosity. Perceptual where the learner responds to a novel or new stimulus and epistemic where a question arises that demands an answer and potential solutions are brought into play. This activity seems like it would trigger both kinds which might be what makes it so effective.

  10. Robyn, nothing scientific here, but a good anecdote for you folk at Anecdote nonetheless.
    I’ve recently returned from a US holiday with my family and found the “where I’m from” thing is a common factor in many places including Disneyland staff, SF Giants baseball hosts, waiting staff at almost all the family/casual restaurant chains – Red Robin, Joe’s Crab Shack, Outback Steakhouese, etc.
    It REALLY IS a conversation starter and barrier breaker – “Oh, hey! You’re from Fresno. We visited there last week.”
    Much like the value of social networks in removing barriers I discussed on my blog last week, having something like your birthplace or some other barrier breaker offers huge social value in getting things moving between people.

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