Workplace blogs

Conventional Wisdom

Being a speaker, I’m prone to conventional thinking—I spend a lot of time musing about conventions. I even grew up in convention country. In fact, we had so many conventions in my home townBeryl party that for my first Halloween I dressed up as a Shriner.

Conventions, I decided at a young age, were events where adults gathered like spawning salmon to dress in funny hats, sing silly songs and eat lots of food. Oh, and to learn a few things, such as, “What size head do I have?” or “Will my family notice I’m missing?”

Now, as a devilishly handsome adult, I realize that conventions serve a much greater purpose—namely an opportunity to escape the family, raid the mini-bar, and channel surf until our thumb develops a blister the size of raccoon.

Of course, if you want to move beyond your hotel room (although I’m not sure why you would) and excel at conventional wisdom, here are what I’ve discovered to be the seven habits of highly enthusiastic conventioneers:

  1. Arrive early. I arrive at least a week early, which gives me plenty of time to get known to all the hotel staff (prudent, especially if you’ll need someone to post bail in a strange city), pre-sample the desserts, and practice a fire drill (apparently they have some uptight law about pulling the fire alarm at 3:00 a.m., so if anyone has any other suggestions on how to simulate a realistic fire drill I’d love to hear them).
  2. Wear a big name tag. Using a font size of 142 point makes it easy for your fellow conventioneers to learn your name without them having to steal glances at your chest for 20 minutes (unless you like that sort of thing). Of course, this requires you strapping a sandwich board onto your body, but if you’re fit enough this shouldn’t pose a problem.
  3. Plan for stupidity. If you plan on saying or doing something stupid then use someone else’s name on your name tag. For example, at the last professional speaker’s convention I attended, I used the fictitious, spy-sounding alias of “Kit Grant.” This allowed me the freedom to say some really bizarre things, wear hats made out of paper napkins and run up a hefty bar tab on someone else’s dime.
  4. Network, network, network. I’m not talking about more channel-surfing. The key to conventioneering (a new word I just made up—feel free to use it) is to participate in S & M (schmoozing and mingling) with as many folks as possible, the primary purpose being to find other people who aren’t nearly as successful as you in order to make yourself feel great about your own life. You’ll also want to collect business cards so you can include strangers on your next promotional mail-out or daughter’s Girl Guide cookie sales’ route.
  5. Master small talk. The key to networking is mastering the art of small talk, which means learning a few conversation-starting phrases such as: “Hey”, “What’s shakin’ Scooby Doo?”,  “Does this name tag make me look fat?”, or, after a hearty bout of coughing, “Do you know if the Norwalk virus is contagious?”
  6. Watch the food intake. The average conventioneer gains 26 pounds. Per day. And those are the folks on a diet. The reason people eat so much is they want to get their money’s worth, so my advice is bring along a couple dozen doggie bags and make like you run a kennel for wayward pit bulls on the side. By packing home an extra month’s worth of food you’ll get great value while maintaining whatever figure you wish to maintain.
  7. Be an information sponge. The laziest way to do this is to place a mini-tape recorder in each session, go for a nap, hire your teenager (and by “hire” I mean tell them to do this in exchange for groceries) to later transcribe the recordings, then file the notes. Make sure the notes are readily accessible, as you’ll be referring to them daily. I use various word association tricks to file my convention notes under, for example, the notes I took from a recent marketing workshop I attended will be placed in the “D” section of my alphabetized drawer. Why? Because when I want to retrieve the notes, I’ll recall how I spilled coffee on my recorder while reaching for a donut. And since the donut is the most prominent thing I will remember from the session, working backwards from doughnut makes the most amount of sense. This is an example of conventional wisdom at its highest level.

I hope these tips help you master the art of conventional wisdom. I’ll be practicing all of them at the next professional speaker’s convention in Edmonton this December, and I  hope to see some of you there (notice how cleverly I avoided saying “all of you”?). Just look for the fellow wearing the sandwich board labeled “Kit Grant.”

Michael Kerr is the president of the Humor at Work and the author of six books, including, “You Can’t Be Serious! Putting Humour to Work,”  “Inspiring Workplaces,”  and “What’s So Funny About Alberta?”.  For humor at work books, DVDs, articles and other resources, surf him up at or reach Michael at

Copyright Michael Kerr, 2006


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