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3 ways to stand out at a tech conference

May 29, 2012, 3:26 PM UTC

By Alex Taussig, contributor

I spent much of last week at Pier 94 in NYC, attending TechCrunch Disrupt NY. The last time I was at Pier 94 was for a modern art show, so it was a bit strange seeing a bunch of developers hanging out where hipster painters and sculptors stood only a few months before. Truly a unique NY moment of quasi-deja vu.

With (I’m guessing) ~60 companies on display, it was hard for me to cover all the ground I wanted and, conversely, hard for the companies to flag down the right investors.

Some companies were great at attracting the right type of attention. Some were not. I wrote down 3 things the best ones did, and 2 things I wouldn’t recommend repeating:

DO: Run a contest.
Everyone loves free stuff. Moreover, contests are a great way to draw someone in. I walked by a booth, and a founder asked, “Excuse me, but how many contacts do you have in your phone?”

Innocent enough question. “I don’t know. A lot.”

His reply: “Well, if you look it up, I’ll put it in our database, and the person with the most contacts wins an iPad.”

We spent the next few minutes figuring out how many contacts I have in my phone (4,470 it turns out), not talking about his business. After we were done, however, the conversation flowed very naturally into what he was working on, which turned out to be in the contact management space.

I thought this was a clever ruse. Hopefully I’ll win something as a result.

DO: Have 3-4 people at the booth at all times.
You should always have one person free at your booth to greet passers by. This is hard to do if you only have 1-2 people because they both will get occupied, leaving new visitors the choice of awkwardly standing by waiting to talk to you, or simply walking away. Having 3-4 people will almost always result in your having a free body to manage the flow of new visitors to your booth and make sure all are welcome.

DO: Get the biggest LCD screen you can find and run your demo on a loop.
The first thing I do when I enter a conference with a lot of demo tables is walk the floor looking for something that catches my eye. I am in pure pattern recognition mode, and my goal is to get a lay of the land, in order to prioritize my time. Your marketing materials have about 5-10 seconds to catch my attention on this loop, so they need to clearly demonstrate what you do.

You’d be surprised how often companies fail at this. I’d recommend just putting a giant LCD screen on your table that shows a screencast of your product’s user flow on a 1-2 min loop. Don’t assume that people can hear an audio overlay either. You need to communicate the gist of what your product does purely with visuals.

DO NOT: Chase people down.
One entrepreneur literally chased me down as I was walking by briskly, and he immediately started pitching me. When you do this, it makes you look desperate. The key to putting on a good show at these conferences is to get the audience to come to you. Think “anglerfish,” not “shark.”

DO NOT: Hire a mime, contortionist, or wear a body suit.
Oh yes. See, this will get you a lot of attention, but it’s the wrong type of attention. If you’re going to make a splash at a conference, do something clever and related to the messaging of your startup.

I usually point to WePay’s phenomenal stunt at the PayPal X conference a little while ago, where they dropped a 600 lbs block of ice at the entrance with frozen dollar bills inside. The message? “PayPal freezes your accounts.” Brilliant.

Alex Taussig is a Principal with Highland Capital Partners and invests in early stage technology companies. You can find this blog post, as well as additional content on his blog You can also follow Alex on Twitter @ataussig.