Protecting your evangelist/advocates: Part 2 – hotel safety

Working as an evangelist or advocate can mean travelling for conferences and events. There are a few things you can do to reduce the chance of encountering harassment. In this post I will share hotel safety tips:

Don’t stay at the conference hotel

The conference hotel may be very convenient, but it is not ideal if you are trying to reduce the chance of unwanted attention.

One of the ways to reduce the chance of unwanted attention and harassment is to draw clear lines between your work and personal life. That is difficult when you stay at a conference hotel. Conference hotels become an extension of the conference itself. Your hotel room might be the only personal space you have, and even that may not be quite as private as it seems. You may have attendees in an adjoining hotel room who can hear your conversations (especially if you have one of those rooms with the connecting door).

Since conferences are all about networking, attendees hanging out at the conference hotel may feel it is perfectly reasonable approaching you outside regular conference hours.

Two people running on treadmills one is focus and running the other is talking

You dress professionally for the conference, which sets a professional tone for any conversations with attendees. But, at some point you will likely be headed out in more casual clothing. When an attendee has the opportunity to chit chat with you in casual clothing it makes the conversation feel more personal, they are hanging out with you *outside* work.  Imagine you are in a city like Atlanta and have plans to go grab a nice dinner with friends. Atlanta is generally pretty hot. A guy might throw on shorts and a light shirt, a girl might throw on a light summer dress and sandals. It’s wonderful to ditch the conference shirt after working a booth, or attending a networking event. What you don’t want is to end up being cornered by an attendee in the hotel lobby in your shorts or dress as you wait for your Uber. What if you want to go for a run? Do you really want to meet attendees in the elevator when you are wearing lycra shorts or tights?

If you are staying at the conference hotel, treat all your time in the hotel as professional time, dress and act accordingly.

Don’t stay in the bedroom attached to the hospitality suite

Sometimes companies will sponsor a networking event, or host meetings in a hospitality suite at a hotel. Many of these hospitality suites have an adjoining bedroom. Hey awesome, says the company, we get a free hotel room with the hospitality suite. Even if that room has it’s own lock, that’s still bringing people very close to your personal space. Now someone knows exactly where your room is. At some point it’s possible someone might even go into the bedroom, entering your personal space. Keep your sleeping quarters well separated from the place where you are inviting people for meetings and networking events.

Always use the bolt on the hotel room door

You know the chain, or the flip bolt that prevents housekeeping from walking in if you happen to be on a conference call when they drop by to clean your room? Yeah, use it! Not just because you may be doing work in your hotel room during the day and you might forget to put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door.

Unfortunately, hotels occasionally make mistakes. It is rare, but I have two friends, who checked into their hotel, went up to their rooms, opened the door to discover the room was already occupied! The hotel had accidentally assigned them rooms that were already in use. One of my friends was arriving at around 2 AM when the current guest was in bed! Fortunately both friends caught on to the situation quickly and were able to leave without freaking out the current guests, but it’s a good reminder that the bolt is your friend!

Master your “don’t talk to me” look

When you work as an evangelist or advocate you want to be approachable. You want people to feel like they can come talk to you after your talk, or at the booth.  You need to practice how to look un approachable as well.  I will smile and greet everyone I meet when I am on the clock at the booth. But when I walk away, I consciously switch gears and demeanour. There are a number of ways to be less approachable:

  • Wear headphones
  • Look busy with your phone
  • Walk briskly with purpose
  • Have a co-worker or friend walk with you and be so engrossed in the conversation with them you can’t be interrupted
  • Practice your best “resting b*tch face” so you look grumpy or angry

Sadly this can be important even when dealing with hotel staff. I do have an acquaintance who used to smile and be friendly with the staff whenever she walked into a hotel. One trip, she had issues with the concierge calling her room, and then he showed up outside her hotel room door! Now she does her best ‘Don’t talk to me” when walking through the hotel lobby. Unfortunate, that one jerk out of 10,000 people you meet forces someone to act this way. 9,999 out of those 10,000 would simply smile back and never be a problem.

Be deliberate about where you eat and drink in the hotel

If you sit at the hotel bar, you are leaving yourself open to have anyone come and sit down next to you. You can bring a book or laptop with you to the bar, which is like a virtual ‘do not disturb’ sign, but that does not prevent someone sitting beside you and trying to strike up a conversation. Also being at a bar, there is a higher risk the person trying to strike up a conversation may be inebriated which creates a higher risk of uncomfortable situations and escalations.

If you sit at a table, someone might stop by and say hello, but for them to sit at your table uninvited would be highly unusual!  You can also ask the restaurant staff for a table off to the side or less visible if you do not want to be disturbed.

Don’t assume the ‘platinum club’ lounge is a safe haven. Many people who attend conferences our frequent travellers and will have access to the club lounge.  Treat the lounge as you would the hotel bar. In fact it can be worse, because

  • You don’t have a bartender to step in if needed (bartenders can be quite helpful when you have unwanted attention from someone else at the bar, many of them know the signs and will try to rescue you as best as they can)
  • Everyone else in the platinum club lounge has something in common with you, so you’ve provided an opening for conversation “Hey you stay at Marriott all the time as well! I find the W so much better than the Westin don’t you? Have you stayed at the one in Manhattan with the amazing desserts?”.

Trust your instincts in the elevator

Once in a while, I get in the elevator and someone gets into the elevator with me who makes me nervous. In these situations, play it safe. If the other person is harmless, no harm done. If the other person is going to be/or has already been a problem, you want to avoid having them in order of highest to lowest risk A) Follow you to your room; B) Find out your room location; C) Find out your floor.

Let them select their floor number first. Once they have selected their floor number you have a few choices. Which option you choose depends how much your spidey sense is tingling, and how easy it is for someone staying at the hotel to get off on someone else’s floor.

If they selected a lower floor than yours:

  • Select the floor one above or below your own. Once they get off the elevator, you can select the correct floor. Worst case you ride the elevator to the wrong floor, and ride it back down again.

If they punched in a floor number higher than yours, or you are at one of those hotels where you can only punch in the floor coded to your room key, or you are just feeling really uncomfortable:

  • Have a ‘darn I forgot to stop by the front desk’ moment, and select the floor for the hotel lobby. You can even walk over to the front desk to ask if they have toothpaste, or late checkout, if you want to carry the charade through. Or you can just wait until the elevator doors close and take the next elevator.

If you found this post helpful, check out the other developer relations posts including other posts in the safety series. If you are looking for help with your developer relations work or are interested in having me speak at your event reach out on Twitter or LinkedIn.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Have a safe signal that you want to be interrupted that your friends understand. Sit near the door to the kitchen or near the cash register so that staff can see if you need an interception..

    Reply

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