Protecting your evangelist/advocate: Part 3 – Maintain personal space

Working as an evangelist or advocate often involves presenting at conferences and user groups or working at booths at conferences. There are a few things you can do to reduce the chance of encountering harassment. In this post, I’ll talk about the importance of maintaining personal space.

What is your personal space?

There is a reason we call it personal space, because it is *our* personal space and the moment someone enters it uninvited you tend to feel uncomfortable.

It depends on culture

The size of a personal space varies from culture to culture. I experienced that difference  first hand. I live in Canada, and my parents are British. The Brits are not known for being touchy feely. At my French high school, I was completely taken aback at the graduation celebrations when the parents of various class mates gave me big hugs and a kiss on the cheek. Who are these people and why are they touching me! This was their normal, and they greeted all the other graduates the same way, but it was not my normal, and it made me uncomfortable.

It depends on situation

The size of your personal space also varies depending on circumstances. Even in the UK, I know if I hop on the London Underground at rush hour, I will be jammed in close with other passengers. But, I would never stand that close to someone if the subway car is half empty.

It depends on relationship

The other factor that defines our personal space is how well we know somebody.  You might be fine with a good friend moving in for a hug and kiss on the cheek or sitting closer to you on a bench in a restaurant, but that might be too much from a co-worker. An acquaintance can stand a little closer than a complete stranger before you feel uncomfortable.

Creating personal space in a conference setting

Let’s imagine for a minute you have just finished a presentation. You have a couple of good friends who came to cheer you on. You also have the unfortunate luck to have someone who has already made you slightly uncomfortable online or in person in the room.

The presentation ends. Your friends come up to congratulate you.

*IF* you greet your friends with a big hug, the other person may feel like they can walk up and hug you as well! They already feel like your friend from the conversations shared on Twitter or at the conference dinner last night, so hey, I get a hug too right! When you let one person into your close personal space it is easier for others to invade that space.

But, what if your friend comes up to you after the presentation, and you greet them with a big smile and a strong handshake that keeps them firmly 2-3 feet away. When you set a clear boundary with someone who is clearly a good friend, then it is much more awkward and unlikely anyone else would presume they have the right to move in any closer. Don’t worry about offending a friend. You can explain later, and they will quickly adapt to your ‘business personal space’.

Selfies

The new era of selfies creates an interesting dilemma. It seems rude to say no to a request for a selfie (although that is absolutely an option, there are celebrities who have decided to do exactly that).

Taking a selfie requires letting someone inside your personal space, and means you have someone posting a picture of you and them that is beyond your control.

There are a few ways to maintain some control if you do decide you are cool with selfies.

Watch movie stars and celebrities walking a red carpet, when they take selfies with a fan, notice how they take the photo themselves so they can control the space between them and the fans.

Watch Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in action. Justin is famous for posing for selfies. He is fully aware of and controlling his personal space at all times. He lets the other person take the picture and usually places himself just behind them, even when he places his arm behind someone he isn’t necessarily touching them. Only in the group photos do you occasionally see him start to lose control and someone manages to sneak an arm around his back. (Now if this were a female celebrity I doubt they would have even allowed that one arm around the waist or that peck on the cheek.) Watch how as soon as the selfie is done he turns to face the person and shakes their hand or touches them on the shoulder re-establishing his personal space.

Summary

Let’s be clear, 999 people out of 1000, or even 9,999 people out of 10,000 won’t cause you any problems if you ignore everything I listed above.  But, if you do encounter that one person who makes things awkward it can cause a lot of stress and misery. So defining a larger personal space and making a conscious decision about how you want to handle selfies in work situations will give you more control and reduce the chance of issues or escalation.

If you found this post helpful, check out the rest of my developer relations related posts. 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

 

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