Should You Take a Quirky Spouse to a Professional Conference?

I recently received an interesting reader question from Jazmin of Capital Web Writing. Her question was about whether or not it would be appropriate for her hubby to accompany her to a conference, especially given his unique quirks. She gave me permission to share the email and my thoughts here. I'd like to hear your thoughts on the topic as well.

Here's the email:

I finally have a question that you may have never been asked! Is it customary to bring your spouse to networking events? What if the event is out-of-town (think Seattle, and I'm in NY)? It might be nice to have my husband there because I'd like to avoid being the weird loner standing next to the food table. But, I also don't want to seem weak (e.g. I'm not confident, so I had to bring my husband along).

Additionally, my husband is very unconventional. He plays the drums. He's the GM of a store, so he's not an office type of guy. And, he insists on wearing a Steelers cap even when he's in a suit! If it is customary to attend networking events with spouses, would you bring my rocker-boy husband if you were in my shoes?

And here's the gist of what I told her, and a few additional thoughts after the fact:

  • Go for it.
  • You're not going to be tied to conference events 24/7, so if you think you'll enjoy the city together why the hell not? It's not like he has to be chained to you the whole time.
  • I wouldn't say bringing a husband along shows weakness. Only you can show weakness in yourself. Your arm candy doesn't have that superpower.
  • If your partner's unconventional, so what? I say that's all the better. Maybe Jazmin's hubby's cap would prove to be an interesting conversation starter and help her meet some interesting folks. Things like that can only make you uncomfortable if you let them. If something like that ever makes me uncomfortable, please remind me to promptly remove stick from ass.

I have plenty of my own quirks, so in my case my guy would be the "normal" one. For example, I won't wear suits. If you ever catch me at a conference in a suit (unlikely given that I usually refuse to go -- although that's another story altogether) it means I'm either there in disguise as someone who gives a sh*t about such things or I'm preparing a strip tease and that's my get-up.

Another thing is that unless there's more than a half inch of snow on the ground, I'll be in flip flops. I don't care what else I'm wearing at the time. My feet will be relatively free. They're happy that way. I'm happy that way. And I don't particularly care that other people often find said flip flops inappropriate. Attending, presenting, whatever -- you be you, I'll be me. I don't believe in putting on a show to impress people, and I wouldn't expect that of my partner or anyone else I might drag along with me.

Now I bet there are plenty of folks who disagree -- who either think you should be all buttoned up at these things or who think it's important to keep up appearances because (God forbid) you might meet someone "important." That's cool. Do what you want. My philosophy though is that no editor, publisher, colleague, etc. is more important than I am (or anyone else is) -- people are just people, and they can either be impressed by who we really are or they can suck rocks for all I care because I won't think about them again anyway.

While I can already sense the cringing, I can say you'd probably be surprised by how many so-called "important" people have been impressed over the years by the simple fact that I'm not one to conform to their self-imposed standards. And if that means bringing along a partner, friend, kid, or whatever to a professional event, then so be it.

Thoughts? Would you bring someone along to a conference? Would you care if they (or you) didn't meet people's standards in some way while there?

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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13 thoughts on “Should You Take a Quirky Spouse to a Professional Conference?”

  1. I don’t think there’s a problem. The last conference I attended, my hubby went with- donning his Cabela fishing cap. No one seemed to mind. In fact it was a good conversation starter with some of the people there.

    I don’t dress up for that kind of stuff. I’ll look nice, but I don’t go all out in what I wear. Some of the people, I’ve seen, go too far. It’s hard to concentrate on what they’re talking about when you’re distracted by a bunch of sparkling sequins on a dress or blouse.

    • Exactly. You never know who might share an interest (or even be a fan of a rival team, which could certainly spark interesting conversations of its own). As for sequins, I have to agree on that. Very distracting. And scary. Why do they still put them on clothes?

  2. I don’t have any problem attending conferences or the like with a spouse because they might have a negative impact on me, not at all.

    The problem I do have with taking a spouse along is that I’d be concerned they were bored!

    If they wanted to go, great. If they didn’t, then that’s fine with me. I’m a pretty confident type of guy who enjoys doing things on his own, so going to somewhere without a partner is fine.

    Re the dressing up – I enjoy wearing a trousers and shirt, so if I’m going to meet a client or to a conference or something similar, I’ll usually go for a trouser-shirt combination. I’ll almost never wear a tie, though, unless it’s for a majorly formal occassion.

    But it doesn’t bother me either way if people do or don’t. I like ‘dressing up’ to work events, so I do. If people don’t, then that’s fine with me – I’d much rather be talking to someone who knows what they’re on about who’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt than someone who has no idea but looks the part.

    PS to Jazmin – there’s nothing wrong being the loner at the buffet table; you get all the best food that way 😉

    • Same here… I don’t really care if others want to get all dolled up. I don’t judge them any worse for sporting the suit than I would someone walking around in sweats. Unless I become a fashion critic it’s just not my job to care.

  3. True story – I took my husband (then boyfriend) to our office party. We were sitting on the couch chatting with one of the supervisors and he looked right at her and asked, “So why doesn’t your company promote individual contributions?”

    I did hate that job, but I didn’t think they needed to know that as much as he thought they did. Though the terse conversations on Monday were interesting….

    I say the Steelers hat is a MUST. 🙂 I say as long as her husband doesn’t corner the boss and start listing all the things Jazmin hates about the company, he’s good to go.

  4. Oh, I am so excited to read some replies!

    This questions was really starting to make me sweat. Do I turn him into James Bond for a night? Do I leave him alone altogether? Or, do I just ask him to lose the cap? I was stumped.

    I did ask him about momentarily losing the Steelers cap, and he said something along the lines of “well, is this other one okay?” Thanks for all of the encouraging comments about the cap, because I think this one is nonnegotiable.

  5. Hahahaha, I can’t tell you how much I felt your pain on this one. When I was in the insurance industry, I took my hubby to some events. I also took him to a speaking engagement I did because I wanted him to video the event so I could turn it into a marketing CD.

    My husband is a liberal political activist and a musician.

    Insurance agents are often not liberal, and often not musicians.

    I was scared sweaty 90% of the time.

    But my hubby (and I suspect yours), while not good at putting on an act, does understand how to tone down some of his more boundary pushing personality traits. He was sexy and charming and funny and the perfect plus 1. Although, I don’t think his sexiness really had any benefit other than the fact that I enjoyed it.

    As far as the cap–KEEP IT!! Definitely! If anything, his sports thing might give you a GREAT conversation starter and an in with a client who otherwise might not have cared either way. There is nothing wrong with being an unconventional and memorable person.

  6. I took my husband to a media event I needed to cover once. He works nights so he needed to take a nap in our hotel room before the event. When it was time to get ready to leave he wouldn’t wake up! A lot of the event promoters knew that he was to be in attendance and I had a lot of awkward conversations trying to explain that he wouldn’t wake up. lol

  7. Actually, since my partner is a web developer we often end up going to the same networking events (web events are a minefield of people who can’t write but need writing done). We learned pretty early on that we were best to split up at these things – armed with each other’s business cards in case – because otherwise we were the couple that no-one wants to approach, or we were too comfortable chatting to each other and didn’t make the leap to go and talk to other people.

    Usually this works great; sometimes it leads to unintended hilarity. We did this ‘together but separate’ thing at a workshop on marketing. When we had to do the little spiel about who you are and what your business did, the guy running the workshop got very excited about how complementary our businesses were and made us exchange business cards and arrange for a coffee meeting. We both kept quiet and tried not to laugh.

  8. Absolutely bring him, but make sure you do what you need to do while you’re there. Don’t get too comfortable being around your man that you forget to network appropriately. As for what he’s going to wear, if he can pull it off with humor and grace, he’ll be fine in whatever he decides to wear. Individuality FTW. 🙂

  9. My philosophy though is that no editor, publisher, colleague, etc. is more important than I am (or anyone else is) — people are just people, and they can either be impressed by who we really are or they can suck rocks for all I care because I won’t think about them again anyway.

    That is just awesome. I wish everyone felt that way. I have recently decided myself that I’m not going to buy “work clothes” any more, only clothes that I would wear of my own volition anyway. More and more I’m starting to feel I just don’t have time in my life for people whose regard requires a special wardrobe.

    • I just don’t believe in treating people differently because they think they’re important or because someone else tells me they’re important. And do you know what? A lot of them respect that — they want people to treat them like people and not kiss their ass all the time or constantly try to impress. When I worked in music PR I dealt with all kinds — relatively well-known artists, unknowns, publicists, label execs, etc. And I treated every one of them exactly they same — they got the same blunt treatment I’d give anyone else. And that’s why I’m still in touch with quite a few, long after getting out of that game. I’m the same way with my current business clients. It doesn’t matter if they’re a CEO of a relatively large corporation, a major player in the industry who happens to read one of my blogs, or some 19 year old webmaster hiring me to help him take his project to the next level. Again they get to work with the same old Jenn. And they keep on coming back. So conferences and other events are no different in my mind. I’ll just show up as me. Love me, hate me, respect me, ignore me. I don’t really care. That’s your choice to make. I know my style isn’t for everyone, and I’m okay with that. I’d rather accept that than be the type who tries to appeal to everyone because they have no focus. Besides, knowing who I alienate helps me find the clients I don’t — the ones who usually have the big bucks to spend, the personality to give and take fair and constructive criticism (a part of the job), and the ones who respect me for what I can do and not for the show I put on “in public.”


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