Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Colette Ballou. Colette is the founder of Ballou PR, which focuses on high-growth companies in technology and health IT. She is an active part of the startup community, a speaker and moderator, and is a mentor and judge for start-up organizations and events. You can follow her on Twitter.

Remember before, when you were starting off, and weren’t as cool and as important as you are now? You’re glad those days are over, but you have a responsibility to those who haven’t reached the “stage” yet.

Conference VIPs fall into two categories: those who let their fame go to their heads, and those who don’t. The former act like jerks, and the latter continually inspire with their openness, courtesy and enthusiasm. In hopes that all VIPs can be convinced to be kinder, gentler members of the community, I’ve drafted these guidelines: Conference Networking Etiquette for Big Shots.

  1. You have accepted an invitation – to speak – so be a good guest.
  2. When you speak on stage, be prepared, be interesting and be brief.
  3. Be nice. It’s hard for people to get up the courage to approach you. They deserve a smile and a few seconds of courtesy.
  4. Also, when people approach you, help them to the “ask” – once in your aura, they might be star struck and not able to gather themselves. Be kind and direct: “What do you want to speak to me about, how can I help out?”
  5. If you can’t help, know how to refer people who approach you quickly, effectively, with meaningful, next steps.
  6. Don’t promise something you have no intention of delivering. What you say is gold to people – if you say you are going to be in touch, people may make plans based on that expectation. Big plans, like holding off on releasing a product, making a key hire, or closing a round of funding. Plans that, if held up, could destroy their dream. So be honest, be clear, be direct.
  7. But don’t be brutal or cruel (see point 3).
  8. Train your handlers to be nice and effective, too. If you need to refer a request to a handler, make sure they know how to treat the request properly. Don’t rely on someone else to be the jerk, they reflect upon you.
  9. Don’t look over the shoulder of the person you are talking to for a better conversation or someone more important. Focus on the one you’re with.
  10. Nothing is more impressive and delightful than someone who is accomplished and patient with an audience, and who listens for something in what’s said to encourage or build upon.
  11. A little self-deprecation never killed anybody.
  12. Glib isn’t charming, and at worst, it can be dismissive. People have made an effort to come see/hear you, remember that.

Image credit: iStockPhoto / Thinkstock