You have been doing conferences all wrong – Try this!

#SHRM15

So I am currently stuck in the Las Vegas Airport – don’t you just love when they don’t tell you about a schedule change, which causes you to miss your flight! So I have a 7 hour wait plus I missed my connection so have to overnight in Miami before flying home. Trying to see the upside in every situation I thought I could bang out a couple of missives. Mainly because the people I met at this years SHRM15 conference were simply amazing and some of the best bloggers in the country.

Before I left for SHRM15 (Which is the biggest HR conference in the world) I had already made up my mind that I was going to do this one differently. For the last couple of years I have attended this event in Orlando and Chicago and its done on a simply epic scale. 20,000 people hundreds of sessions and probably over 1000 exhibitors in the convention hall. It is mind blowing. But I think many people miss what a conference is all about. They spend hours ruminating over which session to go to, who is going to be good what topic they want to learn about . They busy themselves by scheduling everything so that their days are locked in, it’s almost like being in school. I have honestly seen draft fanatics spend less time figuring out their strategy than some of the HR folks spend figuring out their session planner. But they miss the biggest fundamental reason that we go to conference for. Meeting people!

I asked a colleague who was “locked In” how many people they had met or connected with their response “I haven’t time for all that I need to learn stuff”. Now forgive my cynicism but how much are your really going to learn in an hour session that would be worth more than connecting with an expert that you could pick up the phone to later down the line?

So I mixed it up:

  • I didn’t plan one session
  • I went to the networking sessions
  • I reached out to a couple of people I was interested in meeting as they would be at the conference plus they were also speaking
  • I let people know I would be there in case they wanted to meet me.
  • I only booked one evenings entertainment (A show, it is Vegas after all)

The result:

  • So much more relaxed
  • I met up with a great speaker buddy called Tim Sackett and we hit the convention center together. He is a pro at this and knows everyone so I got introduced to plenty of people as we hit the booths. Made some great connections
  • A by product of this was I was allowed access to the bloggers lounge, guess what I met more really interesting people who were the writers behind many of the blogs I read so for me it was like meeting celebs. I connected in person with around 10 members of our blogging community who we have swapped details and a few stories. Plus they were all interested in coming to speak at my conference in Cayman.
  • All of them are experts in different levels of HR and many have held the very top jobs in our industry so I f I need to learn something, guess what I’m picking up the phone.
  • It was interesting to hear who they were going to see speak and see them speak, so my sessions revolved around who was saying something the blogging community thought was interesting rather than just blindly picking horses (you get what I mean). In turn I attended several really interesting session that gave a different insight or some big data revelation’s.
  • I was invited for drinks with a few of them so I went, lets just say its Vegas, it got messy and we ended up in a penthouse suit of the cosmopolitan at a small private party!
  • I attended the international networking event – but I participated and did the “passport game” (You have a card and you have to get people from different countries to sign it then you put it in a draw for a prize) – I met a bunch of people from all over the world and guess what – I won a prize in the draw a new Ipad which was awesome as mine had just broken. I had done this event for the last 3 years and always just talked to the group I knew. So it paid off big time.
  • I met up with a couple of people who reached out to me on twitter, they were great meetings with something coming from both of them.
  • Within just 3 days I met more people and went to some of the best sessions I have been to simply by allowing myself to be flexible and understanding that I know nothing about where is going to be the right event or session.

So in summary I will never do a conference the old way, this one was so much more fun. Made more so by they accepting nature of a few new friends that allowed me to tag along, were accepting of the introduction and happy that I was happy to meet them.

Tim, William, Laurie, Jennifer, Dawn, Jess, Matt, Career builder, Mel, Sarah, Merren, Robin, Heath and the many others – thanks

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