This weekend I’ll be heading to Orlando for the #SHRM14 Annual Conference and Expo. Many of you may be joining me; for some of you it may be your first time, others of you may be SHRM Annual veterans. No matter if it’s your first time or tenth time attending, I ask you this question: Are you maximizing your conference experience?
I’ve written about this topic in previous years, but I feel that it’s worth revisiting as I’m not convinced that even the most veteran of conference goers utilize the opportunities available as well as they could. So here’s some of the advice I’ve given in previous years, with some new additions as well.
There is an abundance of information to be learned and knowledge to be shared at the conference, and what you get out of it is largely based on what you put into it. Are you there going through the motions and playing it safe in your comfort zone, or are you making a concerted effort to obtain the maximum benefit from your experience? I encourage you to consider the following.
Take some time to plan out your schedule. Review the list of concurrent sessions available, and target the ones you know you want to attend that you think will provide you the most value. But leave yourself some flexibility to change your mind, and have back up plans in place: anyone who has attended before knows that some sessions will fill up, and you may need to move on to your second choice. Furthermore, if the session you choose doesn’t meet your expectations or isn’t what you thought it would be, don’t be afraid to walk out and join another session! This is your time, don’t waste it in a session that does nothing for you. And don’t feel guilty about it. And don’t forget to download the Conference App to keep information and your schedule at your fingertips.
Sure, you could choose to attend sessions on topics familiar to you and stick with your comfort zone. But with so many topics across 7 different tracks, why not expose yourself to something new? This is your chance to expand your horizons beyond the scope of your everyday job. Why not choose a mix of sessions that both enhance your current knowledge and also stretch your mind a bit?
Don’t Try To Do It All
This may seem to go against convention, but don’t feel as if you have to pack your schedule every day. It’s okay if you decide you don’t want to attend a session during one of the time frames. Allow yourself some downtime to process what you’ve learned and recharge when you need it. And let’s face it, we’re going to be in Orlando where there are a multitude of entertainment options. It’s okay to allow yourself a little downtime to have some fun outside of the conference.
Try Something Different
Sure, the primary reason for attending the conference is for the sessions. But there are a variety of happenings beyond the general and concurrent sessions that can provide just as much value. Visit the Expo Hall and talk to some vendors, or at least get a feel for what types of solutions are out there. Check out the Connection Zone and some of the Smart Stage presentations. Visit the SHRM Bookstore and pick up a few new titles to take home with you. There’s a lot to be experienced outside of traditional sessions!
Some of the most valuable takeaways from your conference experience could come from the connections you make in the hallways between sessions, in the expo hall, or at the multitude of social events that will take place over the course of the four days. Take advantage of the other HR pros that are there; there is a wealth of knowledge to be shared beyond the official sessions. Talk to people. Make new connections. You never know how valuable they could be some day. Instead of just going back to your hotel at the end of the day, attend some of the sponsored social events; they are a great way to connect with people in a more relaxed atmosphere….and you may have a little fun while you’re at it!
Most of all, enjoy your experience. Good luck, learn a lot, and have fun! See you in the Sunshine State!
About the Author: Jennifer Payne, SPHR has over 16 years of HR experience in employee relations, talent acquisition, and learning & development, and currently works in talent management in the retail grocery industry. She is one of the co-founders of Women of HR, and is currently the Editor of the site. You can connect with her on Twitter as @JennyJensHR and on LinkedIn.