The 2015 edition of the SHRM Annual Conference and Expo is now just a little over a week away. As you begin your preparations to converge on Fabulous Las Vegas next weekend, amidst deciding which comfy shoes you’re going to bring (and maybe some not-so-comfy ones for the evening hours), packing sun block for the pool, choosing which Vegas attractions you’ll hit in your free time, and stashing away your cash for the blackjack tables, have you given any thought as to how you’re going to truly maximize your conference experience?
I’ve written about this topic in past years, but feel it’s worth revisiting each year. No matter if it’s your first, third, or tenth time attending, giving some thought to how you’re going to utilize your time can only work to your advantage. Because let’s face it, once you arrive and get swept up in the whirlwind that is SHRM Annual….especially with this year’s location being Las Vegas….it can be very easy to lose focus and find yourself on the plane ride home asking yourself, “what did I actually accomplish?”
SHRM Annual puts an incredible amount of knowledge and resources at your disposal. Between the sessions, the Expo Hall, and the unlimited amount of networking opportunities available, if you leave without taking something of value with you, it really is your own fault. However, 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. Use the Session Planner to 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 on your smart phone or tablet 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. Figure out what works best for you. Perhaps you’re an early riser; get up and take advantage of the 7:00 AM sessions, and then maybe sneak away for a break in the later afternoon. Or if you prefer to rise a little later, take advantage of the sessions later in the day. Whatever your preference, don’t be afraid to allow yourself some downtime to process what you’ve learned and recharge when you need it.
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 the types of solutions that are out there. Check out some of the Smart Stage presentations for info in quick and actionable 15 minute blocks. 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, or organize some outings of your own with new found friends; these are great ways to connect in a more meaningful way with people in a more relaxed atmosphere….and you may have a little fun while you’re at it!
Have Some Fun Too!
Let’s face it, it’s Vegas. There are a million and one things to do, even if you’re not a gambler. It’s okay to allow yourself to have some fun outside of the conference. I’m not suggesting all-nighters at the craps table or at Drai’s After Hours….but if you must, do yourself a favor and make sure you take your conference badge off first.
Most of all, enjoy your experience. Good luck, learn a lot, and have fun! See you in Vegas!
About the Author: Jennifer Payne, SPHR, SHRM-SCP has over 16 years of HR experience in employee relations, talent acquisition, and learning & development, and currently works in talent acquisition and development 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.