Category Archives: HR Conferences

Maximizing Your Conference Investment

This is an updated post from August 2010.

The 2012 SHRM Annual Conference is just around the corner.  Word has it that there will be many first-timers in attendance.  This is for them — and for other attendees who want to be sure they maximize the financial and time investments they’re making.  Here are three proven strategies for making sure you get your money’s worth.

Sessions

Conferences generally have 3 types of content sessions:

  1. General Sessions:  these are sessions that are intended for the full complement of attendees.  The speakers are typically big names in the industry who speak on universal topics relevant to the conference theme or they are big celebrity names meant to draw your attendance to the conference.  SHRM does both — and usually always has a movie star or TV personality on the big stage.  Big names sell tickets, folks.  Think of them as the motivational part of the conference.
  2. Concurrent Sessions:  these are the main content tracks that are scheduled throughout the conference.  Each time slot will hold multiple options for your consideration.  Designed for smaller subsets of the conference attendees, these tend to be led by consultants, academics and a few practitioners and are focused content of a practical nature.  Think of them as the skill building part of the conference experience.
  3. Sponsor Highlights:  these are sessions that feature a sponsor or exhibitor’s product or service, are marketing-focused in nature, and come as part of their sponsorship/exhibitor fee.  SHRM doesn’t do this very often — but the exhibitors frequently hold mini-sessions in their booth space in the expo hall.  Don’t dismiss them.  You can get great information about what’s new and cutting edge as well as scope out potential new partners.  (I’ll be conducting mini sessions in the Achievers booth on Sunday and Monday.  Come over and say “hi.”)

In a typical two-and-a-half- or three-day conference, it’s important to select wisely the sessions you want to attend – and in advance.  But it’s also important not to over-schedule yourself (more on that later). I recommend attending all the General Sessions.  The big names generally have value and the celebrity speakers are usually engaging, entertaining and motivating.  Then attend concurrent sessions in about 60-75% of the time slots.

Save Time For Networking

One of the particular values of attending a conference in person (as opposed to an online conference or a series of webinars) is the opportunity to meet other like minded people.  Look at the list of presenters.  Look at the list of sponsors/exhibitors.  Find out who else will be attending.  Then target 4-8 people that you’d really like to meet and talk with – and find them at the conference.  Leaving time in your session schedule to set short appointments when you find people on your target list will allow you to be thoughtful in creating new relationships.  Don’t pass up the opportunity to learn from industry pros – who, by the way, also want to network and meet people just like you!

You know how to network, right?  You prepare for these opportunities in advance by identifying what you’d like to talk about with each target and prepare 2 or 3 questions to get the conversation rolling.  You can ask everyone the same questions, or you can customize your approach to each person.  Your confidence will be strong as you introduce yourself to these folks and you’ll be surprised how amenable perfect strangers are to meet and talk with you.

If you aren’t on Twitter or FaceBook, now would be a good time to start accounts.  Many of the people you want to meet are using social media to connect with new and old friends.  I’ll be there.  Connect with me.  On Twitter I’m @ChinaGorman and it’s easy to friend me on FaceBook.  Just mention #SHRM12 in the invitation and I’ll accept.  Social media will be prevalent in Atlanta.

Nothing is More Attractive Than a Smile

As you walk the conference halls and expo aisles, make sure your demeanor and body language is open.  And smile.  Intentionally.  You’ll appear open, friendly, not intimidating or intimidated.  Really, there’s nothing more attractive than a smiling face.  And there’s nothing that builds your confidence to approach strangers than acting open and welcoming.

Attending a conference and getting your money’s worth isn’t hard.  But it takes some forethought and planning.  Both you and your organization want to realize the investment it took to get there.  Make sure you get the full value of the experience.

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Filed under Achievers, China Gorman, Conferences, HR, HR Conferences, SHRM, SHRM Foundation, Talent Management

Urgency vs. the status quo

I’m noticing that something powerful is going on within the HR space.   It’s organic.  It’s energetic.  It feels urgent.  It’s about getting HR people more intimately connected with each other.  It’s about gaining confidence and strength through closer relationships.  And it might be turning the conference world on its ear.

HR conferences organized by groups likes SHRM (including SHRM global and its 52 state councils), ASTD, WorldatWork, ERE, LRP and others have done a very strong job of creating traditional conference experiences that provide content, continuing education credits, vendor showcases and limited networking experiences. 

But well-executed as they are, well-attended as many of them are, and well-marketed as they are, they don’t provide something that seems to be getting more and more valuable to a certain subset of HR leaders:  the opportunity to have intimate discussions with thought leaders.  And there’s a growing sense of immediacey about what’s missing.  So what’s my evidence?

Well, first there is HRevolution.  An early entrant in the HR “un-conference” space, two HRevolutions have been held and the third is in the planning stages.  Organized by Trish McFarlane, Ben Eubanks, Steve Boese and others, this grass roots gathering gets HR folks together to wrestle with each other on topics relating to the relevance of HR.  Facilitators lead discussions rather than speakers giving presentations.  It’s been given high marks for engaging its attendees, but questions of “what’s next?” persist.

The “Tru” un-conferences in Europe appear to be similar to HRevolution in that they have sprung from concerned and committed individuals in the HR space rather than from organizations in the HR space.  I’ll know more after attending the TruLondon conference in February.

RecruitFest! organized by RecruitingBlogs.com also joined the “un-conference” space, but mixed it up in 2010 with a different approach.  Instead of discussion groups, thought-leaders held conversations for the viewing audience (75 in studio; almost 4,000 through the live stream) to listen and watch.  It got the thought leader discussion piece right with some engagement of attendees and it also got high marks.  But again, “what do I do now?” questions followed.

The HRevolution, TruEvents and RecruitFest! unconferences are broad in their reach.  They engage interested professionals from all over the world to attend either in person or virtually. 

Now here’s a new twist:  the HR Reinvention Experiment held last Thursday for senior HR leaders in the state of Nebraska.  Jason Lauritsen, a senior HR executive in Lincoln asked himself “what’s next?” after attending the last HRevolution.  He assembled a small group of like minded business leaders in the HR space in Omaha and Lincoln and they gathered nearly 70 senior leaders from across Nebraska to talk with each other and begin to address challenges in Nebraska that need HR’s leadership.  And with the support of several local sponsor organizations, the HR Reinvention Experiment began to take shape.

A combination of traditional and un-conference organizing approaches, the HR Reinvention Experiment included tailored keynote presentations (me and Jason Seiden), small group discussions led by true thought leaders (Paul Hebert, Joe Gerstandt, William Tincup and Roger Fransecky) and a couple of traditional “concurrent session” topics (Chris Bryant and Greg Harris).  Limited to 75 attendees from a specific geographic area, HRRE was a day full of challenging content, discussion and engagement, all with a local focus.   

To further underscore its difference from traditional conference approaches, HRRE was held in the open spaces of the Hot Shops Art Center, an art center (and former mattress factory) consisting of working art studios, showrooms and gallery spaces.  Attendees, surrounded by the creative process, carried their folding chairs from space to space throughout the day so that gathering spots magically opened up in places like pottery and glass blowing studios as well as galleries.

Instead of PowerPoints and handouts, the HRRE organizing team hired the graphic genius of Sophia Liang (Graphic Footprints) to make a graphic recording of the keynote sessions, as well as several of the discussion sessions.  This is the recording of the lunch keynote, “The CEO Perspective of HR,” a discussion between two CEOs: Roger Fransecky and Kim HoogeveenThe additional recordings will be shared on the HRRE website soon.

It was a full day to say the least.  I participated as the opening keynoter giving the attendees an “HR Wake-Up Call” as well as attending as a participant for the full day’s activities.  The experience was challenging, fun, engaging and thought-provoking.  It brought together many of Nebraska’s HR leaders for a day of thoughtful and personal engagement and pushed them to ask new questions and assume different outcomes.

But while the “what’s next?” question persists, I have a feeling that there will indeed be a “next” in Nebraska.  These business leaders seem ready to take action.  HRRE felt like a catalyst that will start to move the discussions into action.  Time will tell, of course, but the framework exists to launch a new kind of self-driven professional community. 

Professional organizations catering to HR leaders should be taking note of the grass roots efforts to connect in new and more impactful ways.  Whether it’s learning and conferences or advocacy and membership, there are unmet needs that are becoming urgent in the HR world.  The frequency and level of innovation happening in this space suggests that the current infrastructure is becoming less relevant to a portion of the population.  And this portion of the HR population has the commitment, skills and intellectual curiosity to do something about it.  We should all stay tuned….

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Filed under China Gorman, Conferences, HR, HR Conferences, Leadership, Uncategorized

How to open an HR conference!

 I’m that voice that’s been saying “Really? Movie stars as keynoters at HR conferences?  Really?  How’s this going to help me be a more strategic business leader?” 

 While I was at SHRM I was successful in influencing the team to select more keynoters who had real connections to business and HR success.  Business thought leaders like Jack Welch, Anne Mulcahy, Ted Childs, John Kotter and Steve Forbes.  I’ve never understood the fascination with movie and tv stars as keynoters at HR conferences – other than everyone loves movie and tv stars.  I’ve held the position that HR conferences should bring relevant business content from real thought leaders to the attendees.  So when I saw that HR Southwest’s opening keynote was a two person comedy/juggling act, I thought, “Oh brother.  Here we go…”

 But here’s the thing:  they were fabulous!  Let me paint the picture.  We’re in Fort Worth.  It was 8:15 on Monday morning.  It was Columbus Day — a holiday in many workplaces.  Both the Rangers and the Cowboys had played at home the day before – and lost.  And it’s a commuter conference (a large majority of the 2,000+ attendees drive to the conference each day from home).  So to describe the energy in the room as the session opened as lethargic would be understating the case. 

And then The Passing Zone arrived.  Amazing jugglers, smart comedians, these two guys kept the witty patter going through 75 minutes of their act while continuously linking their actions to the HR world.  Trust, cooperation, communication, juggling priorities:  these were cleverly woven into their act in a refreshing, funny and entertaining way.  We were laughing, we were clapping, we were gasping, we were cheering.  The energy was thumping, the good humor was flowing and the conference was off to the races.  Brilliant!

 So I stand corrected.  When planning conference keynoters understand the likely mindset of the audience you are supporting.  And if it’s first thing Monday morning, wake ’em up!  The planners at HR Southwest did just that and came up with a real winner.  Well done!

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HR Southwest: the Real Deal

 

Here’s what I love about HR conferences:  the attendees.  I’m a big fan of HR professionals.  I think they’re smart.  I think they know their business.  I think they contribute daily to the success of their organizations.  I think they grab on to learning wherever they can find it.  And I think that today, like no other time before, they are caught between the proverbial rock of a fragile and unpredictable economy and the combined hard places of the current legislative/regulatory agenda, continued globalization and the need, as always, to do more with less.

 So as I attend the SHRM-affiliated HR Southwest Conference in Fort Worth, Texas today through Wednesday, I am again impressed with the way these 2,000+ dedicated HR pros are approaching this ultimate learning experience.  And make no mistake:  HR Southwest is an ultimate learning experience.  The concurrent session line-up is among the best I’ve ever seen.  The keynoters are very strong.  The exhibition hall is incredible.  And the attendees themselves are focused on making the most of the three days before them. 

 I respect the hell out of these folks.  I see a determination in their eyes as they check the conference program to chart their course through the conference.  They’re engaging with the vendors in the exhibition hall and not just collecting swag.  They’re improving their ability to serve their organizations and their communities.  They’re working on expanding both their functional expertise and their strategic leadership abilities.  What they learn here will absolutely make their organizations more competitive. 

 So, kudos to the conference team that produces HR Southwest.  It’s smart; it’s professional; it’s the real deal.  Now.  Don’t you wish you were here?

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Re-imagining the Conference Experience

 I speak at a lot of HR-related conferences.  I started this as part of my job responsibilities when I was Chief Operating Officer of SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management).  Supporting SHRM state conferences by being a keynote speaker was a great part of my job.  It got me (and by extension, SHRM) close to our members in a very personal way and was useful to create stronger relationships and to know what was on the minds of our members. 

 And through my SHRM experience where the very talented Meetings & Conferences department was part of my responsibility, I know a lot about the mechanics of putting on successful conferences for as few as 200 and as many as 20,000 attendees.  While the execution is extremely challenging, the formula for success has been pretty simple:

  1. Contract outstanding and well known keynote speakers that motivate people to attend.  (Typically these folks fly in to speak and fly out after their book signing.  They have almost no personal interaction with the participants.)
  2. Offer a wide range of breakout/concurrent sessions focused on knowledge development and skill building.  (These sessions are led by content experts and experienced practitioners who focus on practical applications in traditional classroom style.  PowerPoint presentations abound.)
  3. Engage a set of high profile corporate sponsors to underwrite the conference so attendee registration fees can be kept low and sponsors’ visibility is high.  (The sponsors are kept at arm’s length so the programmatic content isn’t “tainted” by the commercial nature of that relationship.)
  4. Create multiple networking activities so that people can connect in person and carry those relationships forward.
  5. Select an attractive and affordable city and conference/convention venue.  (The focus is on making the participants comfortable in the physical surroundings.)
  6. Execute a strong plan to market the conference to the universe of potential participants.  (Most conference organizers use traditional marketing methods.  Some have stuck a toe into the social media marketing world; most haven’t figured out how to do that yet.)

 I had the privilege of participating in last week’s RecruitFest! in Boston organized by RecruitingBlogs.com and Monster.  And it’s clear that the effectiveness of this conference has the potential to change how conferences are conceptualized and experienced going forward.  In fact, I might go so far as to say if other conference organizers in the HR space aren’t paying attention to what these folks accomplished, they may well be selling buggy whips next year when they go to market. 

 I have to hand it to Eric Winegardner at Monster and Jason Davis, Miles Jennings and Ashley Saddul at RecruitingBlogs.com for having a startlingly new vision and risking it all to try something substantially different in the world of conferences.  These folks went way beyond “thinking outside the box” and “pushing the edge of the envelope.”  They re-imagined the experience from top to bottom.  Let me give you some examples.

  • There were no keynote presentations or concurrent sessions.  It was a series of important conversations between thought leaders.  Unrehearsed, substantive, sometimes controversial, sometimes argumentative, and always informed and thoughtful, these discussions between two, three, four and five experts explored issues and practices that matter to business leaders and talent management professionals.
  • The thought leaders were asked to participate in the entire day – in fact the day started with each of the 12 of us giving a brief overview of the reasons we were participating and our particular point of view; the day ended with each of the 12 of us sharing what was the most impactful learning we experienced during the conference.  Additionally, each of us participated in one or two of the live discussions and asked questions of our colleagues in the other discussions.  We also were part of the studio audience so we were seated side by side with the live audience throughout the day.
  • There were almost no PowerPoint slides.  Really.  The focus was on having real discussions and exploring different points of view.
  • Participants were encouraged to weigh in and agree/disagree or ask questions.  The comments came from the studio audience where a microphone was available as well as from the remote participants via telephone, Twitter and a chat box on the RecruitFest! Live web site.
  • The focus on the “participant experience” covered both the live attendees and the remote attendees – with an emphasis on the experience of the 3,800+ remote attendees.  The technology employed to ensure a rich remote experience included a 3-camera video team, a web site that offered the live stream, a chat box and question box, and the call in telephone number.
  • The sponsors were all involved in creating the experience.  They suggested speakers, they participated in crafting the discussion agenda, they were in the audience and participated in the Twitter stream and through their blogs.
  • The marketing was almost exclusively conducted through social media:  Twitter, blog posts, FaceBook pages and LinkedIn updates.  In a matter of 2 weeks the number of registered attendees grew from just over 100 to the nearly 3,900 participants (from 38 countries).
  • The venue was more TV studio than conference classroom venue.  The newly re-constructed Paramount Theatre (part of Emerson College) and stage gave the conference a look and feel that felt contemporary and useful and made the live streaming feel natural. 
  • The entire day was recorded and will be shared with anyone who would like to experience this next step in the evolution of conferences.  (Click here to enter your email address so you may receive the url.)

 Although it was a tremendous and exciting experience, it wasn’t a perfect experience.  Clearly the financial model needs some more thought.  And the studio audience could have been engaged even more.  But I have to tell you, after managing conferences, attending conferences, and being a keynote speaker at conferences, this was more fun, more engaging, more interesting, more exciting and more impactful from a learning perspective than any other conference in which I’ve played a part.  And I’ve been involved in a lot of conferences. 

 So again.  Kudos to the Monster and RecruitingBlogs.com organizations for stepping off the precipice into the future.  They’ve created something remarkable.  I can’t wait till the next RecruitFest!

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Filed under China Gorman, Conferences, HR Conferences, Social Media, Uncategorized

A Tale of Two Conferences

How lucky can a gal get?  I’m speaking at RecruitFest! on Thursday (October 7) in Boston and attending HR Southwest in Fort Worth the following week (October 10-13).  Two great conferences, two great organizations, two great cities  – all focused on providing up to the minute content for the development of HR professionals.  That’s  5 conference days in 7.  Whew!

First up, RecruitFest! put on my the good folks at Recruiter.com (formerly RecruitingBlogs.com) and Monster.  And they’re cooking up something really new and special.  Here’s the deal:  they’ve collected a group of thought leaders in the Recruiting space to engage in important discussions for the benefit of the attendees.  Stars like

 And here’s the really interesting part:  there will be audience participation – questions from the live audience, questions from those watching the live stream, and questions from those listening in and participating in the Twitter back channel.  Pretty exciting stuff!  If you haven’t signed up, click here to attend in person or virtually.

Next up is HR Southwest, the largest SHRM state conference.  The organizing team is expecting nearly 2,000 live participants at the Fort Worth Convention Center!  That’s big!  That also makes HR Southwest second only to the SHRM Annual Conference in the world of SHRM conferences. 

 I remember in the early ‘90s, when I lived in Dallas and managed the southwest region of a global HR consulting firm, the cornerstone of our marketing plan every year was supporting HR Southwest.  I still have pictures (somewhere) of our booth and the team that staffed it.  We connected with our customers and showed our support for our friends in the HR profession by supporting this important event.  I wouldn’t have dropped this important event from our budget – ever!

 The keynote speakers this year look outstanding:  Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure®; Chad Hymas, world-class wheelchair athlete; and Jon Wee and Owen Morse, otherwise known as The Passing Zone.  With more than 110 concurrent sessions and the ability to earn as many as 20.75 recertification credits from the HR Certification Institute, this conference is going to set a new standard for HR conferences.

 I’ll be tweeting at HR Southwest, so be sure to follow the #HRSWC10 hashtag and to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ChinaGorman.  See you at the conferences!

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What’s an unconference like, anyway?

 

I’m really getting jazzed about RecruitFest! in Boston on October 7th and 8th.  RecruitingBlogs.com has put together a track leader line-up that looks outstanding, Monster is the big sponsor, and it’s Beantown!  How much better could it possibly get?

I have a sense of what an unconference is like and I’m eager to experience it for the first time.  I’m expecting lots of smart recruiting and talent management professionals to roll up their sleeves and dig in to some really important topics with energy and passion.  The power of focused, collective experience to generate new ideas can be awesome.  Hope we get some of that going.

 Here’s what I hope we don’t do:  have the same endless and pointless discussions about whether HR is ever going to get a seat at the table (man, I hate that phrase), or whether recruiting should be part of HR. 

 I hope we focus more positively…more hopefully…more meaningfully on what we actually can do differently to impact the performance of our organizations.  I hope we focus on what is in our power to control:  our intentions, our behavior, our risk taking.  Because if all we’re going to do is lament our lack of power and our inability to catch the eye or ear of the CEO we’ll have wasted precious time and energy. 

 I’m interested in having conversations that change behavior, that improve performance and that make us (whoever we are) more powerful.  That will be a great investment of time and energy.  That will be a great unconference. 

 Are you with me?  If so, then you should click here and register right this minute!  Because if you register before the end of the week, you’ll get a discount (use the code “chinagorman”) and you also might win the Monster VIP hotel package!  What a deal. 

I hope you’ll join us, roll up your sleeves and contribute to two days that really could change HR.  Who wouldn’t want to do that?

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Filed under Business Success, China Gorman, Culture, Engagement, HR, HR Conferences, Uncategorized

Fear and Loathing in Orlando

I’ve just returned from the SHRM-affiliated HR Florida state conference. What an experience!  Organized and executed entirely by SHRM chapter volunteers, this conference had over 1,400 attendees in a beautiful and roomy resort in Orlando.  Carol MacDanielLori Goldsmith , Stephen M. Geraghty-Harrison and the entire team did a remarkable job in bringing a content-laden and interactive experience to the attendees.  Truly a terrific experience.

Here’s something that was validated for me in Orlando about HR professionals and social media.  Of the 1,400+ attendees at the conference in Orlando, maybe 200 were engaged actively in social media.  That’s 14%.

Knowing that this would be an issue, the folks at HR Florida did a superb job of providing sessions, support and encouragement for the attendees to start to engage with social media.  A very robust effort.

Trish MacFarlane over at HR Ringleader noticed it too.  And I agree with her identified reason for the lack of engagement:  fear.   I’m not sure what they’re afraid of, but here are some suggestions to those of us who do “get it”:

  • be encouraging
  • be role models
  • be generous with your time
  • teach and mentor
  • be patient
  • BE LEADERS

Despite the conventional wisdome that social media is only for the younger generations, a post on The Social Graf blog by Erik Sass gave some interesting data about the adoption of social media by those who aren’t young.  Here’s what it says about survey data collected from Princeton Survey Research Associates on behalf of the Pew Internet & American Life Project:

  • Among Internet users ages 50+ overall, social network use increased from 22% in April 2009 to 42% in May 2010. To boot, 10% of the 50+ cohort uses Twitter or a similar “status update” service, either to post updates or check other people’s updates.
  • Looking at specific age cohorts, social network use among Internet users ages 50-64 surged from 25% to 47%, with 20% of this group saying they check into social networks on a daily basis — up from 10% last year.
  • By contrast, social network use among Internet users ages 18-29 appears to be reaching saturation, growing from 76% in April 2009 to 86% in May 2010.

There’s a message here for HR professionals.  It says more of our employees are engaged in social media than aren’t — and not just the folks we assumed were engaged!  We have a real opportunity, perhaps even an obligation, to get out in front of our employees.

Because if they’re using social media at home they’re using social media at work.

But I get it.  It’s scary.  I held my breath when I jumped into social media when I was the Chief Operating Officer of SHRM.  And guess what?  I lived.  More to the point, SHRM lived.  My adoption of social media paved the way for greater engagement of members and non-members alike.  And it also paved the way for SHRM to begin to step up organizationally to the opportunities active social media involvement creates.  Their new public relations campaign, We Know Next, has significant social media outreach strategies embedded in it.

As a profession, we need to be able to lead the social media policy discussions, not abdicate them to the legal department or the marketing department.  As business leaders, we need to understand the implications of the use (and misuse) of social media on our corporate and employer brands.  As HR leaders, we need to be out in front of our employees and understand the impact of social media on employee engagement and our cultures.

This is the work of Human Resources.  It’s new (for most).  It involves technology.  It’s scary.  So let’s step up and support our colleagues in learning these new applications for engaging our employees and building stronger cultures.  Let’s not let fear paralyze our profession from doing its essential work:  providing strategic business leadership that positively impacts employee and customer satisfaction.

After all, isn’t that our job?

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Filed under Business Success, China Gorman, Culture, HR, HR Conferences, Leadership, Social Media

Conference Attendance 101

So.  You took advice from my last blog post and decided which conference to attend.  Congratulations.  But now you want to be sure that you leverage your investment by making the most of your attendance.  Here are three proven strategies for making sure you get your money’s worth.

Sessions

Conferences generally have 3 types of content sessions:

  1. General Sessions:  these are sessions that are intended for the full complement of attendees.  The speakers are typically big names in the industry who speak on universal topics relevant to the conference theme or they are big celebrity names meant to draw your attendance to the conference.  Here in Orlando where I’m attending the SHRM affiliated HR Florida conference, the opening general session featured Henry Winkler.  (He was terrific, by the way.)
  2. Concurrent Sessions:  these are the main content tracks that are scheduled throughout the conference.  Each time slot will hold multiple options for your consideration.  Designed for smaller subsets of the conference attendees, these tend to be led by practitioners, consultants or academics and are focused content of a practical nature. 
  3. Sponsor Highlights:  these are sessions that feature a sponsor or exhibitor’s product or service, are marketing-focused in nature, and come as part of their sponsorship/exhibitor fee.

In a typical two and a half day conference, it’s important to select the sessions you want to attend wisely – and in advance.  But it’s also important not to over-schedule yourself (more on that later). I recommend attending all the General Sessions.  The big names generally have value and the celebrity speakers are generally engaging, entertaining and motivating.  Then attend concurrent sessions in about 75% of the time slots.

Save time for Networking

One of the particular values of attending a conference in person (as opposed to an online conference or a series of webinars) is the opportunity to meet other like minded people.  Look at the list of presenters.  Look at the list of sponsors/exhibitors.  Find out who else will be attending.  Then target 4-8 people that you’d really like to meet and talk with – and find them at the conference.  Leaving time in your session schedule to set short appointments when you find people on your target list will allow you to be thoughtful in creating new relationships.  Don’t pass up the opportunity to learn from industry pros – who, by the way, also want to network and meet people just like you!

You know how to network, right?  You prepare for these opportunities in advance by identifying what you’d like to talk about with each target and prepare 2 or 3 questions to get the conversation rolling.  You can ask everyone the same questions, or you can customize your approach to each person.  Your confidence will be strong as you introduce yourself to these folks and you’ll be surprised how amenable perfect strangers are to meet and talk with you.

Nothing is more attractive than a smile

As you walk the conference halls and expo aisles, make sure your demeanor and body language is open.  And smile.  Intentionally.  You’ll appear open, friendly, not intimidating or intimidated.  Really, there’s nothing more attractive than a smiling face.  And there’s nothing that builds your confidence to approach strangers than acting open and welcoming.

Attending a conference and getting your money’s worth isn’t hard.  But it takes some forethought and planning.  Both you and your organization want to realize the investment it took to get there.  Make sure you get the full value of the experience.

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Covered Over by Conferences!

I’m looking for a job.  So I’m networking.  A lot!  People in my network and in the networks of my network are so generous with their time and their referrals.  I’m very grateful. 

Most of the people I’m talking to are in or around the world of HR.  They’re either HR pros themselves, or they sell to HR pros, or they support HR pros in some manner.   They’re steeped in HR.  And many of them ask me a variable of the same questions:

“There are so many conferences aimed at HR people.  Which ones should I attend/sponsor/support?”

And you know what?   They’re right.  There are tons of conferences aimed at HR pros.  Let’s just start with SHRM.  There are 5 national/global conferences (not counting the leadership conference just for volunteer leaders).  Then there are the state conferences.  Some states put on conferences every other year; most put on conferences every year.  Let’s call that 40 state conferences a year. 

Then ASTD has a big national conference and 3 regional conferences.  WorldatWork has a big conference in the U.S. and at least one other big conference in Europe or Asia Pacific.  ERE has a bunch – 8 or 9 this year.  I have to mention RecruitFest! put on by RecruitingBlogs.com (more on that at the bottom of this post). 

But if you do cursory research you’ll find a list like this:

    AHRD International Research Conference in The Americas

    Benefits Forum & Expo

    CUPA-HR Annual Conference & Expo

    Engagement and Retention Conference

    Advanced Employment Issues Symposium

    Government Talent Management Summit

    HR Star Conference

    Jacob Fleming HR Conferences

    Learning and Development Conference

    National HR in Hospitality Conference & Expo

    Annual HR Technology Conference & Expo

    People Report Best Practice Conference

    IHRIM Conference and Technology Exposition

    Onrec Online Recruitment Conference & Exhibition

    World Human Resources Congress

    Worldwide ERC’s Global Workforce Symposium

 And these don’t include the up and coming unconferences, like HREvolution, or the bigger for-profit organizations like AMA, The Conference Board, etc.

 So what’s a person to do?  How do you manage your professional development investments to achieve the most appropriate outcome for you and your organization?

 Here are a few questions you can ask yourself as you think through the complexity and variety of the offerings:

  1. Are HR Certification Institute recertification credits important to you?
  2. Is there a specific issue in your organization that, if you became more expert and returned with practical learning, you could improve or solve?
  3. Do you want a traditional conference experience or do you want a more participatory experience?
  4. Do you like smaller, more intimate learning environments or do you prefer the energy of hundreds of learners?
  5. Do you want a global orientation or a domestic orientation?
  6. Do you want theory or practical application?
  7. Do you want to be inspired and motivated or do you want to roll up your sleeves and learn new concepts and their applications?
  8. Do you want access to the speakers while you’re in attendance?
  9. Do you want to travel or stay closer to home?

Truly, there is something for everyone in the world of HR conferences.  Each conference organization has its own approach and style.  Most offer recert credits; some don’t.  Some conferences focus on one issue or area of learning; some cover the HR waterfront.  Most offer the traditional conference experience; some are experimenting and engaging their attendees in new ways.  Some will register as many as want to attend; some are beginning to limit the number of attendees.  Some have a global orientation from both content and speaker perspectives; many are domestically oriented by default.  Some feature academic presentations; others offer the practical application side of things from practitioners.  Some offer inspirational and motivational sessions to keep you mission-focused and energized; some are only focused on skill development and knowledge transfer. 

This may help you organize your thoughts as you sift through the ever growing number of choices you have.  Of course the big issue is your budget and the cost of attending.  More HR pros are having to chip in their own money to attend the conferences of their choice.  At the same time, it’s getting tougher and tougher for conference organizers to improve the conference content and experience without raising the price.  But trust me:  they’re all trying to do just that. 

So be discriminating.  Make sure the content meets your objectives, the learning style fits your personal preferences, the other attendees have something to offer, and that the total cost is within your budget.  Be thoughtful in your selection.  And be sure to provide honest and timely feedback to the conference organizers.  They desperately want your critical feedback!

Along the line of budget management and conference attendance, here’s a great deal!  If you’re considering attending RecruitFest! in Boston October 7-8, 2010, my readers can get a discount on the registration fee.   Early bird pricing ends on August 31, so now would be a good time to go to www.eventbrite.com/event/657023174 and register.  When you use my name – chinagorman – in the discount code box you’ll receive a 10% discount (including multi-ticket packages!).   Not a bad deal.  RecruitFest! is being sponsored by our good friends at Monster, so you know it’s going to be a great experience.   I look forward to seeing you there.  And if you attend one of my tracks, engage!  Be controversial!  Let’s get the conversation going!

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Filed under China Gorman, HR, HR Conferences