It’s that time of year again, and this year I’m scheduled for three major HR technology conferences between now and Halloween. Each is very different, but for me each represents a valuable opportunity to learn, network, visit with old friends, share what I know, and did I mention learn?
I’ll have my husband, Ron Wallace, with me at both HR Tech Conference & Expo in Chicago and HR Tech World Congress in Paris (trying keeping him away from Paris!), and that’s a huge help because I’ll be speaking at each of these conferences as well as hosting all manner of industry meetings. For Workday Rising, which is also in Chicago this year, I’m going on my own safe in the knowledge that, as an analyst there, I won’t have quite so many miles to scoot nor as many industry meetings to attend. Hopefully, I’ll get to see all of you at one or more of these important events in our industry’s calendar.
But whether you’re going to all of these or just one of them (and I can’t imagine that any of you will be missing all of them), it’s time to finalize your preparations so that you get the most out of your time in Chicago and/or Paris. I’d add that what I propose below applies equally well to any other sizable vendor-produced or industry events of the HR technology persuasion. They may also apply to all manner of other technology-related events, but you’ll have to decide that for yourselves.
If you’re anything like me, from the time you arrive in a conference city, you’re off and running, non-stop, on:
- vendor/industry meetings,
- exhibition hall booth visiting (I make a valiant effort each year to stop at everything single booth, but now the two big HR tech shows have gotten so large that many of these visits are flybys at best with no disrespect intended),
- session attending,
- session delivery,
- intense but wonderful hallway and restroom exchanges (do guys do as much substantive chatting and networking in their restrooms as we do?),
- time with valued colleagues and long-standing industry friends,
- an occasional meal and more than an occasional drink,
- tweetups and meetups,
- our annual Brazen Hussies gatherings, and more.
As I’m finalizing my own preparations for these conferences, I thought you might enjoy a few tips from my personal list. And like all good twitterstreams, please read from the bottom up:
#Tip #10: Get dates for #HRTechConf and #HRTechWorld 2017 on your calendar and in your budget right now. Each of these shows has its own special flavor and areas of emphasis, and only some of you may find that attending both is justified, but whatever your inclinations, do get that budget justification in process now.
#Tip #9: Talk, talk, talk and listen, listen, listen because sharing questions, ideas and experiences with colleagues is the point. Bring your list of the folks you follow most on Twitter and make it a point to meet them. Come up to me after my sessions and hit me with your questions. And do feel quite comfortable approaching almost anyone about anything reasonable; it takes a village, and that’s HCM and HR technology all over. And I would definitely get your foreign language skills in gear — a MUST if you’re hoping to support global organizations or becoming a global citizen yourself — whether you’re planning to attend the Paris conference or just go out for authentic Italian food in Chicago.
#Tip #8: Bring a swag carrier if you’re flying in and plan to carry your giant stuffed toy home in your lap. Ron can’t imagine coming home from one of these conferences without a new monster, but I’ve warned him not to expect one this year given Randstad’s announced intent to acquire Monster. And if you’re a vendor doing some swag planning, we love: umbrellas (the rainy season is on right now, and you can never have too many), interesting stress reduction toys, cuddly creatures (why doesn’t anyone ever give away big stuffed alligators), shoe bags (those soft ones in which you pack your shoes when traveling), towels (all sizes appreciated), t-shirts (medium for Ron, XL for me — embarrassing but true), international electrical plug sets, great bottles of wine, and books we’d really like to read, but please no more vendor-branded tablet or phone covers. The risk of meeting with Vendor A with your iPad wrapped in Vendor B is just too high.
#Tip #7: Leave room in your schedule for serendipity and for nature breaks — well at least nature breaks. I’ve met some amazing women during those nature breaks; I can’t speak for what goes on in the men’s room. Given the sometimes impossible lines at the lady’s rooms at US convention venues, I think the French idea of shared restrooms — common sink area and a collection of stalls into which you slip as they become available — has real merit. Why should women be waiting on line while stalls in a separate men’s room are free? And sharing the sinks would also provide opportunities for mixed gender ad hoc discussions of conference-related topics — or not.
#Tip #6: Attend as many sessions as possible. I do because, at least when there’s NO sales crap allowed, they’re generally excellent. Come prepared to be an active listener, to take notes, to provide a twitterstream for your colleagues who couldn’t attend in person, and to boo any speaker who dares to give you a sales pitch or to trash their competitors. And the best thing we can do to support the hard-working men who program these conferences — so Peter Russell for the Paris show and Steve Boese for Chicago — is to complete those evaluation forms, adding comments as appropriate.
#Tip #5: Don’t try to attend > 3 vendor parties after a long first day of sessions. I hate missing all those great parties, but my party all night and work all day years are behind me — and behind many to most of you as well although some of you aren’t ready to admit it. Save at least a few brain cells for the second day of sessions; you’ll thank me if you do. And for those of you attending the Paris show, surrounded by some of the greatest wines in the world, I’ve learned my lesson about indulging in too much of those wines at the mid-morning coffee breaks.
#Tip #4A: Download the conference’s app and learn how to use it. Increasingly, this is the only way to know what’s going on, and the best of these apps support your networking goals, plug you into the best parties, offer suggestions on what sessions may be of greatest interest, etc. Being the oldest person you know in the industry, I like to support my aging memory with an overall itinerary for myself that includes my travel plans, all meetings with agenda, attendee information and logistics, location of the exhibitors I most want to visit, location of the sessions I most want to attend, details on relevant parties, and more. And while I carry this electronically, I also carry — yes, I really do — a hard copy. No dead phone battery, small screen/tired eyes combo, or last minute change is going to catch me unprepared. But of course, you probably don’t need such backup.
#Tip #4: Plan your conference in advance. With what vendors do you want to schedule extended and/or private demos? Make those appointments now. What attendees with whom you share specific issues/vendors/industry concerns/etc. do you want to meet? And if you’re all on the same true SaaS product, you won’t have to waste a minute asking each other what release you’re on! Do that outreach and arrange those meetings now. Pick your sessions and, because there are too many good ones for just one person, find a buddy with whom you can divide and conquer. Better yet, bring a whole team to these conferences and cover the ground.
#Tip #3: Carry a water bottle and refill it at every chance you get. Convention center climates are designed to dessicate, and they don’t always have enough refreshment stations. Lately I’ve been carrying a protein bar or two in my briefcase, something you may also want to consider. And I could also suggest that you bring a restorative flask, but we HR people would never make such a suggestion.
#Tip #2A: Assume that the convention center will be too cold/too hot/too drafty/too whatever, and dress accordingly. We’ll be overrun with executives from across the industry, buyers and sellers, so you may want to lose the flipflops, cutoffs, and anything that reveals parts of you that I’d rather not see. Here I’m showing my personal biases, but business casual does not translate in my book into anything lower down the sartorial scale than clean pressed jeans, a similarly clean ironed t-shirt with at least short sleeves, most of your tattoos tactfully covered, and shoes. Of course, these suggestions only apply to the granddaddy of HR technology shows, the big Kahuna, in Chicago, and to Workday Rising. Many of our Continental colleagues lean toward business formal, as in dark suit and tie. Hmm….
#Tip #2: Wear your most comfortable walking shoes. There will be few places to sit except in sessions and long convention center distances to cover. Yes, I know that my younger female colleagues will want to show off those Manolo D’orsay spikes — the latest in fashionista circles — and I don’t blame you, but be sure you’ve got a suitably designed male colleague at the ready to carry you after the first hour. Having done my fair share of spike heel time, I’m convinced that there’s a direct connection to my now arthritic joints. It doesn’t matter what shoes I’ll be wearing as I flash by on my magic carpet (electric scooter), but you’ll be limping by noon if you don’t select your shoes carefully. And speaking of that magic carpet, we finally found, in an English antique shop, a suitable horn so that I can give fair warning before running over fellow conference goers.
#Tip #1: For vendors of greatest interest, do your homework in advance, preparing the mental scenarios that you’d like to see, so that booth time is hands-on demo time. And be sure to spend time on the floor checking out some of the newer/smaller vendors. There’s a ton of innovation going on in our industry, and it isn’t always on offer at the flashiest booths. In spite of the heavy industry consolidation, VC moola has been flowing into all things HR technology, so there are going to be a bazillion vendors at both conferences of which you’ve never heard — and many of which will disappear just as quickly.
Most important: whichever conferences you attend, be sure to say thank you to the conference organizers. They work their butts of all year to give you the best possible learning/networking/problem solving experience, and they deserve our gratitude. See you soon….