Congratulations! You’re going to an industry conference, event, trade show or continuing education seminar — which means that your company is investing in your professional development and growth. But how do you justify your time away to leadership — and to yourself — without burning out or feeling somehow short-changed?
Getting the most out of an HR conference isn’t easy — particularly because most of the content is designed to sell consulting services or perpetuate some thought leadership “theory” that has nothing to do with the real world you practice in every day. And while we all say we go to these things to network, let’s face it: that’s more work than actually working — before Happy Hour, anyway.
That’s why, as a professional conference goer, the Truman Capote of the HR social calendar, I wanted to pull together this handy, dandy checklist of what you need to do to survive an HR conference. Of course, staying home and on top of your real job is always the best bet, but if you’ve got to go, you’ve got to do these things to make sure you make it out alive:
Goofus & Gallant: HR Conference Edition
Remember Goofus and Gallant, the modernist equivalent of Aesop’s Fables? Since the content marketing and agendas related to most conferences are written for about the same comprehension level as Highlights for Children, we’ll let these evil/good twin archetypes keep it old school and explain how to survive an HR conference (hint: Gallant takes the best approach):
- Meetings to Attend: Goofus picks which sessions to attend based on the session description or the presenter (whose bio is normally as inflated as their claims of expertise). Gallant does his research before planning on which sessions to attend and can align them with business objectives or actionable takeaways that, if not addressed in the session itself, he prompts the speaker to address these during the Q&A portion of the session.
- When to Come and Go: Goofus arrives just before the conference starts and hits the road as soon as the agenda officially concludes. Gallant knows that the informal encounters outside the venue, the sanctioned or spontaneous dinners and after hours camaraderie are where the real networking happens at an event, and his travel schedule shows it.
- How to Network: Goofus gives his business card to every vendor on the trade show floor for the chance to win something like an iPad or a gift certificate. Gallant knows that this is how vendors get leads, and that most of these prizes aren’t worth the weeks or months of dodging sales calls that, unlike a giveaway, you’re guaranteed to win with the company’s sales team.
- Taking Notes: Goofus brings a well sharpened pencil, a legal pad and takes copious notes in long hand from all the speakers to reference when he gets back to the office. Gallant knows that the slides will be available for download after the conference, and he’s better served bringing a laptop and live tweeting.
- What to Talk About: Goofus makes himself the center of conversation and pimps out his credentials and company whenever the opportunity for self-promotion presents itself. Gallant knows to ask questions, listen and get to know the people and players – and lay the groundwork for future opportunities.
- Where to Hang Out: Goofus is there to learn. He sits in on every session. Gallant knows the best part of conferences are the interactions in the hallway, in the expo floor and everywhere but trapped inside a conference room — and knows how to create those opportunities to interact.
- How to Interact: Goofus begins every interpersonal interaction by asking what company someone works for and their job title. Gallant begins every interpersonal interaction by asking why that person is at the event and what they hope to learn out of it.
- When to Follow Up: Goofus follows up with everyone he meets at the conference on LinkedIn, Twitter or via e-mail as soon as they get back to the office to remind people of his existence immediately. Gallant enters his new contacts into a CRM or spreadsheet and strategically waits between a month and 60 days before reaching out, knowing that his message won’t be lost in related conference messaging.
- Post-Conference Insight: Goofus reads the recaps and takeaway posts from the conference’s official blog. Gallant checks the hashtags on social networks and third party blogs from attendees on sites like Recruiting Conferences to get a real idea of what real people really thought.
Go be Gallant. Because as you’ll learn about 20 minutes into whatever conference you’re going to, this industry already has enough Goofuses as it is.
Originally published on the Human Capitalist. So shoot me for aggregating my stuff here.