Tips for Attending an HR Conference - Netchex

When the pandemic hit, so many things were closed or canceled . Whatever could be, went virtual. After two hectic years of false starts, things are finally starting to get back to normal, including work and conferences going back to in-person.

Most notably, the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) annual conference recently held in New Orleans as an in-person event. With the theme of “Cause the Effect,” here are our most important takeaways from the conference and how you can apply them in your career and at your company.

DISCOVER: The State of HR: 5 Important Lessons from the SHRM Conference

Whether in-person or virtual, HR conferences offer significant benefits to all kinds of HR professionals, diversity officers, and additional emerging HR-related roles, as well as other company leaders, including CFOs.

Discover everything you need to know before, during, and after attending an HR conference, including, planning, networking, and making the most out of your time.

What are the benefits of HR conferences?

HR conferences are great for networking and introducing new customers to your business. They are a great learning experience and they give you the opportunity to learn from other successful people and businesses.

HR conferences also help with keeping up to date on HR trends. As the workplace continues to evolve, HR trends are constantly shifting and changing. Attending an HR conference where other products and services are on display, you can catch up or stay ahead of the curve as the next trends emerges.

Virtual vs in-person HR conferences

During the pandemic, most of the world was sent into quarantine, which meant big events such as conferences shifted online. Like countless meetings and webinars in the past few years, virtual HR conferences are held on video chat applications like Zoom or Google Meet.

At Netchex, our own Netconnect conference has been held online for the past two years (2020 and 2021)—and our attendees have been thrilled with the results.  In fact, our 2022 HR conference will also be held virtually (details coming soon). 

READ: Zoom Gloom: Seven Tips for Combating Virtual Meeting Fatigue

Here are some resources we created about attending a virtual conference:

In the end, there are not a lot of differences between virtual and in-person HR conferences. Both offer an abundance of industry education and networking opportunities. 

While virtual HR conferences are generally more flexible and less expensive (thanks to the lack of travel expenses), in-person events do have that face-to-face factor that is hard to replicate virtually.

At this point, it’s really about personal choice and both are definitely worth attending. So, if you are heading to an in-person conference, here are some tips for making the most of your HR conference experience.

Tips for attending an in-person HR conference

Planning ahead

While going to an HR conference can be a great experience for you and your company, there are things that you have to do to prepare yourself for this exciting opportunity. Set an agenda and goals for your time there. What do you hope to learn? What do you want to get out of the conference?

There is going to be so much going on—sessions, events, and different vendors on hand. It can be overwhelming without planning ahead. Utilize your event schedule and list of vendors so you can plan out what you want to see and learn, and how much time you can spend in each place.

Travel and lodging is definitely something that needs to be planned ahead. If needed, make sure you secure a hotel room, as well as transportation to and from the conference. Will you need air travel? Once there, do you plan on walking, driving, taking public transportation, or other means of transportation to get around?

Packing and what to bring

It is very important that you have everything you need to make the most out of this conference. Bring business casual clothes and comfortable shoes, as well your phone, laptop, and/or tablet.

In today’s technology-first society, many conferences will use apps and websites to relay information and display events, a portable charger will help keep your device(s) charged and ready to use.

Bring business cards and other materials such as your demo, sales, and company merchandise. Conferences are a great way to get exposure, so don’t miss the opportunity to get brand exposure by coming in empty handed.

Attending conference sessions

Now that you have everything you need for the conference, what should you do once you get there? 

The greatest value of an HR conference is the educational opportunities, which can often double as required continuing education credits for HR professionals. Attend the various sessions and seminars to learn more HR trends and industry insights. It is a good idea to plan ahead and schedule what sessions you would like to attend. Some sessions may be more popular than others so have a couple backup sessions planned.

Additionally, HR conferences often have opportunities for networking, including meet-and-greets, happy hours, session breaks, and even roaming the showroom floor. This can be a great way to meet new business partners and have informal conversations with other business owners and potential clients. 

Hitting the showroom floor

Speaking of the showroom floor, there are sure to be countless different businesses and booths for you to visit and learn more about. You are going to want to see what each one has to offer. A rule of thumb says it is best to stay at each booth for over a minute to really take in what they have, but no more than five minutes so you don’t spend too much time at one booth.

Many of the booths will likely have free swag, handouts, and merch that you will want to take advantage of. Only take swag and merch that you know you will end up keeping. Taking up each and every one of the vendors on their free swag offer will leave you with no room in your suitcase for anything else and lot of post-show follow-up coming your way.

Working while at the convention

While it would be nice to be in two places at once, that is not physically possible. It is important to get away and avoid distractions while at an HR conference, but you likely can’t just abandon your everyday HR work while in attendance.

Let your clients and coworkers know that you will be out of office for the conference. You can set up an auto response email to let people trying to reach for you know you will not be available. That way, you can limit the amount of times you check your email.

But don’t feel too bad about checking emails occasionally, or handling an urgent situation when called upon. An HR professional’s job is never done!

Staying well-rested, hydrated, and healthy

While at an HR conference, keeping yourself healthy and hydrated is crucial to getting the most out of the experience.

  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day
  • Eat well-balanced meals a day, with fruits, vegetables, and protein
  • Eat snacks in between meals sto keep your energy level high

It is also important to remain safe while indoors to minimize the risk of COVID or any other sickness, like a common cold. To minimize risk:

  • Wear a mask indoors with crowds
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently
  • Maintain social distance when possible 

Additionally, being inside during day reduces a person’s exposure to Vitamin D and other vitamins. When you have time, go outside, stretch and get some fresh air before getting back to an exciting conference.

Venturing outside the convention

Conventions are often held in cities bustling with excitement—including New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Chicago. For those who traveled from out of town, HR conferences are a great way to sightsee and take a little vacation.

Once the convention is done for the day, treat yourself to see the sights, enjoy local foods, or go shopping. Some cities may have famous monuments, museums, or other fun things to do. You may not get the opportunity to be back in that city, take advantage of what they have to offer.

Following up post-convention

Now that you are back in your office, what do you do? You are going to want to review what you learned. Is it good knowledge to have? Will it benefit your business? Is it something that you found so incredibly interesting that you want to share what you learned?

Go over what you learned and what you achieved while at the conference with your team and your boss. Look over your goal sheet that you wrote prior to going to this conference. Did you achieve some or all of these goals? What will you work on next time to complete all of these goals if you did not complete them?

Take all of those contacts you got while at the convention and contact them via email, social media, or phone calls. Talk to them about their conference experience, their company, and how you might be able to work with each other in the future.

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