Conference Groupies, High Heels, and Digging Deeper

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When I attended my first ERE Expo two years ago in San Diego, I got completely hooked. Fortunately, before the conference and my quick plunge into it, I had some semblance of who the players were, what I wanted to learn about and why one would attend something like this. My whole life, I’d heard “grown ups” complain about “conferences” and how much they stunk and wasted time, the only obvious saving grace was their semi-exotic locales.

Imagine my surprise when I loved every single second of my experience at ERE Expo, then Kennedy (now Onrec), followed by RecruitFest and a slew of other conferences, networking events, and unconferences (from local to international). I fell hard. I was a conference junkie. I listened, took notes, livetweeted the heck out of tracks (blew up some phones in the process) formed my opinions based on what I heard and then trashed them or blogged about them as I tested their veracity in the real world. From newbie recruiter, to enthusiatic community member to consultant to proud CMO of RecruitingBlogs.com, I experienced a variety of conferences/events in a variety of ways from lots of different viewpoints. It’s been, shall we say, eye-opening.

So…what have I learned?

1) There is such a thing as a conference groupie. I should know, I am one. If this obsession is not managed properly, the actual business that gets done at these events can become minimal. Get out of your comfort zone. The new person you spend 15 minutes talking to, instead of hanging out with your usual crew planning margaritas can be your next big lead.

2) You can engage in the coverage of a track and not attend and get some useful nuggets. However, this usually makes you a reporter and not technically part of the conversation. Attending the tracks, even carefully selected tracks (again, choose speakers based on topic rather than how comfortable you are with them personally) elevates the conference experience above the “vendor” relationship. It also gives much food for thought (or as thought is now commonly termed, blog posts 🙂 post-event and allows you to hear about upcoming trends and products you may not have been aware of.

3) Troll it. You heard me. If there’s a vendor hall, walk it and talk to every single person who will talk to you. Be honest about your goals. Are you looking for a new product? Do you want to hear from a vendor about services? Or are you just looking to get your own message out. The conference and event scene is rife with a new third audience (it used to be vendors and attendees). Now, with the advent of social media and in true recruiting fashion, we’ve created middle-men, communities and blog superstars who are looking for content, advertising or just more exposure.

4) Pay attention. I recently asked Kevin Wheeler about what surprised him about the IAEWS conference (typically held immediately before ERE Expo). While there was much the same in what he said about the conversations, there were new products, many of which I had never heard of, that he was impressed with. Digging deeper, I found out why these new products surprised him (giving me insight into social trends from someone who’s been watching them a long time). I never would have heard any of this had I not asked. By paying attention to both 1) what I’d heard before and 2) what was new, I am able to to hone in on what might be new and exciting for my community but also what continues to provide debate and fodder for the industry pundits.

5) Don’t wear heels. Man I wish I could take my own advice, but I never do. File under working on it.

6) Never leave a conversation without asking “How can I help you?” or “How can we work together?”. If there is nothing to collaborate on, so be it. But if there is, no matter how miniscule, you will have missed an opportunity to expand your community. As recruiting and HR communities continue to grow, it is less about being exclusive (pay to join, join to post, you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours) and more about being inclusive. Support niche envirnoments, whereever they grow. Contribute to events, even when they don’t benefit you directly and direct people to your content whenever possible (or make it accesible where they already are).

That’s not all but it’s enough for today. Oh PS If there is free food, EAT IT, because hevean only knows when you can get your whole group to agree on a place to eat before you become insane with hunger. Fortunately, I brought a granola bar in my bag. (MOM points!)

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