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How to Navigate Any HR Conference

HR conferences are a great way to increase your knowledge and network opportunities in the field of HR.  Although most professionals view conferences as positive experiences, some individuals may feel overwhelmed by the experience and return to work feeling drained. Introverts, especially, often feel stressed and unproductive in such an environment. Experts suggest that both extroverts and introverts can have more productive and enjoyable conference experiences when they do some preparation, assessment of their conference goals, and participation through discussions and networking opportunities.

Extroverts versus introverts

Conferences can be a bit overwhelming for both extroverts and introverts.  The key to a successful conference is achieving a balance of comfort and challenge for both personality types.  Extroverts typically thrive from people contact. The highlight of their conference will be the networking and social portion before and after the working sessions.  They may, however, find some difficulty staying engaged during session lectures.  Active participation and involvement in group discussions will keep the typical extrovert from becoming bored with basic lectures. Extroverts may excel in teams, but may also have difficulty navigating social cues at the same time.  They will often try to lead teams and neglect to recognize other team members’ opinions.  Staying open to social cues will allow them to truly be part of the team without dominating others.

Introverts usually have no problems attending conferences when they’re the only representatives from their organizations, but may, however, feel a little overwhelmed in a venue with a large number of people. Experts recommend that these individuals take plenty of breaks and alone time to recharge after networking and social events.  This will make the experience a little less overwhelming and draining.  Introverts will often find it easy to absorb information during the actual sessions without requiring much active participation and engagement.  These individuals will need to challenge themselves to participate in group activities and discussions during the conference so they can experience a truly enriched and complete conference experience.  Although introverts have great listening and comprehension skills, not contributing to their team may be perceived as standoffish by other more extrovert team members and impede actual networking. They can also gain valuable mentoring experiences from giving and receiving information during discussions.  Lifehack.com recently published an article on surviving conferences as an introvert.  They focus on great tips including taking breaks between events, challenging yourself to attend as many networking and social events as possible, and practicing networking icebreaker topics (i.e family, pets, and hobbies) ahead of time.

Preparation before the conference

A successful conference always involves careful preparation.  Since conferences in general involve changing venues and crowds of unfamiliar peoples, it’s best to prepare yourself with information ahead of time in order to reduce stress.  Entrepeuner.com addresses some great tips that allow professionals to get successfully prepared for the conference experience:

  • Familiarize yourself with the city and venue – Most conferences occur in different venues year after year.  Prior to the conference be sure to familiarize yourself with the venue and a map of the city, especially if it’s unfamiliar to you.  This will help you navigate through the different suites and sessions in the venue, the airport you fly into, any off campus events, restaurants, and any modes of transportation you might need to get to and from the conference.  The more you know beforehand, the easier it’ll be getting to your destination on the day of the conference.
  • Reflect on conference goals – Before your conference it’s important to reflect on your goals.  Are you looking to gain knowledge about specific areas addressing immediate challenges at the office or are your goals more long-term or career oriented?
  • Decide on sessions and vendors to visit prior to conference – Once you decide what your goals are, you can decide which sessions meet those goals.  It’s impossible to attend all sessions so planning ahead will help you concentrate on sessions that will benefit your job and career in the long run. If there are specific vendors you would like to see during the conference, be sure to visit with them prior to the start of your first session.  Getting there early will allow you enough time to address specific areas of concern with your vendors instead of squeezing them in between sessions or at the end of a long day.
  • Prioritize your team – If you’re planning to attend a conference as a team, be sure to allocate who will attend which sessions ahead of time.  This will help the entire team prioritize their individual career and job goals.  The best part of going to a conference as a team is that the group will cover a lot of ground and bring some valuable information for everyone in the department to share.
  • Prepare before networking and social events – Networking and social events are almost as important as many of the sessions at the conference.  Think about some icebreaker conversation points to bring up during the events.  Topics can stray from business to more personal connections, like children, pets, and hobbies. This will help build more personal connections.  Be sure to attend as many networking and social events as possible.  These events will help you connect to other professionals for future career mentoring, job opportunities, and industry advice.   The larger your network, the greater your future career development.
  • Bring business cards– Be sure to pack business cards to give to your new connections.  Don’t forget to add any LinkedIn and Twitter account information, along with other professional social media sites you belong to.  If you run out of cards, it’s easy for your connections to add you to their network list if you have a LinkedIN or Twitter account that they can search.
  • Eat and sleep – Most conferences start early and end late.  Be sure to get a good night’s sleep the night before a big conference, and start with a healthy breakfast.  Bring lots of snack to eat throughout the day since many times sessions can run late and may not allow you enough time in between sessions to grab a snack.

 Opportunities during your conference

Conference sessions will provide you a wealth of valuable knowledge about your industry, but there are additional perks during your conference that can make a positive impact on your career development.  Below are some tips to optimize your sessions:

  • Attend sessions that apply to your current or future job goals – It’s impossible and impractical to attend all available sessions at your conference so be sure to choose wisely.  Concentrate on attending conferences that help you meet your current and future job and career goals.  Don’t choose by selecting the easiest or less boring of the sessions.  Focus on sessions that will give you some payback in the future.  For example, you may enjoy learning about social media challenges, however it might be a better idea to select a session that will help you learn more on HR strategy since you’re career goal is to work as an HR director.
  • Talk to speakers directly – It’s a great idea to address a speaker after your session, if you have a pressing office issue they can provide some advise on.  Addressing complicated topics and issues during the session might be disruptive to the other audience members.  Connecting with your speaker on a one-on-one basis will also help you gain greater insight and provide a good networking opportunity.
  • Connect with vendors that can provide positive solutions for your organizations – Don’t just pick up a pamphlet from a vendor’s table, try to connect with them by discussing your organization’s challenges.  They can offer you some possible solutions and a direct connection to the organization when you actually need to utilize their services.
  • Use social media during your sessions when appropriate – Don’t be afraid to tweet about an important point or topic brought up during your sessions.  These tweets can spark networking and more interesting questions and opportunities for you to explore during and after your conference.
  • Network with people at your sessions during breaks and group discussions – Don’t wait for network events.  Take opportunities to network with session mates during breaks and group discussions.  Be sure to exchange business cards and connect through social media (i.e., LinkedIN, Twitter, etc.) These opportunities will help you grow your professional network.
  • Subscribe to professional network’s newsletters/emails for info on future conferences – Be sure to pay attention to the speaker’s contact information in order to explore future networking and conference opportunities.

After the conference

Once the conference is over, be sure to make the most of your new found knowledge and networking.  UC Berkley published a great article addressing tips on getting the most of your professional conferences.  Some of these include the following:

  • Reveal what information and strategies you learned with your manager – When you get back to the office, be sure to schedule a time with your manager to discuss what you learned and what solutions you feel might benefit the department.  This will reinforce the idea that conferences like the ones you attended are a good investment for the department and organization.
  • Share your information with colleagues – Share what you learned with the rest of your colleagues and use the opportunity to provide mentoring.    The knowledge you learned may benefit a colleague in his department or career development.
  • Contact your new network connections – Reach out to your new contacts as a way to share and collaborate on new ideas and future projects.  These connections will help grow your professional network over time.

Conferences are a great source of knowledge and networking opportunity.  Although to some individuals they may seem overwhelming, some preparation before the conference, assessing of conference goals, and active participation in discussions and networking opportunities will help any introvert or extrovert have a successful HR conference experience.

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