Warning: Long post ahead. #sorrynotsorry
The countdown has already begun for the 2019 SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition - in Las Vegas! I am giddy with excitement this year! Of course, I’m giddy every year. (Ok. I’m giddy every day… Don’t judge.) I’m particularly giddy to attend this year for good reason. I was invited to participate as an official #SHRM19 Blogger! How fun is that??
Before I dive too deep into this post, I invite you to meet and connect with this year’s #SHRM19Blogger squad: Creating Better Workplace - Meet the #SHRM19Bloggers.
There are a hundred reasons why I look forward to attending every year. But let me take a step back for a second and paint a picture for you. I’ve been attending this conference for years. And every year I see and hear things that make my heart sad, and make me wonder why some people choose HR as their profession. I hear things like “the session was boring” and “there are too many people” and “the coffee line is too long”.
I find it incredibly ironic that we HR pros for years have been trying to unlock the secrets to creating positive workplaces. And yet, here we are, complaining. We know better than anyone in our organizations that you can’t please all the people all the time. So why are we choosing to be on the negative side of the coin. Stop it. Just stop. Let's first make sure our attitudes and behaviors support our efforts.
I’m reminded of a quote from the movie Wyatt Earp. Doc Holliday (played by Dennis Quaid) said to Wyatt Earp (played by Kevin Costner):
For some people, this world ain’t ever gonna be right.
Check out the clip here.
Listen up, HR Pros. The conference is what you make it. It isn’t every speaker’s job to ensure that you walk away with 10 golden HR nuggets – at every session. At the end of the day, this is your career. Your development. You take away what you choose. I’m sure you can find just one thing useful in every session you attend. But that is up to you. It is, indeed, a very large conference. SHRM18 in Chicago broke attendance records, and drew 22,000 attendees. So you will have to navigate through crowds, which I realize is a challenge for many people. And, yes, the coffee line is super long at the conference center. So plan ahead and don’t wait to purchase your coffee there. But if you do, don’t be a grumpy butt. See all those people in front of and behind you? They want coffee, too. And, likely, they want it pretty tout suite. Wouldn’t it be something if you started some conversation and helped make the long wait more pleasant?
I know that for many people (like myself), it’s energizing to think of all the possibilities that a conference this size holds. The vendors. The speakers. The bookstore. The Smart Stage. The learning opportunities. The networking opportunities. Connecting with old friends. Hopefully making new ones. All the awesome HR gear. And. So. Many. People. I mean, com’on. Just soak that up. For some of us, when we enter a room of hundreds (thousands) of people, we just revel in the goodness of that energy! (My giddy is showing!)
For many others, especially as a first time attendee, whether it’s 160 attendees or 16,000, it can be quite overwhelming.
In order to prep you for a conference of this magnitude, I want to share a few action items that can help you make the most of your conference experience - before, during and after. Here's a countdown of 5 ways you can gear up, have a great conference, make amazing life-long friendships, and continue to build that momentum long after the conference is over.
#5: Be courageous.
I have thought a lot about fear and courage lately. We all know people who let fear dictate their next move – or lack thereof. Fear, if you let it take hold, will stunt your growth. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said:
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.
Think about that for a minute. Courage is not the absence of fear. That means you can be fearful, and yet still be courageous. (**mind blown**)
A couple of weeks ago, my family and I watched a documentary called “Free Solo.” (Highly recommended.) It’s about Alex Honnold who climbed Yosemite’s 3,000 foot granite cliff El Capitan without ANY ropes or safety equipment. None. I watched the whole thing between my fingers. I wasn’t even there and it scared the poo out of me. (Not literally…)
People like him have a different perspective of fear. They are able to control and use fear - become hyper-focused, confident and prepared. Sure he was scared. And he did it anyway.
If I’m being honest, I spent a good portion of my early career hanging out in fearful places. Rather than let fear act as cement, I learned to use it as a source of motivation to continue to stretch and explore the unknown. I’ve learned that fear is usually my guide. If I feel fearful, that usually means I’m on the right path and something extraordinary is about to happen. Sometimes fear can be exhilarating! (I call that the “Wee Factor.” It’s that moment when you realize how FUN fear can be!) But it does take courage to keep moving forward.
It is not unusual to be fearful of large, unfamiliar places, filled with unfamiliar faces. I get it. Many people are simply uncomfortable around strangers – even more so 16,000 of them.
Do it anyway. Use that fear as a motivator for you to try something new. Embrace the fear, and step out with courage.
The moment that little voice inside your head starts throwing out fear statements, or tries to convince you not to do X, shut it down. YOU are in control of your thought pattern. If you live your life in a place of fear, it’s high time you start writing a new narrative.
#4 Build Your Professional Network
It took me far too long to understand the power of a strong network. For some, networking comes naturally (**ahem** Steve Browne). For many others, networking is terrifying. (Please refer to #5.) There are a ton of books, blogs, articles and podcasts you can read and listen to to learn how to network. The big aha moment (and the moment networking became fun) is when I learned that the more I give and serve, the more I get back. The kicker is that I never give for the purpose of getting. It’s that this miraculous thing happens when you give: You receive.
A starting point prior to heading out to SHRM19 is to log into SHRM Connect, click on “Groups,” and then find the SHRM19 Annual Conference Community. If you are traveling to Vegas solo, this is a great place to start making connections NOW. You will find people posting as a first time attendee asking to make connections. Post one, too! Make plans to meet up – for coffee, lunch, dinner, cocktails, dancing, site-seeing, WHATEVER. Plan a dinner somewhere and post how many dinner partners you’re looking for. You will be shocked (and pleasantly surprised) at how many others are in the VERY SAME PLACE you are! The reality is that people want to connect. Let’s not do this introvert/extrovert labeling BS. The most introverted people in the world still want connections with other humans. And the most extroverted people in the world still need down time. Everyone wants to belong. Be intentional about those connections. How many times have you attended a conference or a Chapter meeting, you sat at a table of strangers, introduced yourselves, exchanged business cards, and then the moment you return to the office, you either throw the business cards in a desk drawer, or worse, in the trash? Spoiler alert: That’s not networking.
If you do some networking prior to the conference, once you get there, intentionally connect with those people you’ve been networking with. That conference center jam-packed full of thousands of people will feel a whole lot smaller when you see a familiar face or two.
During and after the conference, follow through on the connections you made (and continue to make) with others. Be sure to exchange contact information. Make a plan to connect in person (if local), or by phone call, or better yet, through Zoom or other video conferencing. (Claire Petri is a master at this! Anytime I connect her with someone new, I know that on the short end of that introduction is a Zoom call. It’s brilliant!) I’m not suggesting that you need to make every person you meet your new BFF. What I’m saying is be the kind of person that others know they can count on – whether for great content, sound advice, knowledgeable counsel, or another connection. One of the most powerful tools in your HR toolbox is your network. The HR Community is chalk-full of amazing, smart, innovative, experienced professionals. On top of that, most people want to help others. We want to see others succeed. Be the kind of professional that helps build others up. What a legacy!!
#3 Find a mentor
We have so much to learn. Wherever you are in your career, there is zero chance that you know everything there is to know. Sometimes we all need a nudge. We need someone to impart wisdom – to help us make decisions (which very well could be life or career altering), to help guide us when we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, to share experiences and knowledge where we lack one or the other, or both.
I am not a teacher, but an awakener.
Mentors are teachers, or as Robert Frost said, awakeners. (Ooo, I love that!) We all have greatness inside of us. Mentors can help to unlock and unleash – awaken – that potential. Mentors can be the conduit between mediocrity and extraordinary. They can be the boost we need to be courageous in the face of our fears (see #5). They are the ones who lead us to truth. Or in some cases maybe just encourage us to recognize the truth we already know and give us just the right kick in the backside to muster the courage to do something with it. (Future blog post on this topic...)
#2 Be a Mentor
One of the best ways to learn is to teach. You do not need to be someone with 20 or 30 years of experience in order to teach others more junior than yourself. All of us have experiences we can share with others. That is one of my favorite things about the HR profession. I am continually impressed by the number of young professionals entering this field, and the level of passion, creativity, innovation and knowledge they already have to share. Find one that you can mentor and help guide and shape, and in return, you will learn oh so much.
The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.
#1 Intentionally Find And Build Your Community
Life was meant to be experienced together. We aren’t meant to walk alone – personally or professionally. Iron sharpens iron. It takes a village. Community is a natural result of consistent presence and intentional relationship building (see #s 4, 3, and 2). When we build relationships with the professionals in our network, when we teach and are taught, connections begin to have more meaning. We build friendships. We find the people with whom we share more intimate details of and the struggles in our lives. Community isn’t limited to a number, or to a certain radius of miles from your work or home, or to the individuals with whom you have the most in common or happen to be most like. Community is what you make it. It can be as large or as small as you feel comfortable. I have found that the more I invest in people, the more I am intrigued and interested in who they are, and the more excited I am to draw them into my community– like gravity.
Choose your community. Choose them well. Choose to pull closer the people who make you better. Nurture those relationships.
The SHRM Annual Conference is an opportunity to expand your community, be challenged and stretched, and take purposeful steps towards a more meaningful career. This year, decide ahead of time what you plan to get out of your attendance and how you plan to bring all of that back with you to help create better workplaces. Start now. Even if it scares you, do it anyway. If the thought of 20,000 people in one spot stresses you out, come anyway. If you don’t have a mentor now, find one anyway. If you feel like you have nothing to teach, mentor anyway. If you prefer to keep your community small, build relationships anyway. Then follow through - during and after the conference.
After all, we are in the business of people.
For another great list of conference tips, I want to give a shout out to fellow #SHRM19Blogger and #StatelineCrew #HRTribe pal – and dear friend, Jeff Palkowski. Jeff and I met in person at #SHRM18 in Chicago. Prior to heading out, he had created this super fun Bingo card, which he enthusiastically branded SHRM-O. I don’t want to steel his thunder, so head over to his blog: HR Sushi Bar. He does a wonderful job of providing great tips for attending #SHRM19 in Vegas. A Case of Déjà Vu All Over Again.
PS – My #1++ conference tip is to wear comfortable shoes! Ladies, this is NOT the time to sport your brand new 4 inch pumps. You will regret it within the first 30 minutes....