Last year I attended SHRM for the first time - it was spectacular!
Attending as an international delegate, the scale of the conference was mind-blowing - much bigger than anything I've attended in Australia or New Zealand. I was surprised with the number of international participants, but to be honest the biggest takeaway for me was the calibre of attendees and speakers alike.
It wasn't just the keynotes either (although they were pretty spectacular all round) - the value I got from the other attendees - in particular, the organisers, volunteers, bloggers and the people I met in the lunch lines was the absolute highlight. Being able to share in their enthusiasm for rethinking how we engage with people in our organisations and witness the evolution of HR was career changing.
As a first time attendee I relied a huge amount on the SHRM Blogger articles and the guides published on the conference website. The scale being much bigger than anything I'd interacted with before was a little (edit: a lot) daunting: multiple streams, concurrent sessions, a large venue, all meant that relying on advice from the experts in planning my time was invaluable.
Things to consider for international attendees?
- Check out the international lounge - you will meet a huge variety of people and it's nice to have a 'base' to work from.
- Read up on the SHRM Blogger articles. These are the people to take advice from, veteran SHRM attendees and new additions alike, they've scoped some of the hottest speakers and expo attendees and will point you towards all the hidden treasures of the conference.
- The Smart Stage is absolutely the place to be when you've found yourself with a bit of time (and there's undoubtedly a number of speakers that you want to schedule into your conference time too) - but the 'aha!' moments I had when just sitting down for half an hour were some of the highlights of my SHRM16 time.
- Plan plan plan! No you don't have to plan down to every minute (unless that's your thing - then go nuts!) but make sure you’ve had a good look through the schedule and find your top picks - the venue is big and if you have a must-see you don't want to miss out because that session was at the other end of the venue or you got lost (see step 5 for getting lost).
- Make use of the friendly volunteers. Unless you're a conference location savant you will be thanking your lucky stars for the hundreds of volunteers who will point you towards the bathrooms with the smallest lines, direct you to your next session and let you know where the lost property stash is for that bag you left behind!
- Get on to the message boards - there are the official SHRM ones you get access to with your ticket, but there will also be numerous Facebook groups spring up where people will organise dinners and you'll hear about events happening over the time of the conference. If you're not one to normally get out of your shell make this the exception - I've never met such a welcoming group of people as at these events, some who have become wonderful friends.
The most important thing to do though? Have fun! Open your mind and listen to a few speakers that have different points of view than you. Make it a mission to speak to as many different people as you can and make the most of what will be one of the best professional learning experiences you can hope for.