Warning: Long post ahead. #sorrynotsorry
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."
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.
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.
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!!
"I am not a teacher, but an awakener."
― Robert Frost
"The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves."
— Steven Spielberg
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.