Andrea M. Moore CPLP, CEC  is Senior Consulting Manager at FlashPoint, a multidisciplinary human resource consulting firm based in Indianapolis. As a certified professional in learning and performance and a certified empowerment coach, Andrea focuses on leadership development and addresses a broad spectrum of learning and performance issues. She is the president of the Central Indiana Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development (CIASTD).

Linda Dausend is a consultant at FlashPoint. Linda’s areas of focus include conducting job analyses, building and implementing recruitment strategies, developing talent, coaching, designing performance management systems, and creating succession plans. She is a member of SHRM, a board member for the Indiana State Council of SHRM, president of the South Central Indiana Human Resource Association (SCIHRA), and a member of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) and CIASTD.

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Having recently attended the Annual SHRM Conference in Las Vegas, we quickly recognized the benefits of the sessions, the networking with other HR professionals, and the resources that are available to improve our knowledge and skills. As the old saying goes, what you put into something is what you’ll get out of. You can attend a conference, or you can engage in a conference, and truly maximize your experience. Building from our experience as conference attendees, we are sharing our top five tips to help you as you attend future conferences, including the upcoming Indiana State HR Conference, August 29-31, in Indianapolis.

  1. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Whether you’re attending by yourself or as part of a team, clearly identify what you want to gain from your attendance. Check out specific tips on preparation in Andrea Moore’s recent blog post, Ready for My Learning Vacation . Ask yourself these questions: Am I going to enhance my skills in a particular body of knowledge? Do I want to find out the newest trends in my area of specialty? Do I want to learn what resources will help me in my current role? Write out your objectives. Meet with your attending team members to divide and conquer. Then, study the event schedule to determine how you can maximize your time. This leads us to the next tip:
  2. Never judge a session by its title. There are many sessions with clever titles that may not deliver on the PIZAZZ that they promise. We attended one session at the national conference that had something like “pizzazz” or “kapow” in the title…and it just fizzled. Check out the credentials of the speaker. Listen to what other conference attendees are saying about the speakers. Look at the objectives of the session. If available, review the slides online and check out the content. There are so many good sessions available; you want to make sure you are attending the ones that mean the most to you and your objectives. You don’t want to be sitting in a session thinking “this is not doing it for me” when there could be another session out there that could! If you need some help with that, think about this:
  3. If you’re not tweeting…start. Tweeting is an opportunity to maximize your level of engagement in the conference. It’s a way to peak behind the curtain and get into the minds of fellow attendees. You don’t have to be an avid tweeter; just give it a try! We found a huge benefit to following others throughout the conference. Find the hash tag (for the upcoming Indiana State HR Conference it is #INSHRM11) and see what your fellow tweeters are saying about conference speakers, topics, and events. You can also follow us (@FlashPointHR, @abundantempower, and @ldausend), as we’ll be tweeting throughout the conference. At the Annual SHRM Conference, we were able to see how others felt about a speaker and—when they felt great—we could find out when that speaker was presenting again so we could attend (assuming, of course, that it was aligned with our objectives). We also tweeted valuable statements from presenters so that all our followers back home could receive the benefit of insightful remarks. We loved the quote from Michael J. Fox: “The only thing in my life that I don’t have a choice about is whether or not to have Parkinsons; everything else is in my court.” If you’re a tweeter, here’s another benefit:
  4. Attend the networking events. At the Indiana State HR Conference, there is a tweet-up on Monday night, August 29, which you won’t want to miss. You’ll want to attend even if you’re not a tweeter. Networking events are great opportunities to meet others and have fun, but view it more strategically. As yourself: What connections do I want to make that align with my objectives for the conference? Don’t hang out with people you know…meet new people by introducing yourself. Have a 30-second personal commercial and ask lots of questions from others. Walk away with new connections and follow-up with them within a week of the conference. Expanding your network creates additional value for you, your company, and the HR profession.
  5. Get “stuff”…but, more importantly, get information. The Vendor Expo is awesome—we love the giveaways. But look at the event as an opportunity to gain even further knowledge. There is so much new information, new trends, new technology, and new practices that vendors share with us. Listen and you will be impressed and amazed. Ask questions and let the vendors know about your challenges so they can be better for you. Look for those vendors that align with your objectives.

Attending a conference is an opportunity to improve your skills and knowledge. Return from the conference and review the objectives that you set. Did you meet them? Do you have actions you can now take? Have you indentified even more development opportunities for you and your organization? Answering yes to these questions is a sure sign that you have maximized your conference experience.