HOW TO STAND OUT AT A CONFERENCE, NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE


After day one of the HRPA 2015 Annual Conference, I wrote about the theme of Disrupting HR. Looking back over all three days, there was another, somewhat related theme, about the importance of standing out in a crowd. Many speakers mentioned it, and as I watched Session Speakers, Vendors and Attendees interact and move through the conference, there were many opportunities for all of us to stand out and put much of what the Keynote speakers shared into practice. If you don’t have time to read the whole post, skip to the final tip because it is the most important one!

Standing out as a Session Speaker

I speak at several events, and some of these are tips I use and find extremely helpful, while others are tips I saw in action at the HRPA conference. The speakers that did these things stood out to me. What do you think?

1. Kill the powerpoint slides nobody can read

If your powerpoint slides are full of bullet points, or if the font is so small nobody can read it, please stop. If you’re able to go without slides – like Michael Bungay Stanier (my favourite breakout session presenter) than please do! If not, consider images that represent your point, or at minimum change the layout of your slides so that the font is legible.

2. Greet people when they come in the room

As a session speaker, I find this extremely valuable – I want to hear from people what they’re looking forward to. I want to break the ice with a few people so I feel like I have “friends” in the room. I want people to feel comfortable and engaged as soon as they walk in. Again, Michael Bungay Stanier is a pro at this. He stood at the door to my breakout session and greeted every person by name. He rocks. As Jane Watson said in an earlier post, attend anything that he does. It’s bound to be great.

3. Interact!

Even if it’s just getting people raising their hands to questions or a few questions called out to the crowd, do something to interact. These people have been watching talking heads for days now… how can you make your session one they remember? Of course, once again, Michael Bungay Stanier kills this. He somehow is able to fit a valuable workshop into 50 minutes! I had a great time interacting with my partners in his session. Barring that, interacting with your audience at a minimum is a must if you want to be remembered.

4. Step out from behind the podium

Standing behind the table or podium puts you apart from us. Get out from behind it. Walk around. Get on our level. As HR pros, we likely coach managers on coaching their team members. One of the basic rules is to not sit across the desk from them. This same rule applies to speaking. Step out from the podium to immediately connect with the audience more effectively.

Standing out as a Vendor

I’ve worked trade shows many times in the past, and it can be exhausting work. You are “on” all day for three days. BUT there is nothing more exhausting than working a trade show and having nobody visit your booth! Try these tips to have a much more engaging time – for you and your guests!

1. Host a fun activity

Not everyone has the resources or perhaps the creativity to do what Workopolis, Career Builder, Achievers, and The Williamson Group did. I missed out on Workopolis’ customized tote bags – but what an awesome idea! I also never made it to what looked like a lottery happening at TD’s booth due to long line ups all the time. I did, however, hit the Career Builder candy bar a couple of times, get a group photo of our blogger team taken at the Achievers booth, and get my “HR’s Most Wanted” photo taken at the Williamson Group’s booth. Be creative. Everyone does business card draws. You have to mix it with something over the top to stand out.

2. Stand up and talk to people

The trade show actually didn’t seem to be open very often outside of the speaker sessions – it opened at 10 and closed by 4:30, so during those busy times when the attendees are swarming the floor, take advantage of the crowds and stand up and talk to us. Speaker rule #4 goes for Vendors too – come out from behind a table and connect with us. I saw several vendors sitting and chatting with each other as I walked around – at minimum, it would be great if Vendors were up, energetic and smiling at us!

3. Work the line up

If you don’t have the cool resources to do something cool like in #1, take advantage of the lineups around your booth. This is prime networking time – they’re a captive audience until they get their photo taken or their candy bag filled. Chat up the “waiters”, collect business cards, invite them to spin your wheel or pick up your swag after they’re done their manicure. Get creative! If I had a coffee booth, I’d whip up a tray full and serve people in the lineup, introducing the product and where our booth was.

Standing out as an Attendee

In a crowd of 4,000 people, it’s hard to stick out. Of course, if you use the networking tips I shared here, they will certainly help you to make a start. Here are three things I observed and didn’t observe in a variety of people at the HRPA conference.

1. Smile at people

Seriously, smile when you walk by people. Even if you don’t know them. Lift your head up from your phone, look around, make eye contact and show those pearly whites! This morning after one of my sessions, I wandered as I answered an urgent email, and when a friend caught me, I couldn’t help but wonder who I had passed by and missed an opportunity to meet. I can’t get over how many people were either completely absorbed in their phone or simply looked miserable as I smiled at them… and I suffer from BRF (if you have it you know what I mean) too!

2. Talk to people

When you attend an event like this, you are bound to have something in common with the people at your table. Please don’t avoid eye contact and just wait for the speaker. Talk to those people. Make new friends. I met some amazing people just by chance when I sat at tables of strangers. Pull yourself out of your comfort zone and push to sit with strangers. This conference only happens once a year! Take advantage of the opportunities to meet other HR pros who may become collaborators, mentors, and coworkers.

3. Remember people

In one of my sessions today, I met a couple of awesome women – Leianne and Catherine. They were each awesome on their own, passionate about what they do, sitting at the front of the room with me, engaged in the session… but it was the interaction I saw between them that really made them remarkable. When I sat down, I was introducing myself to the people around me and Leianne saw Catherine and said “I remember you from last year!” She remembered where they had met, what Catherine had shared about her family, and more. And when she brought it up, Catherine added more details too. This means they had a REAL conversation. When they met, they didn’t just toss their business cards around superficially, but discussed things and remembered each other. I’m looking forward to talking more to both of them in the future!

3. Tweet!

It’s fun over on twitter! You can share your insights, see who’s in your session, network with people who are attending and even share with people who are not attending. It adds to the whole experience. Without twitter, I would never have become a part of this blogging team, and this group of awesome people really helped make the event amazing for me! Check out this interaction I had through twitter during a session. I never would have met up with Kristen otherwise.

The most important way to stand out

We’ve all heard the adage “it’s all about attitude”. I cannot emphasize how true this really is. I see it every day in my own life. The experience you get back is a reflection of what you bring. We’re often so focused on DOING that we forget how we’re BEING. We’re rushing from session to our email box or to the vendor we need to talk to. We’re thinking about our to do list and worrying about what three days away from the office might add up to. Instead, being fully present where you are brings a whole different experience to you. The mindset you bring to every opportunity to interact with others, whether at work, at home, or at an event like the HRPA conference makes the ultimate difference in how you’re seen and how much you stand out. I’ve been through some pretty crappy things over the past year, like a 3 day-stay in a hospital, 24 hour flight delays, and feeling extremely jetlagged on Day One of this conference. In all of these, though, I set my own intention.

During my hospital stay, I knew I wanted to make the nurse’s day. Rather than focus on my own pain after surgery, whenever they checked on me, I joked with them, thanked them, and chatted with them about what was going on. I actually had a pretty good time, all things (including hospital food) considered… During my flight delay, made a conscious decision to be the opposite of the man who kicked the wall in front of him so hard that the TV started dangling from it. I made friends with people on my flight as well as the bar staff at our gate, who had to stay late but took great care of us. I felt like I was at a party, not at the airport waiting for a flight. As for my jetlag, I arrived home from California on Tuesday night, and was presenting Wednesday morning at the conference. Although I was exhausted with the three-hour time change, I knew Saturday would be here soon enough and pushed myself to bring every ounce of my energy to the event so that my interactions would be ones I was proud of. Had I, in any of these situations, let the negative or my exhaustion overpower my energy, I would have had a completely different experience. Instead, I choose to “Play Full Out” (wording inspired by Lisa Nichols) and enjoy every moment.