How to Attend HR Tech: Advice from the Guy Who Started It! #HRTechConf

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By Bill Kutik, Father of the HR Technology® Conference

Okay, I may be the last person to offer advice on how to attend the 17th Annual HR Technology® Conference.  Because programming it for the first 16 years and hosting many sessions on site afforded me none of the benefits regular attendees get every year. Nor some of the challenges.

But here goes:

Sorry for being a schoolmarm, but the single most important thing to do is your homework before you get there! At the very least on the plane before checking into Mandalay Bay or another Vegas hotel.

That means going to the website www.HRTechConference.com (will your plane have WiFi?) and looking in the upper right corner for the Agenda button to read out about the general sessions on all four days and then the Sessions button to read about all the breakouts over three days.

If you still have the sales brochure from the summer, fougeddaboutit! Lots of speakers change between then and now, and you want the latest info.

If you really enjoy reading 7,000 words on your iPhone or Android, download the Conference app available from both stores. It has all the info and will also allow you to create your own online schedule and tell you the rooms all the sessions are in. The printed Show Guide, which you won’t get until you’re on site, has the same info.

If you’ve been before, know that my successor Steve Boese has grown the content of the conference by more than 30 percent. And has added a half-day on Tuesday with a paid pre-conference session from IBM, a keynoter, and two hours of extra Expo time with an opening reception there for those always complaining there’s not enough time to visit with vendors.

As for the formerly standard two-and-a-half day conference, you will find yourself torn between two or more attractive sessions in every single time slot – now six, instead of five. And with 10 concurrent sessions at each time, instead of eight, and no breakouts are repeated! Don’t you think it’s wise to know all about them in advance? Good luck making your choices. Bring more colleagues next time.

If you’re a first-timer, it’s simply huge! Not SHRM huge, but so much content that you don’t want to be paging through the Show Guide or thumbing through the app five minutes before the next session starts to make your decision. If you do, you’re likely to get hosed and get shut out of the best ones by the Fire Marshalls.

So you need a plan for HR Tech and then execute on it ruthlessly.

You may also be there to shop, in addition to getting more tech-savvy. Every year thousands of people arrive with software shopping lists. Really! Just like at the grocery store. No surprise since the Expo has more vendors under one roof than any place on the planet. And any you might be considering will certainly be there. In addition to the Start-up Pavilion with a dozen new ones you’ve never heard of before. Me, neither.

Shoppers probably don’t need to be told that on the website, under the Expo tab, all the exhibitors are listed with hot links to their websites! Even though there is no graphical indication that they are. Unfortunately, they are not broken down into functional categories, which they are in the Show Guide, but most exaggerate about that, checking every box, so it’s really not so useful for making your short list.

Shoppers, plan your time carefully, unless you’re willing to miss great conference sessions. But the sad fact is session times are the best times to talk with vendors because the crowds are so much smaller. Do not wait to visit vendors you know you want to see until the last Expo hour on Thursday, 3 – 4 pm. You will be bouncing off the bodies of those who foolishly have.

There are three levels of vendor interaction. First is viewing the 15-minute demo that larger vendors hold in small theaters attached to the booth or getting one from a salesperson. Second is attending their hour-long sessions in the two private demo rooms, which are always full before the start time so arrive slightly early. Third is being whisked up to a private office, meeting room, or a hotel suite to talk turkey with senior executives after you’ve expressed serious interest in buying.

The last is one of the things I always liked about the Expo at HR Tech. Exhibiting vendors bring product people and senior executives to their booths. If you get a salesman first, that’s fine. If you’re interest in taking the next step, just ask to talk to one of those others. Or if you’re from a Fortune 500 company, just ask for the top product person the moment you arrive!

So you’re there to get tech-savvy, to shop, and finally, to network. Easy peasy. Talk to the person sitting on either side of you at every session. Even if it’s the first date question of where do you work and what do you do? Nobody will be offended. You’ll be amazed at the serendipity of whom you’ll run into.

At the sit down meals, do not hang out with the four other people attending from your company, unless you need to compare notes. I repeat: Do not be nervous and hang with those you know. Be brave and sit down at a table with a couple of empty chairs left, where you know no one! Before the meal is over, you’ll have 10 new contacts, I guarantee it. I always did that, whenever I had time to sit down, and it was always great.

Finally, the basics: walking shoes, no heels, a wrap for rooms always air-conditioned for men wearing jackets, and read Naomi Lee Bloom’s blog of tips for attendees. She chews through conferences like a junk yard dog, which is a compliment, and while we share some tips, she has more.

And stop me to talk anytime, even when I’m talking to others. Interrupt because you may be the excuse I need to escape them! Until this year, my average talk time to anybody was three minutes. This time I intend to get all the benefits of attending that I’ve just outlined for you.

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