Attending HR events is a key component of a sound learning and development strategy for any HR professional or Recruiter. But attending large, traditional events simply isn’t possible for all companies.
When it comes to the HR marketplace, attending most of the larger, conventional conferences and industry events isn’t necessarily the best way to go. In fact, more and more people are joining unconventional events — such as unconferences — and they’re getting great results, valuable connections, and unique experiences.
Let’s take a closer look at the reasons why.
You can find a number of articles highlighting the value of attending large industry events. The problem is most of the large, traditional events are oriented to big corporations with deep pockets and an interest in buying well-known legacy tools and services. At most of these events, the attendees must be prepared and willing to listen to sales pitches or “educational sessions” that are actually thinly disguised sales pitches. For companies that can’t afford to pay hefty participation and travel fees and time away from the office, traditional conferences often aren’t the best fit.
In addition, there are other drawbacks at these events. Sometimes the other participants aren’t really your peers, given the wide range of topics covered in large industry-wide conferences. So you have to fight through a lot of “noise” to find the people relevant for you and to win valuable face-to-face time with the people you actually want to connect with.
Too often, HR professionals decide to attend a large event so they can say, ‘Yes, we were there,” rather than reaping a well-calculated ROI.
And all of this is made even harder for SME companies seeking to find solutions and guidance relevant to their needs. Also, often you end up to be trapped at the keynote presentations without any influence over who you actually meet and interact with. In other words, you’ve paid to attend a meeting “lottery, ” and mere luck can make or break your investment and the quality of your experience.
Due to all of the previous points, you don’t actually get many peer connections from big industry conferences, which makes attending them one of the least efficient ways to spend your L&D budget and especially your time. Also remember that attendees of these large events have seen, met and exchanged business cards with dozens (maybe even hundreds) of people in a few short days. If your attendance didn’t include a speaking slot or a high-visibility chance to moderate a session, many attendees won’t even remember speaking with you.
Given all of these drawbacks, it’s easy to understand HR event market to be shifting towards unconventional conferences and smaller gatherings. Some of these events are going online as webinars, live-streamed or on demand content. These events make it easy for anyone to participate, regardless of geographical location or travel limitations. But online events have their own set of drawbacks, as attendees aren’t able to meet one another face-to-face, which hampers their ability to build meaningful rapport and relationships.
Among the fastest-growing types of emerging HR events are smaller scale, participant-led gatherings that offer greater intimacy and a less formal structure — events such as meetups, bar camps, and HR hackathons. These types of events break the old conference paradigm by giving everyone a voice and presence. This enables the market’s true experts and most innovative companies to shine at these events; their success isn’t dependent on sales pitches, booth space and big budgets, as is the case at traditional conferences. These more intimate and less formal events typically revolve around discussions in which everyone can contribute, ask questions and share their ideas and comments.
The Power of Unconventional Events & Unconferences
The main benefits of these emerging types of events include:
- They’re typically unscripted and participant-driven.This largely eliminates presentations that don’t deliver on participants’ expectations.
- There are no sales pitches. Participants drive the discussions and put the focus on true subject matter experts—i.e., the individuals who actually understand the marketplace as well as participants’ needs and interests.
- Presenters at these events have tested best practices and know how to solve participants’ problems in a cost- and resources-effective manner.
- They focus on topics that are most relevant to the participants. This means that everyone in attendance has a stake in what is being discussed. In addition to learning about the things that matter to them, participants also get the chance to share their own insights, lessons and points of view.
- Unconferences are an ideal source of knowledge and experiences that attendees can take back to their own companies and integrate into their market strategies.
- They often provide a wider perspective on topics than traditional conferences. Again, this is due to their reliance on actual conversations and questions/input from participants. In fact, this is why many HR tech companies are now using unconventional events and unconferences as market research vehicles; their very nature gives companies much deeper insights into marketplace trends and buyer needs. This information is invaluable in forming effective market entry strategies.
- They’re effective at generating quality connections. Because you actually have the opportunity and the time to talk with experts and attendees at these events, you know their specific needs and situations.
- You’re no longer relying on ridiculously quickly chats during an event’s coffee break … or hastily exchanging business cards with people you never really got to know and will quickly forget.
Bottom line… unconferences and the growing list of smaller emerging HR events are eradicating the old event paradigm. Gone are the days of keynote speakers talking to hundreds of people at a time from prepared slides that have nothing to do with the day-to-day needs of attendees. Unconference presentations are discussions that evolve freely based on the questions and comments of the attendees.
Here are some tips to help you maximize the value and ROI of your experience as an HR unconference attendee:
- Get to know the participants in advance (if possible). It is essential that your review at least the track leader list before the event, but if this information is available also read about the people and companies that are attending (use online and social media to connect and follow) and think about who you want to connect at the event and who you could potentially help with your expertise.
- Blog and tweet about the event and attendance and if you are a track leader the information you’ll be sharing; create relevant content and connect with your audience through a variety of channels and platforms (especially online).
- Build your own personal brand by showcasing best practices and actual business cases. The best way to attract relevant people to you is by actively participating in the discussion during the day and also online.
These investments will maximizing your event experience and can improve your ROI significantly.
About the author:
If you’re interested in discovering firsthand what attending an unconference is like, a good way to begin is by attending a local event, whether it’s an #HRU event or some other small gathering taking place in or near the city where you are based.
You can find more information about upcoming #HRU events here: www.globalhru.com and other different kinds of HR events are also listed here. And if you’re a company expanding to new locations in U.S. or elsewhere, build your local HR network by attending local #HRU event, a unique global platform.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of The HR Gazette or its team members.