Over my career I have been to a decent number of conferences, both national and local. I have learned something every time. The conference sessions and keynote talks are sometimes informative, sometimes not. A known speaker will sometimes delight and sometimes disappoint. An unknown may reveal themselves as a “star” of the future.
I have found, however, that I do much of my learning about the future of HR in the marketplace. I always make sure I spend alot of time talking to the vendors (who have paid alot of money to be there.) They often have the latest technologies, methodologies and ideas and give you a glimpse of where the field is going. There have actually been a couple of times where I paid to go to the marketplace and totally skipped the learning sessions. You make contacts with potential suppliers and informative resources. Yes, you do have to hand out some business cards and you may get literature sent to you, and you may possibly get a sales call. But that is a small price to pay for the great learning opportunity you are presented with. Besides you get to register for some great prizes and you will never lack for pens and other goodies.
Despite this great opportunity however, many, dare I say most, HR people avoid the marketplace at a convention. They are afraid they may have to talk to someone or may be “sold to”. Heaven forbid! If you are one of these people GET OVER IT! It is the best way to be progressive and future oriented. You may find something that will make you an HR hero back at the company.
And conventions that do not allow enough time for people to mix, mingle and shop in the marketplace are making a mistake. Make those breaks longer! People need time to return calls, go to the restroom, eat AND visit booths. Remember your vendors are footing much of the bill for the convention.
So if you are going to a convention anytime soon make sure you visit the vendors. You will be surprized at what you may learn.