I’ve had an interesting and fun couple of days in Manchester at the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition last week. One of the most compelling reasons why I think people go to conferences is the interaction with other people. I’m no exception and I loved catching up with friends and meeting lots more people for the first time. What else struck me about this event?
The Exhibition versus The Conference
The exhibition and conference although both under one main roof, are very separate in Manchester. It feels like people are just passing through, heads down, avoiding eye contact. And often, exhibitions have a bad reputation as places stalked by pushy sales people, I get that.
In an attempt to check this feeling out, I chose to spend plenty of time on the exhibition floor this year. I found a good number of people who wanted to talk, in context with what they were selling and promoting sure, and importantly, in context with the themes that were emerging from the conference too. Plenty of people with a smile, a job to do and sense of wanting to engage with others rather than try and push product. I’m sure there were pushy people there too but I was fortunate not to meet any.
Later in the event I revisited some of the stands where I’d previously been made welcome to see how they were finding things. The feedback was along the lines of ‘yes, we’re having a good event, making new contacts and we’ve had some interesting enquiries about what we do too’. I’m sure not everyone on a stand had a good time but applying my thoroughly unscientific approach of going where I was made welcome and I didn’t feel hassled, worked for me. If you’ve avoided the exhibition floor of late at conferences – maybe you should check it out again?
On my visit to the Ohio State HR Conference in September this year, the conference organising committee did a great job of encouraging conference visitors to invest time at the exhibition. Ohio guests give feedback that the event is great value for money and the committee are quick to recognise that this is in part due to the sponsorship the exhibitors provide. There’s much more too, content, networking, and enthusiasm enough for all, but the link between conference and exhibition is acknowledged very healthily. Another thing I noted in Ohio was that many of the announcements and regroups between talks were staged in the middle of the exhibition. Perhaps there’s something for the CIPD in these observations?
Because I was spending more time on the exhibition floor I didn’t get to nearly so many conference talks this year as I’ve done before. One I did make it to was ‘Maintaining Employee Engagement Through SME Growth’. Now for sure – this session wasn’t going to win the snappy title award but it was a very engaging panel discussion. Jill Miller from the CIPD sparked some good conversation between Clive Hutchinson of Cougar Automation, Hazel Stimpson of Harrod UK, and Lesley Cotton from P&O Ferries.
All the panellists were lively and spoke plainly and simply about stuff like involvement, helping people see the bigger picture (damn those siloes), and the demise of individual bonuses in favour of profit share (a la John Lewis). You can read more about what Flora Marriott thought specifically of Clive here, and I share her disappointment that this session didn’t reach a wider audience. It might have been by people with SME experience, but it certainly wasn’t just for them.
So why pot luck? Well ordinarily I might have been put off this session by the title but I chose to take a step into the unknown and I benefited from that. Sadly – I picked up some vibes on Twitter that not all the sessions were so useful and enjoyable. That brings me to another aspect of pot luck. As a conference delegate you rarely know, even if you’re grabbed by the session title, how good the speaker(s) will be. Sure, if you’ve seen them before you’ll have an idea and often we don’t have the benefit of that previous experience.
At this point Flora gets another mention, and so too do Darren Hockaday, Tom Paisley and Perry Timms. I listened to all these people speak, and plenty more besides, and these four in particular had some interesting things in common.
- They had prepared
- They spoke with conviction
- They were funny at times
OK the being funny bit may not be essential, though I think it really helps – but the other two points, without them I think you’re always going to struggle to get a result. So if you are invited to speak, I encourage you to see that as a gift and work hard to make the experience as good as you possibly can, for your audience and for you. In the delivery, try and convey a sense of enjoyment. It’s contagious, and it beats miserable every time. When I get a miserable speaker in front of me, that’s a sure fire early depart.
To close this post, I want to acknowledge the tip top bloggers at the event, and thumbs up to the CIPD for their continued support of the rise of the HR bloggers here in the UK. Here are links to the ones I know about. If I’ve missed anyone – shout and I’ll stick you on the list.