On Conferences

I was at SHRM, a big city-wide national conference last week.  The sessions were great, the key note speakers were fabulous and I feel like it was totally worth my time and (my employer’s) money.

However, I am growing old and judgmental so I feel the need to pontificate on some rules of etiquette that made me freakin’ crazy.

If you are a participant:

  • Show up to the session on time.  Being late is disruptive, particularly at a huge conference where the aisle seats are the first to fill up.

Even I have changed my mind after the introduction, and decided that this isn’t really the session I want.  In fact, last week I walked out of a 7am session because the speaker (in a theatre-style lecture hall) told us to “organize ourselves into learning groups”.  I scurried to the session across the hall and was much happier.  But seriously if you have to do it, minimize the disruption.  Which leads to:

  • Don’t eat in session.

I had a guy with a vending machine Egg McMuffin behind me.  It was loud (as he unwrapped a section at a time) and smelly and when he was finally finished he struggled to jam the wrapper into his empty water bottle for ease of not recycling.  That was several minutes of trying to control my blood pressure instead of listening to the session.

And don’t get me started on people that can’t drink coffee without slurping.

  • Shut up.
I was in a general session, listening to the keynote, (Malcolm Freakin’ Gladwell!) when three staffers (staffers!) sat in front of me and started texting and chatting.  (Texting is fine, as live-tweeting was encouraged, so we were all free to use our phones.  Chatting is clearly not.)  I nearly confronted them, but they left after 15 or 20 minutes.  That was the last time I sat in the general session hall.  After that, I found the rooms with the TVs and the bloggers.  They also had candy.
  • Stay until the end

I realize this one is tough.  Sometimes, we just have to pee.  And again, sometimes we realize that we chose the wrong session and there are many others available.  But out of courtesy to the speaker, please try.

Here’s one for the speakers:

  • Don’t tell me to take notes.

I understand you didn’t feel like creating a PowerPoint.  Not judging you for that.  You told us to print out your five-page handout before coming to the session.  Bad luck for those of us that don’t pick our sessions until we arrive onsite.  But we are adults and we don’t need you to tell us (over and over throughout the session) what to write down.  Are we going to be graded?  Is this on the final exam?

Overall, SHRM puts together a great program.  This was my second year attending and I cram in a whole lot of learning.  But the biggest thing I learned?  HR people have no better manners than anyone else.

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