I’m just now recovering from an amazing time at SHRM23 !! When you see 25,000 people come together for a common experience, it can wear you out. As a self-avowed full-on extrovert, I even needed time to decompress and get back to my normal pattern of life. When it comes to conferencing, I follow the model of getting up for the early bird sessions and then going all out until we close out late at night with friends somewhere socially.
I love it. I get a bit anxious and distracted a few days before the conference occurs because I can’t wait to jump in and fully immerse myself in the entire experience. I had several meaningful experiences throughout the week and each of them involved an encounter with another HR peer. Yes, I enjoyed the sessions, speakers, and seeing Janet Jackson crush it !! But the one-on-one conversations have the most meaning and impact for me.
I was fortunate to have a few significant things happen personally which opened the door for more of these wonderful, emotional conversations. I was chosen to speak at two Mega Sessions in a room I was told sat 5,000 !! That’s flat overwhelming. When you walk into the room and can’t quite make out the stage at the front, it’s daunting and exhilarating. The other significant occurrence was the release of my 3rd HR book called – HR Unleashed !! (I’ll cover this next week)
When I’m standing on the stage of my first session, I felt compelled to challenge the attendees. This may be a risky endeavor, but what I asked was attinable for everyone there. You see, the 25,000 people moving to and fro throughout the convention center are rarely interacting with each other. They just don’t notice it. Everyone is trying to get into a session before it fills up or they may be checking out a vendor in the Expo Hall. There may even be taking a personal break just to pause and breathe. Most of the actions are focused just on themselves, and I see this sea of humanity a bit differently.
Each person you pass is an opportunity to greet and wish them a great day. Every. Person. So, I challenged the attendees to do just that. I said, “It will be great if you all choose to do this because it will freak out the people who didn’t come to this session !!” People giggle when they think about this, and then the most astonishing thing happens. After the session and throughout the rest of the conference, there are now thousands (literally) of people who are making sure to greet others. They squeal if I pass by and they’ll scream, “Hey Steve !!” and I just love it. Something so simple can completely alter the culture of an event.
After the conference, an HR peer of mine, Travis from Utah, floored me with his story about saying “Hello !!” to someone. Take a look . . .
Thank you for your email newsletters and all of your thought leadership on all things HR. I attended two of your sessions at the conference and thoroughly enjoyed them both. I almost bumped into you at the Expo, you were literally right behind me when I stopped to turn around and I was going to thank you for something I heard in your first session, but you were busy talking to someone else, so I didn’t want to interrupt you.
But this is was I was going to say . . . when you talked about inclusivity, talking to others, saying hello, smiling at them, etc. It seemed like such a simple thing, but something that we aren’t always good at as human beings. I was inspired to be better at this.
That night, I was in line for dinner and everyone was hungry and grumpy and seemed like they were more interested in guarding their position in line than anything else in the moment. I noticed the gentleman in front of me had his credentials still around his neck- another thing I enjoyed you talking about in your second session. (NOTE: I remind people to take off their conference badge once they leave the event. No need to wear it wandering through Las Vegas !!)
I thought of your encouragement to smile at others and talk to them, so I asked him how his conference was going so far. He looked suspiciously at me like I was digging into something far too personal for him to reveal in that moment. I assured him I was in Vegas for the same reason and told him about my conference experience so far. I asked where he came in from and he told me Austin, Texas. I told him about my home town of St. George, Utah and how this was my 5th conference and asked how many he had attended. He told me it was his first.
We talked the rest of the time in line which was far longer than I would have hoped, but he totally opened up and we hit it off. He asked if I was eating there and if he could join me. We were both in town solo, so I was grateful for the company. We talked over dinner and the NBA championship game that was on in the background (and that we hardly noticed) for nearly three hours.
We had tons in common and became instant friends. I now have a good friend and colleague in Austin. Or, as I told my wife that night on the phone, a new HR BFF. Thank you again for what you spoke on and for getting us all out of our comfort zones when the expected norm is not very social or beneficial to our mental health. I have committed to live this way of smiling more at others and getting to know anyone who’s willing to also give of themselves. That’s what HR is all about.
YOU sir, are AWESOME !! Keep up the great work. I look forward to attending more of your sessions.”
I asked Travis if it was okay to share his story and he was geeked to have it go out to others. You see, something so simple as breaking out of our tendency to run through life at a breakneck speed can change a relationship.
This week, slow down and say, “Hello !!” to others and mean it. You’ll find that you’ve been surrounded by great humans this entire time. It works and you can do it !!