I’m just about to board my flight to Austin, Texas for the WorkHuman conference.

Conferences can provide an incredible opportunity to learn, network, and reconnect with the things we love (or don’t) about our industry or profession. But just as easily they can be echo chambers of slightly stale “best practices” under the glow of fluorescent lighting. The last decade has seen the rise of variations on the traditional conference model, like unconferences, Disrupt and Ignite talks, and PechaKucha events, but I don’t think these will ever fully replace the immersive experience of a multi-day conference.

The difference between an energizing and thought-provoking conference, and one that makes you the latest contributor to hotel carpet Instagram, has a lot to do with the care that organizers take in curating the presenters and an array of logistical details. But it also has a lot to do with us, the attendees. Here’s what I know is in my control as a conference attendee:

  1. Being open to new ideas and viewpoints, rather than simply gathering data and information I’m already filtering for, to add to my next business case or project.
  2. Projecting a deliberately warm and more extraverted vibe. Making the decision to talk to strangers. This is hard for me (and lots of others, I know), but totally worth it. I love people, but too much interaction makes me anxious and tired, so I pay attention to what I can manage. This is helped by:
  3. Embracing the opportunity to have more substantial conversations. Not just superficial chit-chat. Debate and listen. Ask lots of questions. I frequently learn more from fellow attendees than I do from expert speakers.
  4. Taking a few minutes to jot down key ideas and insights. I use Twitter for this, and share my thoughts with anyone who’s interested (@JSarahwatsHR). But I also record half-processed thoughts in Evernote, and revisit them as the conference ends. Things have a way of synthesizing and leading to deeper insights when I do this.
  5. Making a commitment to behavior change! Learning is just entertainment if we don’t decide how we’re going to apply it and make a plan. Of course, this is our mission at Actionable, and I’ll be using our Commitment Engine to make a 30-day behavior change commitment as WorkHuman winds down. I’ll be sharing the link on social media so you can try it too, whether you’re at the conference, or following along on social media: #workhuman

This year, I’m thrilled at the emphasis WorkHuman is placing on the #MeToo movement and HR’s role in preventing workplace sexual harassment. This is a topic that I’m passionate about, and I hope to see other conferences follow suit. The pursuit of employee engagement, learning and development, and great corporate culture are all in vain if our employees are targets of harassment and don’t feel they can come forward.

I’m also delighted at the opportunity to see Brené Brown speak. She is an important voice about authenticity and recognizing our shared humanity, as well as taking personal responsibility for changing ourselves.  

If you’ll be at WorkHuman, let’s make sure to connect. Or follow along on Twitter to see my takeaways and make your own 30 day behavior change commitment to capitalize on the great learning opportunity that WorkHuman provides.