Make the Most of In-Person & Virtual HR Conferences 
2020 wasn’t the best year for conferences, with the pandemic causing cancellations around the world. But we can hopefully look forward to a better experience at HR conferences in 2021, with many events adding a virtual option or switching entirely to a virtual format.
Whether online or in person, HR conferences can be rewarding and exciting. You’ll find new solutions and make new friends, and you’ll spend time with like-minded HR professionals. You’ll come away with a renewed sense of purpose and lots of great ideas (and maybe even some free swag).
Thankfully, 2021 still offers plenty of opportunities to learn new things, feel inspired, and network at HR events. Keep reading to find out more about why conferences matter and how to get ready for an HR conference this year. If you just can’t wait to see what’s coming, jump straight to our comprehensive list of upcoming 2021 HR conferences.
Why Are HR Conferences Beneficial?
People tend to seek out HR conferences as a source of new ideas and methods to improve their workplace. They’re also ideal for networking; HR conferences bring together HR experts and practitioners from all over to share their best ideas and research, so they’re a great place to get inspired, connect with peers, and gain new skills to become a better HR professional. Many conferences also invite thought leaders from other industries to share their expertise, helping you gain a wider perspective and creative insight into HR.
HR Conferences During a Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a compound effect of amplifying existing problems and introducing a host of new ones, particularly in the workplace. And just when you might be especially in need of collaboration and inspiration, precautionary measures have made it harder to connect with your team.
But even if you have to sacrifice some of the social aspects of in-person gatherings, virtual HR conferences and other virtual HR events offer you:
- Predictions from experts on what’s next
- Practical advice for operating during a pandemic
- Lessons learned from other companies and HR pros
- Opportunities to network with others in similar industries or with similar concerns
- A chance to directly ask questions and get insights from fellow HR pros
Virtual conferences also have many practical benefits, especially during a pandemic:
- No crowds. We’ve all gotten more cautious, but the COVID-19 vaccine still isn’t very widely available, so big public gatherings remain a risky proposition.
- No travel or hotel fees. You get to participate from wherever you want.
- No taking a whole weekend (or week) off of work. Virtual conferences are much more convenient since you can pop in and out of sessions without having to commit to physically being there the whole time.
If in-person socializing or attending live sessions is something you can’t live without, there’s hope: some optimistic conference hosts have listed their events as in-person, at least for the time being. For example, the HR Virginia 2021 Annual Conference in April has this statement on their home page: “We are currently planning for in-person and virtual conference formats but remain flexible as circumstances dictate.”
Tips for a Successful HR Conference Experience
There’s still a lot up in the air for 2021. With luck (and a lot of mask-wearing and hand-washing), maybe things will get back to normal quickly and we’ll be able to do things like travel and get together in big groups again safely. Or maybe we’ll have to stay socially distanced for a good while longer.
But no matter what happens, it seems virtual and virtual-enabled conferences are here to stay, so here are a few tips to make the best of virtual HR conferences (and other HR events) this year and beyond.
Do Your Research
There are a lot of HR conferences, and each conference offers different speakers, sessions, etc. But not every conference is going to be equally interesting or relevant to you. Before committing—especially if there’s a fee—look up the speakers and the conference itself. Often, you can look at agendas from previous years to get a feel for the content and scope of a conference. Some conferences also announce speakers and sessions ahead of time.
Map Out Your Conference Experience
Conferences will often have multiple sessions running at the same time, so you’ll want to look at the agenda beforehand to pick out the ones you want to attend and make yourself a schedule (or itinerary, if you’re attending in person). And here’s an advantage of virtual HR conferences: many virtual events offer recordings after the fact, so make note of sessions you may want to watch later.
Bring a Buddy (Or Make One at the Event)
Bringing someone along or making a friend at the conference will help you divide and conquer, so you can still glean insight from sessions or activities you aren’t able to attend. And while this is certainly most relevant for in-person HR conferences or virtual events that don’t offer recordings, comparing notes can help cement information or reveal new insights, even if you and your buddy attend the same presentations.
Take Advantage of Networking Opportunities
Mingling can be daunting if you’re shy, so virtual HR conferences may just be your time to shine. But even if you’re someone who likes the after-session get-togethers and the in-person socializing, you can still make a lot of connections with these tips:
- Tell people about the conferences you’re attending on social media, before and after, so other attendees know to connect with you and vice versa.
- Get the event tool or app or register on the event website, so you can get involved with the community and get to know the other attendees.
- During the event, stay busy on social media or the event platform: post your reaction to sessions, comment on other people’s posts, engage in conversations, etc.
- Participate in the in-session messaging during sessions and presentations.
- Go to virtual activities or hangouts.
Learn, Collaborate, and Improve
Virtual or not, HR conferences should be opportunities for you to find innovative solutions to help your employees and organization grow and improve, so be strategic in your attendance. On a more altruistic note, you’ll also be a resource for other attendees as you share your experiences and expertise. 2020 may have tested everyone’s flexibility and resilience, but with lessons learned and a few more virtual options, 2021 can hopefully be a good, productive year for HR conferences.
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Marie-Reine Pugh is focused on making HR simpler for HR professionals and workplaces a better place for everyone. She pulls from her previous experiences as an educator and six years of writing and researching to explore how to create inclusive company cultures that help businesses succeed.