Last week I attended the HR Technology Conference (#HrTechConf) in Las Vegas with our co-founder Gabe Gurman. There were many interesting sessions, amazing people, and cool (and in some cases, not so cool) technologies – but more on all of that in future posts. What struck me the most as I sat down for breakfast on the second morning of the event was the vast landscape of tables all holding one or two people, all on their phones.
I have a simple rule when going to any professional event – never sit alone.
People gather from all over the county and across the world in the name of common interests, missions, and roles. It is an unparalleled opportunity to meet new people face-to-face and talk about everything from how to address the challenges of hiring, or the pros and cons to various ATS and HRIS solutions, to favorite football teams, the best places to live, or which tv shows on Netflix or Amazon prime are ‘must see’.
Networking by isolation?
So, why at breakfast was person after person getting food and seeking out a table to sit alone, or sitting two or three chairs away from someone just to look at their phone?
I asked one gentleman who was doing just that – sitting off alone.
He answered with a sheepish grin: “To be closer to the food because I am probably going to get seconds.”
“Well, when you are done getting seconds or thirds, or however much you plan to get, you are welcome to join us,” I responded with a smile as I pointed to my table where Gabe sat waiting.
He thanked me, and I walked off with my coffee.
A few minutes later, the man took me up on my offer and came over to join us. His name was Andrew, and he was an excellent addition to our conversation.
There are always emails piling up, people from the office trying to get your attention, that article you must read, or that tweet you must send. And, let’s be honest, it is a lot easier to interact with a phone or computer than to talk to a stranger.
The secret – it’s okay to say hello
I am going to let you in on a valuable secret that I was taught early in my career – most people do not actually want to stand or sit alone or find their phone more interesting than a good conversation, it is just too unnatural to strike up a conversation with strangers. Which is a shame as everyone has something to share, to say, to teach, and to learn.
So the next time you are at an event, sit next to someone and say ‘hello’ – and please, please, please keep your phone in your pocket (at least for a little while). Ask if they are enjoying themselves or make a silly observation to get a smile. The worst thing that can happen is the person shows no interest in talking – and is that really so bad?
I stuck with my rule the entire conference, never sitting alone at meals or during sessions. And thanks to that, I met some fantastic people such as Hugh with a unique perspective of HR solutions from his background in manufacturing operations; and Russell, a fellow Trojan from the northeast; and Josh who loves data and diving into the long-term potential of analytics; and Lockette, who had great insights on handling reasonable accommodations; and Lileah who loves to travel and has great stories from hopping in and out of the country every few months; and Lisa, who architects data solutions in environments that are not always the most tech-savvy.
Thank you all for the wonderful conference, great laughs, and amazing conversation. I am looking forward to staying in touch with everyone I met at the HR Technology Conference.