Sunday, 8 November 2015

#cipd15 reflections

So I'm back now from the CIPD Conference and much of it seems like a dream. But lots of things have been running through my mind, and blogging is as good a way as any to deal with them. 

This year, as has been obvious, I've been part of the CIPD Blogsquad. This involved promoting the event via social media and my blog both before and throughout the event. I was part of a team of 10 such bloggers and we were officially part of the Press covering the event, although as we were all amateurs I would be very interested to know what the professional journalists thought of our presence and work. Did we assist or detract from their own work?

Being part of the Blogsquad was clearly a boost for my own not inconsiderable ego, as it offered me the chance to swish around the event showing my press badge, hobnobbing with the top echelon of HR professionals including the rest of my fellow Blosquadders, high profile HR journalists and magazine editors, and even Peter Cheese himself who dropped by to say hello. 

But it also challenged me in ways I wasn't expecting. Live blogging the sessions was hard work, involving typing, reflecting, digesting and listening at the same. It became exhausting at times, particularly when combined with the need to be scanning other social media, reacting to it and putting stuff out via various channels. It was also fatiguing to be "on" for nearly 16 hours on Day One and then to get just over 5 hours sleep before Day Two. 

Ok, I didn't NEED to go to the press dinner on Day One, so could have rested, but it was an important part of the experience. Even if I had lost most of what little conversational ability I have by then due to tiredness!

As a Blogsquad member I had to choose my conference sessions carefully, balancing my own interests with what I thought people might want to hear and looking at what other blogsquadders were covering so that we didn't all go to the same session. I was happy with my choices and managed one blog per session as you may have read. 

Some of the main themes of the conference I observed in the sessions I went to were:

- the importance of having access to data and technology to drive better performance and analytics, but a warning not to let technology make decisions for you
- a need to grow and diversify ones own network and to remain in control of it
- understanding the emotional side of change and in human performance issues
- a need for business to become more human and understand its employees better

There were others I'm sure, but these reflected the session choices I made perhaps. For more detail on these, check out my blogs from the conference itself. 

I also spent a fair bit of time in the exhibition, although not as much as in previous years due to the short spaces of time available to do so between conference sessions. It meant I couldn't get to ANY of the free exhibition sessions which was a shame. I did get a fair bit of free stuff from the exhibition as usual, which pleased my family, but didn't get much chance to talk to exhibitors. 

And this was not just a problem with timings. In previous years I've had an ID badge that gave my job title and company name. Exhibitors thus had two "ins" to talk to me - my job title marked me as someone with purchasing responsibility and decision making responsibility, so I was a natural target for almost every exhibitor and they could pitch accordingly. And my company name was enough of a question for them to ask what we did and see if there was a match with their stuff. But this year my badge said Blogsquad and Press. I could see exhibitors shying away from me, not knowing what their opening line should be or whether there was an area of mutual interest. 

That was a shame, though I did approach exhibitors I wanted to speak to, and had a good experience on many stands. Lots were happy to engage with me as a blogsquadder and lots offered good quality banter via social media too, which was excellent. (Shout out to IiP who particularly did this well)

The exhibition was larger this time round and utilised the space better, too, something I've criticised at previous events in Manchester, even if I couldn't find anyone offering free massages on their stand. 

On the social side of things, the fringe events were excellent and there was a far better social and networking aspect to this years event than some previous ones in Manchester, and this came very close to replicating the unique social atmosphere that Harrogate used to have, and that's a good thing. There were good opportunities for networking and lots of space to do it in, and a variety of options for evening activities if you wanted them. I'd like to see this side of things grow, and perhaps expand to the previous and subsequent nights as my only criticism was that almost everything was happening simultaneously on the same evening. 

I also rued the fact that I didn't stay overnight in a hotel, meaning I had to restrict my alcohol intake and also leave halfway through the night, but in previous Manchester conferences there hadn't been enough going on in the evening to make me want to stay, unlike in Harrogate. 

So what else have I reflected on?

Well, for the first time since it moved to Manchester I came away from the event completely enthused, full of energy and looking forward to putting my ideas to work and also to going back to the conference next year. I don't know whether that was because of being in the Blogsquad or because the conference was truly excellent, or because of the better social activities, or a mixture of it all. 

The conference made me think and learn, and having to blog at the same time was an excellent way of making me listen carefully and digest instantly, as well as giving me a permanent record of my learning to refer back to. I won't detail what I think I learnt here, that's all in the blogs. But suffice to say the conference expanded my thinking significantly. 

The conference, and in particular the experience of being in the Blogsquad, helped me to get to know a group of people who I hope will be very important to me in the future, and helped me to make some new and significant contacts in our profession. 

It also made me think in detail about the next speaking engagement I have, at the HR Directors Summit in Birmingham in February, and about how I can follow such talented speakers and respond to a raised bar as well as cope with being viewed and blogged about myself!

The rest of the Blogsquad did an exceptional job, better than me, in capturing events in their own unique ways, and if you want to see everything all in one place then follow this link to Ian Pettigrew's excellently curated Storify.

And now what?

Well it's back to work for me now, entering a very busy phase in my current work, but also keeping one eye on a changing future for me and beginning to plan out the next phase of my career. 

Thanks to CIPD for letting me be part of the Blogsquad, and thanks to the other Blogsquad members for making me feel welcome. Thanks to anyone I encountered at the conference too for making it so memorable. 

Till next time...

Gary