Last week we exhibited at the Society for Human Resource Managers (SHRM) exposition in Orlando.  For those of you that were there, it’s very possible that Jeff coaxed you into our booth with promises of helicopters and missile parties – or he threatened you with the certainty of endless despair if you chose to pass on our spinny wheel of awesomeness.  Either way, I hope you stopped by, met some of the people from The Jeff Havens Company, and had some fun.  But even if you didn’t, you can still benefit from my trip last week.

And who am I?  I’m Adam Havens (yes, this is a family-run venture) and I handle a lot of the business operations along with marketing and design.  I usually stay behind the scenes and rarely travel with Jeff, but after four days in Orlando I figured it was time to break my silence.  So I’m going to take you on a journey through my trip to the 2014 SHRM conference, and hopefully you’ll come away with some good tips on how to behave while traveling to and from these types of events.

Please shower and wear clean clothes when flying!

I don’t usually sleep in super late in the morning, but I’m pretty sure no regular person likes getting up at 4 a.m. to catch the first flight out.  It usually means you stumble out of bed, gather up all your things in the dark and head out the door hoping you didn’t leave something behind.  You might try to drink some coffee at the airport to wake up, but it won’t work and you fall half-asleep 45 minutes later when you actually get onto the plane – now with a caffeine jitter so you can’t fully fall asleep.  You spend most of the day wishing you had that extra couple of hours sleep and it makes for a pretty boring first night of the conference.

But nothing can make that 6 a.m. flight on a tiny regional jet any worse than when the person sitting next to you decided he didn’t want to shower all of last week.  And he surely didn’t decide to put on clean clothes.  So we continue onto SHRM 2014 flying in a baby-sized seat on a plane that smells like a gym bag full of stinky sweat socks.  But it’s early.  I can deal with it.

Yelling won’t make things better!

Most everyone who’s flown more than twice has had to sweat out sitting in your tiny baby-sized seat while taxiing to your first airport hoping and praying that your connecting flight is still there or delayed so you can avoid the dreaded customer service line to find a new flight to your destination.  But hey, sometimes things happen.  Storms pop up.  Planes need to be fixed (and you do want them fixed, right?).  So sometimes you end up in that customer service line, and typically not with the best attitude.  And when you get to the front of the line to talk to the only person that can possibly help you achieve your daily goal, what do you think you should do?  Let’s start yelling at them like the guy in front of me did!  Of course they’ve been in a completely different city all day with no control over your flight, the weather, or anything at all relating to you, but maybe ticking them off at 8 a.m. will make them feel more inclined to help you.  Give it a shot!

Reconsider how badly you need a deal on a hotel!

So you finally get to your destination.  If you’re a small business like we are, you’re probably concerned about cost and will attempt to cut back on expenses when and where it makes sense.  Typically the most convenient option is to stay at the hotel or conference center hosting the event, plus the extra opportunities for networking can sometimes be worth the extra cash.  But there are so many good deals online!  I’ve always been a Star Trek fan so this year we decided to just take the random, pull-it-out-of-a-hat hotel for a fixed price and figured we couldn’t go wrong – until we arrive and realize we’re staying at the hotel where apparently every family in America goes for their summer vacation.  Nothing’s really wrong with that, but when you’re on a business trip and 1,000 kids are outside your window playing in the pool until midnight it can make for a slow morning.  And none of them seemed to want to talk about why humor and content can co-exist.  Odd.

Go out of your way to be nice to staff and security!

It’s finally Sunday afternoon and we’re heading to the expo to finish setting up.   It’s a long walk from the parking lot to the expo hall and along the way there are dozens of nice SHRMies directing you through the maze of hallways and booths to get you where you need to go.  Most of them are extremely friendly despite the fact that their day is most likely going to be very boring.  And most people just hurry by them, hardly acknowledging they’re there.  That’s not a crime by any means.  But it only takes a second to smile or say thanks or simply ask how they’re doing today as you walk by.  They went out of their way to smile and say ‘Good Morning!’  Why can’t you?  A lot of people were really good about this, but if you’re not in that habit, try it next time and you’ll see that it’ll put you in the right mood to be a nice person to the potential customers you’ll be talking to shortly.

White collar crime is real!

This isn’t really a tip.  It’s a fact.  There is so much schwag at these conferences that it’s not even funny.  Stress balls, t-shirts, books, pens, food, boomerangs, capes – plus about a hundred iPad giveaways.  We even talked to one lady who had just won $3,000 of training from a vendor but couldn’t remember what company she won it from, which definitely makes you question how much marketing value all these giveaways really have.  But we drank the Kool-Aid too and gave away a Kindle Fire along with all sorts of other fun things like Jeff’s minibooks, selfies with Jeff, and of course our trademark hug giveway – most likely a SHRM first.  Don’t believe me?  Check out our Facebook photo gallery.

But the most hilarious thing about this whole schwag epidemic is that there are still people – kleptomaniacal business people – who are walking around trying to steal things off vendor’s tables that they aren’t giving away for free.  Now of course some just assume that anything sitting out is free, and that’s fine.  Accidental theft – no big deal.  But some of them actually waited until everyone in the booth is occupied so they can snatch up a hard cover book or a training manual.  It’s not a huge deal, but it amused me to see grown, responsible people taking things they know they’re not supposed to take.

You’re not the only one who had a long week!

We finally made it through the conference.  Whether you’re an attendee or an exhibitor you’re more than likely pretty worn out and ready to get back home and into your regular groove.  Hopefully you went to some good sessions, met with some great people and companies, and achieved your goals for the week.  But be mindful that everyone else is worn out too.

I saw such a range of emotion when the expo hall closed the last day.  For most exhibitors it was like the bell rang in grade school the last day before summer break.  I fully expected to see champagne corks flying and shirts coming off, but shockingly most people just packed up their booths and headed to the airport.

Violence on airplanes is usually frowned upon!

After the conference ends, you might head straight to the airport to catch a late flight, which is what we did.  The airport bars will be filled with sleepy-eyed business people who look like they’ve mentally checked out.  Sometimes you still haven’t decompressed from the sensory overload that happens at these big expositions, and you crash a little bit.  And then you get onto another tiny baby-person sized plane and are expected to be polite and civilized.  But not everyone can handle that much responsibility after a long week.  I actually watched a guy across the aisle from me (who I had seen as an exhibitor, no less) closed-fist punch the back of another passenger’s headrest because she reclined before takeoff.  He not so politely told her that wasn’t allowed, and I stared him down secretly hoping for a confrontation, but it fizzled quickly so I had to go back to being hot and tired.

But this brings me to my most selfish travel tip, which involves reclining seats.  I’m almost 6’5” so I’m sure I’ve had this problem more often than most, but I can’t think of anyone who likes being crammed into a tiny hot seat next to a stranger only to then have 50% of your personal space removed because the person in front of you decides they need to recline their seat 4 inches. I realize that’s your right.  You paid for that seat and you can recline it all you want.  But just maybe you should take a look behind you and see if there is a 6’5” guy behind you whose knees you’ve now pinched underneath the tray table while the metal brackets dig into his knee caps and he tries to contain his loud girlish scream.  It happens so often that a company recently came out with a device to prevent the seat in front of you from reclining.  Shockingly it’s controversial, but I must admit I looked it up to see what it was all about.  Maybe, oh please just maybe, next time you’re flying consider how badly you need those 4 inches.  Someone’s knees may thank you for it.

Reflect on all the positives!

It’s so easy after a long conference or exposition to want to walk away from everything and move onto the next thing.  You’re tired, and you just want to be done with it.  But the time you spend after the conference is usually just as or more important than what you did at the conference.  This is the time you put into practice all of the lessons you learned from the sessions you attended and the speakers you heard.  This is when the exhibitors follow up on their too-short conversations with potential clients and start building their relationships.  Remember all of the positive things that happened at the conference:  the great people you met, the great food you got to eat, the new things you saw that made you curious.   Forget about the people that were rude to the airline customer service people, or that didn’t smile at the convention center staff, or stole your products from your booth, or potentially caused a life threatening knee injury to the guy behind them on the plane – because you’re not one of those people. Right?

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