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I’m SO excited to for the upcoming national SHRM conference coming up this year in New Orleans! The last national conference I attended was in 2015 in Las Vegas … and I was about 6 months pregnant. I knew that the conference experience would be “different” but I wasn’t sure how and, honestly, I didn’t have anyone to ask or know where to look for information.
While I know that this post won’t appeal to the masses (although there are some good tips in here for many attendees), I do hope that it helps those of you who are pregnant, or maybe even traveling with a pregnant colleague.
Also, while I’m thinking specifically about my #SHRM conference trip, in general, I found that these tips and considerations held true for other conferences and events that I attended while I was pregnant.
Keep It Real — Be Mindful of Your Planning Before You Have the “Listen to Your Body” Moments
I totally underestimated and really overdid it the first day. I didn’t widely share my pregnancy and I didn’t want others to think that I was different in any way because I was pregnant. Also, I didn’t want it to be a focal point of conversation (even though I was beaming and it was mostly all I thought about, I decided not to “flaunt” my preggo belly ). But the truth was… I WAS different … and so was my body and how it reacted to my environment.
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By conference time, my nausea had started to subside and I was getting all that 2nd trimester energy and I felt great — and while I thought I was mindful of planning my calendar, I found that I still committed to too many events my first day and a half of the conference (I got into town Saturday afternoon). By Monday afternoon I was sore, tired, and feeling VERY pregnant — and the hot Vegas summer didn’t help (and you’re talking to a Texas gal who is normally okay with the heat).
Don’t wait until you have to have the “listen to your body and slow down” moment — be proactive and be mindful about your objectives, what activities you want to attend while at the conference.
But by Monday, I found the voice to politely say no to events and meetings and forgave myself for having to take more frequent breaks or feeling like I wasn’t keeping up. I found other ways to engage with people, like agreeing to meet and connect with people outside of the conference via phone or video, inviting them to take a rest break with me or walk the exhibit hall during non-peak hours.
Do the conference at YOUR pace. I did have the forethought to arrive a day earlier and later than I normally would and I was thankful that I gave myself that extra time to settle into the conference and to decompress from the conference.
Don’t Forget Your Snacks and Water
My appetite was strong and when I was ready to eat, I was ready to EAT. The conference center almost always has lots of healthy items to choose from, but on day one, I found that I was starving. Having to wander around to find what I was looking for and then wait in line to get it made my hangry.
I suggest packing a few light healthy snacks in your purse or bag that you can grab on the go and eat as needed — but check beforehand to ensure that your room has a small fridge. When I got into town, I found a nearby store and grabbed some snacks and fruits and veggies. I also packed my small mini blender to make smoothies. This helped me make healthier choices and pass on some of the cookies and sweets that I would sometimes crave.
Bring a refillable water bottle with you to make sure that you get lots of water in. I liked having the reminder of how much I was drinking and to take a break to walk and and refill my bottle. I found that I needed to take in more water to account for the weather and my activity.
I was really worried about the bathroom situation, knowing that I would go need to go so frequently, but honestly, I never had a problem with waiting to use a restroom. In general, I find that the organizers do an amazing job with ensuring that there are enough bathrooms for attendees. Although, it doesn’t hurt to sit near an exit and leave a few minutes early to beat the crowd.
I had a few airport “ah-hahs” as a pregnant woman (hit me up and I’m happy to share them with you) but this tip is really meant for what you carry with you while at the conference. I limited myself to one cross-body bag with just a few essentials — snacks, water bottle, and room for a few other additions. In general, I passed on many items in the expo hall and asked for soft copies of items instead of gathering a lot of paperwork. Most vendors were more than happy to engage and follow up with an email ether right on the spot or after the conference.
I know that many people love gathering all the expo hall goodies, but just remember, whatever you pick up you have to carry and those bags get heavy by the end of the day. If you can’t resist, consider shipping the items back to your home (a tip I use even when not pregnant) so that you don’t have to bother with an extra bag or planning for the items in your luggage.
I also tried to limit the number of electronics I had on me. Normally I’d have a laptop, my big camera (and some gear), and maybe even a tablet, along with a whole host of cords and other accessories. Instead, this time I traveled to the conference with a netbook, took pictures on my cell phone. I covered the conference more through social media, publishing fewer articles, and setting aside dedicated blocks of time each day to catch up on what was going on at the office. I actually loved it and found that I was making better and more meaningful connections and felt more present at the sessions and people I was engaging with.
Allow Yourself Time to Put Your Feet Up and Relax
It’s important to ensure that you give yourself time recharge and rest — even if only for a few minutes. I find that conference organizers are usually great about providing seating areas and they often have a quiet room set up. Be sure to ask one of the volunteers if one is available and mark it on your conference calendar. If you are a leader in your local SHRM chapter you may also want to take advantage of the leader room, which is a great place to network. I suggest visiting anyways or other special rooms that may be designated by the organizers. Your conference guide and volunteers should be able to help you identify these areas.
I enjoyed some of the quieter spaces away from the hustle and bustle to just center and re-group — and to connect with my belly, especially if the baby was being particularly active. And I’m not joking about putting up your feet — even though I walked regularly during my pregnancy, I found that I had cankles Monday evening, so propping my feet up and doing an epsom salt soak (add this to your shopping list) in the evening really helped the next few days. I also treated myself to a foot massage Wednesday afternoon, after the conference.
I also made sure to keep my downtime free from checking emails or taking calls — it was truly devoted to relaxation. Generally 5-15 minutes was enough time for me.
Find Your Tribe
As a first time mom I didn’t realize how much I would grow to appreciate and lean on other moms around me. I wish I would have networked with some other mommies and pregnant conference goers. I think about all the questions that I asked of fellow HR bloggers and thought leaders like Jessica Miller-Merrell and Janine Truitt late in pregnancy, and after I delivered and began the breastfeeding journey. I later realized that I may have missed an opportunity to grow a network with others in HR who were also going through (or had recently gone through) the same life event.
There is SO much information out there and it changes quickly, so having a safe place to ask questions is great. Even though, as an HR person, I’ve heard some of the conversations that others are having as part of the maternity/leave discussions, I found I still had tons of questions and things to learn being on the other side of the table. It was a miss for me at SHRM national, but I totally took advantage of this when I went to other local HR conferences.
I’m looking forward to connecting with others at #shrm17 in general, and especially with other first time and working moms. We’ll be using #mommyinhr on social media and on Facebook, and who knows, maybe we’ll even have a meetup or two. Stay tuned!
What tips do you have to share?