Work the #SHRM18 Expo Hall Like a Pro

work the shrm18 expo hall like a pro

The countdown has started – we’re days away from #SHRM18!

If you’re anything like me, you’re starting to arrange your calendar, thinking about events and people you want to network with, and even starting to pack. Are you thinking about taking an extra bag for all your conference goodies? Before you start packing those extra bags for all your swag let me offer you an alternative to your expo hall approach. It’s an alternative that gives you a plan of who to visit, what questions to ask, and might mean leaving with less swag so you can leave those extra bags and suitcases at home.


The SHRM Expo Hall features hundreds of vendors and exhibitors – so you’re gonna need a plan! I recommend thinking about WHO you need to talk to. Consider what’s on your upcoming HR road map or calendar from a system, process or program perspective. Also consider talking to your colleagues and asking them what they would like for you to bring back. Make a list and prioritize it. Yup – PRIORITIZE it. My first couple of years, I tried to do it all and was way overwhelmed, didn’t get the quality of conversations that I had hoped, and went back to my office with a bag of papers (which made me only wish for a bag full of pens, cups, and branded items instead). I was lost in paper and most of it ended up in a drawer in my desk. Missed connections.  The key to the working the expo hall like a pro is that its all about QUALITY not QUANTITY.

Extra Pro Tip #1 – Did you know that SHRM has published a map (live now) of the expo hall layout? If you’re still confused about narrowing down who you should see and what areas to focus your efforts on, use the map to help you – or to simply plan the areas that you want to spend the most time in.

Extra Pro Tip #2 – Download the #SHRM18 App!

#NotAtSHRM Tip – Use the Expo Hall map to identify who you want to target and engage with them via their website! You can still network and leverage this tool if you’re not attending in person! 🙂


Okay, so your visit to the booths is likely going to go down in one of two ways – you’ll either make a grab for any goodies and make a run for it (maybe you’ll stand in a long line to get your goodies – some of the bigger booths are getting better at this) OR the booth attendees will run up to you and scan your badge without so much as a hello and THEN talk to you. Hey, I’m not here to judge or tell you what’s right or wrong – but I am going to offer you an alternative: Engage in a conversation! This is going to be hard during the busy times of the expo hall, which is why I recommend planning to go to the expo hall at a non-peak time to have meaningful conversations with your selected list of vendors. But what do you say? Consider some of these points as starters:

    • If you have taken projects or programs from your HR roadmap, jot down a few requirements or items that you’re looking for in the evaluation (generally my go-to approach). I’m generally pretty careful about any specifics I give about my project (and talk in large generalities), what I’m looking to spend, if I’m the decision maker, etc.
    • Ask them to tell you about some of their new and latest features – what are they showcasing during the conference?
    • What makes them stand out from some of their competitors – and if you’re feeling it, ask them who some of their big competitors are (yup I went there).
    • What are some trends that they are seeing in their space/software?
    • Can you see a short demo?
    • What’s the best way to get more information if you want to find out more?

I also have a genuine interest in meeting people and their products, so I tend to spend a bit more time at a booth and get to know the people there and talk about industry trends, and maybe some things that I’ve seen on their website or on their social media stream. It takes a bit of work and a little prep but, remember, you’ve got a targeted list so you have time for it.

Extra Pro Tip #1: At the end of the chat I might take ONE item (okay, sometimes I take a few 😉 )

Extra Pro Tip #2: Always thank them for their time and make a note to yourself of how you want to follow up with them and next steps.


If I’m honest, I don’t bring any extra bags for goodies. I have my expo bag and I *might* pick up a re-usable bag if I visit a vendor who has one. My general rule is to take no more than what fits in the re-usable bag and to take only what I’ll really use (or maybe what a co-worker has asked for). But you decide on your limit.  I do come with a pen – although if you loose one its probably easy to find another one 😉 – and a small note pad or my phone to take notes. I rarely have business cards with me, so I use LinkedIn or my phone on the fly.

Extra Pro Tip #1: Your conference guide generally has some blank pages at the back. These are great for taking notes and they mean you’ll have one less thing to pack.

Extra Pro Tip #2: I take a photo of the booth and the person I spoke with since I’m better with faces than names and it makes follow up easier for me. I’m often in the photo with them because, well, why not (that might be a #SHRMBlogger thing).

Extra Pro Tip #3: If you can’t help yourself and end up with a lot of items, rather than pack them, consider shipping them back to yourself. Its often cheaper and more efficient than packing it or incurring extra baggage fees.  Ship them directly to the office. The conference center and most hotels will likely have a shipping center for you to use.

I LOVE the expo hall and seeing all the new updates and trends – plus seeing familiar faces – and I love me some swag! I hope these tips help you make the most of your conference and expo visits! What do you think? What are some of your expo hall conference tips?


Don’t forget to text ‘SHRM’ to 55678 to get more inside scoop on events during the 2018 SHRM Annual Conference.

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Andrea Devers

Andrea is an HR technologist and change management expert. She’s has built her career in global HR Compliance, HR process improvement, and shared services across all functions of HR. Connect with Andrea.


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