I sat my alarm for 7am even though the conference didn’t technically start until 12:30. What kind of savage would I be if I didn’t take advantage of our hotel’s free breakfast? It didn’t disappoint. They had Fruit Loops. Totally worth getting up that early. I knew I had a couple hours to burn before I had to be anywhere, so I took two hours to myself to walk aimlessly through the French Quarter. Those two hours led to a whole bunch of sunshine in my face and being able to really soak in the absolute beauty in the streets of New Orleans. I also got hustled by a guy named David who tried to polish my canvas shoes with something that looked like lotion. It’s all good – he gave me some beads and I gave him a handshake.
I headed back to the hotel to change, pack up the backpack and head to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center for the first session of the day. There were shuttles that were scheduled to pick everyone up from their hotels for the duration of our conference, but I don’t think they were quite ready to roll on Sunday morning. We were lined up at our designated bus stop by 11:30 in order to get there in time for the 12:30pm session, but after waiting 45 minutes and having two buses drive by that were already full, we realized that wasn’t going to happen. We buddied up with some other couple that was waiting inline and dropped a cool $11.50 for a ride instead. We still didn’t make it in time, but we were able to grab lunch before the opening general session.
My co-worker asked her phone what restaurants were nearby and we wound up at Cochon Butcher. I’m telling you right now if you’re ever in New Orleans and don’t visit there, I am silently judging you. Best Cubano ever plus Coke in a glass bottle. And only a quick walk from the convention center. Hell of a beer menu, too, but it was only noon. C’mon, you animals.
We got back in time early enough to get a pretty good seat to hear Kat Cole deliver the opening session. I. Love. Kat. Cole. It’s a business-boss-lady, awesome-human-being crush and I’m not even ashamed to admit it. When SHRM announced she’d be a keynote speaker, I was stoked. She spoke last year at the 2016 SHRM Talent Management Conference and I was blown away. She could have delivered the exact same talk and I wouldn’t have even cared. She didn’t. Instead, she delivered a story of how she failed in her own leadership, how she worked through it and how she regained the trust that was lost because of that. That story has stuck in my head and in my heart ever since I heard her talk about it. There’s so much more to dive into with Kat’s story and what she brings to a group of HR professionals. It’ll be a revisit sometime because I owe it to myself to really process some of those things I took away.
After Kat, the Exhibition Hall opened up, which meant over 15,000 people were about to go get their free swag on and I was right there with them. Let me be completely honest with you for a second. I hate vendor stuff like this. My hate slowly disappeared when the first booth we stopped out was pouring a red solo cup of Zima if you gave them your business card. Totally worth the price of a couple of sales calls, if you ask me. They also included a Jolly Rancher. Hello, junior year of high school. It’s been a while.
I’d never been to a room that large filled with that many vendors, all there to talk about HR stuff. It was insane. There was typical swag: pens, tote bags, chip clips, magnets, the other things you pick up and then accidentally forget in your hotel room. And there were rubber ducks and fidget spinners (way to be relevant!) and t-shirts all over the place. It was enormous. Here’s an idea of some of the other swag vendors were handing out:
If you pour the drinks, people will come. I think anyone there was very comfortable with the fact that those free cocktails were going to wind up with some sales people calling us in the next couple of weeks.
We went through a few areas of the rest of the exhibition hall, but knew we wouldn’t conquer the whole thing because we had dinner plans with some other HR folks that also happened to work in the credit union industry. It was a small group, only seven of us, but World of Beer was the perfect place for us to drink, eat and chat about credit union life on the HR side of things.
(Side note: If you would have asked me 10 years ago if I’d be totally geeked about sitting at a table sipping blueberry wheat beer from a local brewery, followed by some amazing cider shipped over from Sweden, while talking about talent management, policies and procedures and HRIS systems with other adults, I would have punched you in the face because I was probably drunk on Bud Light, eating a Nacho Bell Grande and about four months away from getting fired from a software sales position.)
We paid our tabs and next thing you know, someone from our group had an Uber sitting in front of the restaurant waiting to take us to Frenchmen Street. Um, okay! We caught a bit of music at the Spotted Cat and then crossed the street to Snug Harbor when the band at the first place took a break. Because we’re mature credit union professionals, we weren’t out too late and all took a group jaunt back to our respective hotels. After all, we had a 7am session the next day and we had bets on who would actually show up in time for them all. Good news is most of us did.