People are strange and awesome (or: Ten things I learned at the AAGE)
Last week I went to the Australian Association of Graduate Employers’ Conference in Melbourne. It’s a hearty affair, with more than 350 industry types attending, across the range of employers, academia representatives, suppliers and industry associations. It was a good week, but rather than write lengthy sections on every session, here’s a quick ten things list. And very little of it has to do with grad recruitment.
Everyone loves a showman. The two presentations which really stood out for me both came from charismatic, well-spoken presenters who combined data-heavy content with personal anecdotes and humour. In a room of more than 350, being able to make your audience members feel special and engaged remains a rare skill, and a valuable one.
Context is contrast. My favourite old issue. A lot of the information was shared like a chapter from a book – there was no prologue or epilogue, no sense of how this fits into other initiatives or histories. The focus was very operational, on small improvements people have made, without understanding what frameworks make these improvements possible. Case studies are great, but understanding what led to the case being so successful outside of just the data would have been more helpful in stimulating like-for-like comparisons.
Your mistakes can hang around. There were a few examples of people’s bad behaviour from previous conferences tarring them in the crowd. Every event has a back channel of rumour, and this one is no exception. In an industry with 50% annual turnover, I was amazed how many people had heard the same stories about some of the more flamboyant characters.
Alcohol and your personal brand don’t mix well. I’ve heard that alcohol amplifies your natural character, and I agree to an extent. And while I’m as guilty as any of having a few too many, it’s interesting to have seen the next-day repercussions in a room of industry types. Particularly for those who had indulged so heavily that they missed sessions their employers had paid for them to attend.
Negativity is anathema. Predominately, the discussions and questions around speaker topics (social media, testing, positive psychology and more) were positive and progressive. It was interesting to observe that, in a room full of people who were there to learn, just how often attendees would physically shy away from nearby attendees who were asking negative questions.
Social media is still eluding many. The informal discussions around social media continue to suggest that simply being on social media as an earnest participant are enough to guarantee at least a modest success. Which is the equivalent of saying if you turn up to the right clubs and dress nice, you’re bound to have fun. There wasn’t a lot of discussion about how to determine which channels suit your brand’s personality, or how to drive strategic use of these tools and options.
Tarred with the brand brush. In a room full of people who are good at their job, it’s interesting how much weight is lent to speaking for a brand. I found myself listening more intently to speakers once I knew what company they represented – the brand lent gravitas to their arguments. And I wondered how people drew the line between their personal opinions and their professional positions – I know I had trouble!
People make odd decisions. During the conference, someone tweeted that they had gatecrashed the event, and proceeded to dissect a presentation given by a reputable corporate brand in fairly harsh terms on Twitter. From this, I’ve learned three things. Firstly, don’t tweet that you’ve snuck into somewhere without paying (particularly don’t use the event hashtag!). Secondly, bagging out a presentation you haven’t paid to see, in a public forum, visible to your whole industry, isn’t likely to make you a welcome guest. Thirdly, don’t bag out a presenter if you’re already on a schedule to present alongside them at a conference in six months. Because they’ll probably know you did it, and you’re not likely to get the respect you’re looking for.
The industry doesn’t want high performers. Largely, because it makes everyone else’s job hard. No one wants to compete for talent with an organisation that’s doing it better than you – it’s like playing video games with a teenager. While there was a lot of sharing of technical information, there wasn’t a focus on creating game-changing programs or really kicking ass. My personal view is that this is because everyone in the industry knows that their organisation isn’t going to stump up the cash for something incredible when we can all get by doing roughly the same thing. More on this point later, but I felt very keenly that only one presentation was focused on innovation ‘because we can’.
People can be surprisingly awesome in the right setting. I met more than 100 new people in three days. I danced with strangers, drank with suppliers, traded cards and stories and tips with a host of rookies and veterans. I connected IRL with some people I knew online, put faces to usernames and build my network just a little more. I was impressed by the attitude of attendees – that we were united in a journey to make it easier for graduates to find the right job, and to make good choices for their futures. Like the other conferences I’ve been to this year, it was a great way to spend time and see the world from lots of different angles and through a myriad of different lenses. Bring on 2011.