Among the more underrated features of the HR Technology Conference & Expo are the scheduled vendor demonstration sessions that are held in dedicated rooms on the expo floor (just search the agenda for the “vendor demos” track). I say underrated only because, in the pre-conference prep, the demos don’t get discussed as much other aspects of the conference, but these sessions—22 in all, from a wide assortment of solution providers—can be a valuable component of your conference experience.
You can certainly visit any of these providers’ booths in the expo and get a less formal, ad-hoc demonstration of their software, and these interactions are valuable too, but there is a different kind of impact (and some important takeaways) from formal demonstration sessions. In the more structured, scheduled demo sessions, most providers will look to have their very best staff members on hand to run the demo and answer attendee questions. The demos will usually be tightly scripted to highlight the best features of the solution. Finally, many providers will bring along additional product development and leadership staff as a kind of “show of force”—which, even if not valuable, is at least interesting to observe. In short, you should plan to attend at least one (and potentially several) of these sessions at HR Tech.
As someone who has seen probably more than 1,000 demos in the last few years, here are some of my tips to get the most out of these sessions.
- Pay attention to what features are demonstrated—but also try to make note of what capabilities are not shown. Remember, in a structured demo, the provider has had several months to prepare and script the session to showcase the solution in the best possible way, and if there is something not shown, there is often a reason why. If some element of a given function or process is overlooked, take note of that, and try to bring it up in the question-and-answer period. In a tightly scripted session, it can be useful to gauge the comfort level and the responses from unplanned audience questions.
- Try to get a sense of how the software “feels.” You are going to see a lot of software at HR Tech, even some solutions that seem very similar to each other in capabilities. In a short time, like in the hour-long, structured demonstration, you can only see so much functionality. So, in addition to assessing functionality, try to get a sense of the “feel” of the software—things like the design, flow, ease of use and level of effort needed to complete a process or make an update. Over time, most of the differences in capabilities among providers tend to diminish, but their user experience—essentially, how they “feel”—tends to be distinctive.
- Count the “wows.” During the course of the hour, take note of how many times you see something truly innovative, new or unexpected. It could be a new capability, a better way to conduct a common process, or just a smart or clever answer from a solution consultant to an audience member question. Did anything make you pause and say “Wow”? Did something pique your interest enough to make a note for a follow-up, either after the session or after the conference? If you experience a few “wow” moments in that hour, then you probably have some follow-up to do! And if there are none? It might be fine, but it should make you search for what perhaps was missing from the demo session.
Formal, structured demonstrations are not perfect; they are not developed specifically for your organization and your requirements and, thus, they have somewhat limited individual impact. But they do have real value, and if there is a provider on the schedule you have some real interest in (or even just some curiosity), I encourage you to attend. Every interaction you have with a provider and its staff should be a part of your decision process, and all interactions mean something. I hope you take advantage of these great opportunities to see and learn from some of the best providers with the most innovative solutions in the HR tech industry.