When I attended my first Employee Benefits Symposium in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2010—a reward for completing my Certified Employee Benefit Specialist (CEBS) designation a few weeks earlier, my only duties were to attend the CEBS conferment ceremony and soak up education that would help me in my job as Benefits Magazine editor back at the International Foundation.
I started a pattern at that first Symposium that I would repeat over the next five. I pretty much ditched my co-workers (I adore them all but see them every day) and instead plopped myself down next to total strangers at every meal and during sessions. And over the years, those total strangers have become a growing group of friends I get to see at least once a year.
In San Antonio, San Francisco, Boston, Phoenix and Vancouver, as soon as the Symposium was over, I started hoping I’d get to go to the next one.
Sure, I have my favorite speakers. I always look forward to the legal update from Katherine Hesse, CEBS. She and a collection of other attorneys (Petula Workman, CEBS, makes HIPAA fun) give jargon-free explanations of case law and government regulations that are always interesting and often entertaining. Presentations are chosen from among many dozens of proposals, and it’s always hard to choose which to attend.
I try never to miss the “sign and dine” outings organized by the local ISCEBS Chapter. The chapter chooses a handful of the city’s best restaurants that are close by, and people sign up on the list for whichever restaurant appeals the most to them. Fifteen or so strangers head out to a restaurant, have a great meal and return to the hotel as friends. Receptions after the Sunday conferment ceremony and after the first full day of programs on Monday feature appetizers from the local cuisine (Maryland crab cakes? I’m ready!).
If I’m giving the impression that we eat very well at the Symposium, I am not misleading. That’s impetus to get up early on Tuesday morning for a brisk, organized half-hour run or walk through the city. We’ve only gotten lost once.
But absolutely, what I like best about the Symposium are the friendly, curious and intelligent people I get to talk with and listen to. (It doesn’t hurt that I often talk a few of them into writing a Benefits Magazine article.)
I realize that curmudgeons who dislike other people aren’t entering fields like benefits and HR—Symposium attendees are true “people people.” And many of them are at or rising to the top of their fields—good people to get to know, bounce ideas off (and persuade to write articles). At work, they solve multiple problems every day. These people know their stuff—But at the Symposium, they are genuinely interested in learning more ways to help their employers and plan members.
If you see me at the Symposium, please introduce yourself. Even though I may ask you to write an article.
Chris Vogel, CEBS
Senior Editor—Publications at the International Foundation