Last week I had the privilege to attend my first SHRM Annual Conference. For many of you this may seem as a shock as I am about to hit the “20 year member” club as SHRM membership has been a part of my professional HR career for as long as I can remember.
As an HR pro I have spent my career working in mostly small to medium size companies that had a limited training and conference budget which required me to make choices. Do I attend one conference (National) or use that budget to attend our state conference (Michigan SHRM) and a regional conference (maybe industry specific). It wasn’t that I didn’t want to attend or see the value, it was that financially my employer didn’t support it or a budget decision. After 20 years I finally had the opportunity to get to that one event that I dreamed of attending for most of my HR career.
The SHRM Annual Conference and Expo is the super bowl of HR conferences. As an HR practitioner (and speaker), getting the invitation to speak is like getting your name called out on the “Price is Right”. I can still remember the moment that I got the email inviting me to speak at #SHRM20 in early February 2020. It was 8:30 pm and my phone was charging on my kitchen counter. I heard that “ding” (email notification) so I picked up my phone and upon seeing that email, I dropped it in total shock. In fact, my oldest son screamed for my husband thinking I just found out someone just died. He ran into the kitchen as fast as he could. I handed my husband the phone with the email pulled up, he just smiled and said “You’re finally going to #SHRM!!”
Fast forward 18 months, two city venue changes and we were finally getting our conference on in Vegas. I knew I was about to embark on a first timer’s adventure (both to Vegas and SHRM annual) and I am not going to lie, I was a wee bit overwhelmed. This was the first big conference since March 2020 for many of us, the organizers, attendees, speakers, vendors etc. This was SHRM’s second blended event (virtual/onsite) with the first being TLNT that happened two weeks prior to annual (which was also in Vegas this year). It was just good to be back in person, with people live. The COVID protocols in place helped make that happen (if we in HR who are responsible for ensuring the safety of our workforce cannot host a safe gathering of our profession, who can). Another point to highlight is the work in transition due to the venue change (Chicago to Vegas) in such a short period of time is a huge feat in itself. Applause to all those on the SHRM conference team for pulling that off and making an #HRAwesome conference experience. Was it one of the epic 22 – 25k in person events? No. But for most of us who attended 8,000 onsite/4,000 online, it is going to stand as one of the most memorable annual conferences and this is what stood out for me.
SHRM Influencers (aka The Blog Squad)
As a first time attendee, I had no idea what to expect and the breadth of speaker content and choices were overwhelming. I was able to experience the pre and during conference ‘must knows” from those #SHRM21Influencer via their blogs, interviews with speakers, packing/ travel tips and other “must know” aspects about the “SHRM Annual Experience”. During the conference, I also appreciated the influencers sharing takeaways on social media for concurrent sessions that I wasn’t able to attend which helped reduce that FOMO that I missed something by attending a different session.
These influencers are one of us and seeing the conference experience from their perspective was a huge reason why my first time experience as an attendee was so much more appreciated. Thank you to Amanda Brunson who suggested bring tennis shoes in one of her “planning for #SHRM21” blogs. Which I was wearing (tennis shoes) everyday after Thursday because in Vegas, getting 25k steps a day is a light walking day. I also added buying stock in Sketchers on to do list.
Small yet Impactful
With 8,000 attendees, you had the ability to “move freely about the cabin” and connect with others. I had such amazing and impactful conversations with speakers, attendees and vendors that in a larger crowd may have been more challenging, if not impossible. I was able to navigate the expo floor and actually talk to vendors that I identified via the conference app that offered services I am either seeking or am interested in learning more about. I didn’t have to wait in extremely long lines or grab a flyer to reach out later. The venue was new (since #SHRM19) and was easy to navigate and accommodate a crowd of our size making these conversations more accessible.
I talked to many attendees, who like me this was their first conference. The more I learned I was not the only one who hadn’t been to a conference before, I started celebrating the moment with #SHRM21Selfies. I spoke to individuals from at least 20 states and even globally (India/Nigeria) that were attending. In addition, I was able to speak to several speakers post session and attend a book signing; which in prior years was likely harder due to the higher number of attendees. It felt like a more intimate experience, which I valued and appreciated.
There were some in attendance that were very disappointed (based on prior experiences) as this event wasn’t as flashy as in prior years. Hopefully they recognize the challenges and obstacles that went into to planning and executing this event (during a pandemic) and give SHRM grace. One individual said the speakers were horrible (not gonna lie, as a speaker the first thing that came to mind is – “Yikes! did they attend my session?”).
Speakers (Session Experience)
Let’s talk about content. I had a completely different experience than those that thought the speakers were less than stellar. For me seeing the likes of Steve Browne, Opal Lee, Tim Sackett, Johnny C. Taylor, Michael Phelps, Jennifer McClure and others did not disappoint. As Tim Sackett said in his Sunday Morning Sermon; “you cannot make everyone happy”. I for one am very happy and appreciate being able to learn and be inspired in the sessions I attended. I wish I could attend them all (and there is an on-demand option available which I may purchase just for that reason). From an additional perspective, it was also amazing to finally meet Julie Doyle and Christie Engler (in person), fellow HR speakers, like me practicing HR in the trenches. I also had a fabulous conversation with Val Grubb and Karl Ahlrichs in the speakers lounge (I am huge fans of both and had a #fangeek moment brewing). Each of these speakers mentioned, all shared insight and takeaways in their sessions that we as HR professionals can relate to and apply right away in our day to day HR lives. And today, I already have applied one takeaway – thus providing an ROI to my time invested.
I know we all attended with different expectations. For those who felt the speakers were less then stellar, I am sorry you were not able to find value in your experience. For those who gave me the greatest gift (of their time) and attended my session, STOP Collaborate and Listen!, Thank you!! I hope you “fly me” again and join me for a seat in the VIP Front Row or “Delta Economy Business Class” located right behind them (in row 2).
We are ONE HR
One thing I will mention about our HR community as a whole, is that we tend to be exclusive verses inclusive. We often exclude others based on title, industry, status or segment of HR which we reside (TA, payroll, benefits, generalist, leadership). Johnny C. Taylor shared a much needed message of unity in his session, that is before Opal Lee stole the show (not that Johnny was bad but she did). We as HR need to come together regardless of title, level, industry, years of experience or geographic location. I am an active member of the twitter #HRCommunity and was welcomed into that community by Steve Browne. Steve is the HR leader of the people and one to which I not only admire, but aspire to be. Because of Steve, I have been introduced (virtually) to so many #HRAwesome individuals that I call my friends, my cheerleaders, my teachers and my #HRFlock. Many of these individuals I was able to meet for the very first time in Vegas and are members of the #SHRM21Influencers group. These individuals are just a few of the ambassadors for our profession (like me) who value connection and inclusion as the way to move our profession forward including Paula Harvey (@Paula4Harvey), Claire Petrie (@_strclaire), Jeff Palkowski (@JeffPally), Bruce Waller (@BruceWaller), Jessica Miller-Merrell, John Baldino (@jbalive), Nicole Roberts (@NRobertsHR), Josh Rock (@JRock96) and Amanda Brunson(@TheHRPanda). This #HRAwesome group welcomed me into their close knit community as if I had been there all along. An additional shout out to Melanie Peacock (@doublempeacock), we missed you because the Canadian border was closed (but you were there in spirit), Mary Williams (@conmkw) and Kyra Matkovich (@KyraMatkovichHR) who were representing virtually. PS – if you are ever on a plane, train or automobile with ANY of these individuals and work in HR they will have you active in the twitter #HRCommunity within 5 minutes of meeting you. Seek them out on social media and follow them. These individuals are the spirit of why “We are ONE HR” and that “We are Better Together” and thus why they wore that #SHRMInfluencer21 badge with pride and honor. Thank you for adopting me as one of your own!
Put Yourself Out There
With a conference of this size, your experience will be what you make of it. I highly recommend putting yourself out there. For a portion of the conference, I found myself running solo based on when sessions started or ended (there are staggered start times within 15 min of each other). I started conversations with other “solo” attendees in the expo hall, a session, SHRM Certification Lounge, on a shuttle or over boxed lunch. It was great to meet people from different industries, places and experiences. This can be intimidating (even for me) so I found a common way to start a conversation. “Is this seat taken” is a great conversational starter. That is how I met my new #HRBFF from Chicago, Pamela Buchanan (@PamelaB_HR). Pamela is a proud board member of Chicago SHRM and was a volunteer wearing one of those “pink” shirts. If you were in my session, you got to meet Pamela – who was representing SHRM21 volunteers everywhere! #ThankYou. Another #HRAwesome meet was with Alexandra Cafferty, who I met at the first session (conference kick off). Congrats to Alexandra for being a recipient of the HR Association of Central CT Jim Roberts Scholarship!
- We may all be at a different place in our day to day HR lives, but we are all ONE HR.
- “Do Good Work and Share it With People”
- Put yourself out there – and be seen. As an HR professional and as a person in our HR Community. Follow and be fans of those doing good work and inspiring us all to raise our HR game.
- Schedule the day after you get back from the SHRM Annual Conference and Expo as a day off to sleep. This is a jam packed 4 day event (not including travel) it is well worth the exhaustion but prepare yourself before and after. I am out of conference shape after a 2 year hiatus.
- See you in NOLA #SHRM22