There is no argument. The best part of any conference is the connections you make and renew. If you ask me to name JUST ONE THING that made this conference great, it would be the hugs and handshakes from the people.
But that is the responsibility of the attendee more than the conference organizer, so I am going to ignore that to discuss the best and worst of what SHRM did – or failed to do – to make this conference what it was this year.
I am going to dodge some incoming on this one, because I know not everyone agrees. But I name this one of the best venues for a SHRM conference for some very specific reasons.
- Price. I stayed at a hotel within walking distance of the conference center for four nights, and my total bill was only a small amount more than I paid per night in Chicago, site of last year’s SHRM conference.
- Restaurants. It was easy to find a restaurant within walking distance of most hotels surrounding the conference center. No cab fare or car needed. Some of the party and club venues were a long ride away, but you couldn’t beat the conference basics nearby.
- Weather. It wasn’t nearly as hot and humid as central Florida usually gets in June, and no one had to huddle under an umbrella while waiting for the bus. Ever. Maybe it was luck, but it worked.
While there were still plenty of sessions with names like “Seven Steps to Creating Bulletproof Documentation”, there was a subtle but palpable shift toward content that was a little different – and a touch more innovative – than previous years. One big change was that SHRM started talking seriously about the benefits of social media as well as the risks this year. They also stepped out to embrace previously overlooked areas such as solo HR in small companies.
One of my favorite sessions was called “Effective Public Speaking Strategies”, and it was led by a communications professor – not a consultant or even an HR pro. The message was profoundly important for HR pros, but not limited to them in any way. SHRM needs to do more sessions like this. (Marketing? Marketing? Marketing? Please?)
Also new was The Smart Stage, where twenty minute programs on a variety of topics allowed for broad overviews coupled with intimate interaction with attendees. Some of the social team spoke on this stage, and they reported excellent attendance and feedback from the attendees.
By the time SHRM 14 ended on Wednesday, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to hear this word ever again. It even pains me to write about it, because SHRM talked about their new certification model constantly. Hank Jackson, Betty Francis, and every SHRM staffer who took a stage somewhere mentioned it. But the biggest reason that this was a fail in my book is because all of those people said nothing of substance or importance. It was like the drip, drip, drip of a Chinese water torture.
Along with that mindless cheerleading, SHRM made a another tactical blunder by trying to wipe out every trace of HRCI and the SPHR/PHR/GPHR in the Orange County Convention Center. They said they were supporting traditional certification through the end of the year, but treating HRCI as if they didn’t exist is not supportive in my book. I was ready to forgive SHRM for the shoddy way they handled the initial announcement, but they didn’t own their mistakes or try to fix them. I needed that, because it is about so much more than my personal interest in my SPHR – it’s about how much support I want to give this organization in the future.
SALES EXHIBIT FLOOR
Disclaimer: I am not an expo fan under the best of circumstances.
I often skip the exhibit floor entirely, because watching 25 or 30 people line up to spin a wheel in the hopes of getting a foam football just aggravates me. I also hate the fact that exhibitors tell people via Twitter to “stop by Booth ____ and visit”, but make no real effort to participate in the conference. But this year I had hoped to do some blogging about the exhibits, so I wandered in right after it opened on Sunday to see what I could see.
I saw ridiculous swag like this:
Yes, those are plastic sunglasses that have a logo on the front of them causing the wearer’s vision to be impaired. Don’t give them to your kids. I’m not sure what else you can do with them, and the vendor had no answer in response to my question. This was one of the dumbest giveaways I saw, but there were certainly more.
In short, there was little that was interesting, different, unique, or delightful. I met with a couple of vendors I knew and had promised to visit but the floor was mostly boring, repetitive, and crowded. (Stop texting in the middle of the aisles, folks!)
In fairness, there were a couple of vendors who got it right, especially by doing more on social media to participate in the conference as a whole. One was Career Builder, and one was IBM Smarter Workforce. Take note, vendors!
Agreements? Disagreements? Other conference best and/or worst? I’m listening.