My first SHRM Annual Conference was supposed to be in 2011 in Las Vegas. The morning I was scheduled to depart, by husband became seriously ill and I missed it. (Gory details here.) But I can easily recall the anticipation and excitement that I felt.
One thing I didn’t feel, though, was intimidated, because in 2011 I was already highly connected – through social media – with HR people from all over the country. I knew a lot of tips and tricks, because my friends had been talking about SHRM11 for weeks.
So I wasn’t thinking about intimidation and disconnection when I walked into the “First Time Attendee Meeting” at SHRM14 this morning. I went in to ask some first time attendees what their motivation was for attending this particular SHRM annual. I’ll discuss those responses in a minute.
But after talking to some of those first-timers, it is clear that there needs to be a better way to help them navigate. There is an app with all the sessions, but the first timers have no idea how to choose sessions, and are intimidated by the number of choices. They know they have to show their employers some ROI, but they are nervous about how they are going to do that. They want to learn more than where the restrooms are and what parties are important. They want to know where to go to ask questions about their concerns, because they haven’t read any of the blogs or tweets that might help them. They want tips that are more specific than “wear comfortable shoes”.
One of the first-timers suggested a special booth or small meeting space where first-time attendees can get specific advice on how to best meet their needs and goals. A smart bar for rookies. Are you listening, SHRM?
Wooing first-time attendees is important to SHRM, because they will drive attendance in the future, and attendance at SHRM14 is down from previous years.
So what motivated the first-timers to be here?
Based on my survey, the large majority of first-timers came because this was the first time their employer was willing to pay for their attendance. And by “large majority” I mean roughly 10 of the 15 people or so I spoke with.
Attendance at SHRM annual is an expensive proposition, and it is nice to hear that there are more companies that are willing to invest money to get their employees there. But unless those employees can show that attendance was worth every dollar when they get back to work, they won’t be returning.
Before SHRM14, one of the social team asked some Facebook friends why they were NOT coming. Most of the responses were the same: no ROI.
ROI. Return on Investment. SHRM needs to do more to help sure that attendees get it and show it.