For newbies, SHRMChat is a monthly Twitter chat where we discuss issues affecting state and local affiliates of SHRM. There are different issues every month, and I preview and recap every month on my blog.
This month, SHRMChat will be discussing conferences. Many of us attended the recent Annual SHRM Conference & Exposition (SHRM12), where more than 13,000 people gathered to drink in all things HR. I belong to two different local SHRM affiliates, and both have hosted, or are preparing to host, one day conferences. And most state affiliates offer a conference.
So conferences are important to SHRM at every level. Other HR pros think so too, considering the rise of non-SHRM conferences like HRevolution and TLNT.com.
So let’s chat about what needs to be done to make an HR conference a success. To help us with this discussion, we will be joined by 3 special guests:
Mike VanDervort – @MikeVanDervort – Mike is the social program strategist for HR FLorida, one of the largest state councils and conferences in the country. He also recently attended SHRM12 as an official blogger, and decided that SHRM has a formula for success through social media. Read about it here.
John Jorgenson – @jkjhr – John is serving his 2nd year as director of the Illinois State Council conference, and was the State Director of ILSHRM prior to becoming conference director.
Back in March I did a post following a SHRM conference called Rants and Raves. Since I have no desire to re-invent the wheel, and I find that the title is the hardest part of my blog to write, I am going to take the easy way out and offer this HRevolution version. This time, though, the rants and raves are not mine – at least not until the end. These are comments made directly to me by some of the attendees, and not based on anyone’s blog post or tweet.
NOT ENOUGH TIME BETWEEN SESSIONS FOR DISCUSSIONS/NETWORKING/CONVERSATIONS– This was by far the most prevalent and consistent comment I received. People did not want to miss the sessions, but they wanted time to start and continue substantive conversations. The tweet-ups, with a party-like atmosphere, were good for meeting and greeting, but they wanted quieter time for serious stuff, too. When asked, people were willing to attend a 2-day session in order to rectify this.
NOT ENOUGH SPACE – Several people thought that Catalyst Ranch, while fun and funky, was not large enough for the attendees to find spots outside of the sessions to talk or even break out into a smaller group. A related comment was that there were just too many people, making the sessions a little too large for comfortable discussion.
GENERAL SESSION/TRACK GRIPES – Some people wanted more topics lead by working HR practitioners and directly relevant to daily HR functions. Some wanted fewer sponsor/consultant/non-practitioner speakers and facilitators. While many of the people I spoke with felt some uneasiness with the sessions, they did not articulate their feelings or dissatisfaction as well in this area (unlike the time and space rants).
EVENT PLANNING AND LOGISTICS – As a member of the planning committee, it is almost embarrassing to admit that this was the number one rave I received. People were quick to recognize the work involved and seemed happy with the food, tweetups, transportation, information, and cupcakes.
CHICAGO – Even though there are rumblings on Twitter about having a future HRevolution in Hawaii or Las Vegas, many attendees commented to me how perfect the Chicago location was for them from a transportation and travel standpoint. They liked Chicago and the choices it afforded them.
CONNECTIONS MADE – Many people came specifically for the opportunity and ability to meet others and extend connections with online friends and acquaintances. While some wished they had been able to do more, many were enthusiastic about the connections they did make.
Now that I have reported on the most frequent rants and raves made by attendees (to me), I am going to indulge myself just a little and give you a personal rant and rave (just one each!) because I can only shut up for so long. 😉
There have been a lot of blog posts and tweets about HRevolution. Some were positive, some were not. Fair enough. I get the distinct impression, though, that many people made their feelings known only through a blog post or a tweet. No personal contact with, or email or phone call to, a planning committee member – even though contact information for every committee member was given to every participant. Was this you? It makes me wonder if some people actually listened to some of the messages that were given about the value of connection and communication. If you have something to say about HRevolution – good or bad – say it on your blog or on Twitter, but say it directly to the people who brought you HRevolution, too. You can’t have influence and credibility in 140 characters, so make a meaningful connection and help HRevolution – and yourself – move forward.
I chose not to personally comment on the rants and raves of the attendees, because I want to know what YOU think! Were you there? Do you agree with anything? Nothing? Do you have other experiences that could help make an event like this better for everyone?
I have a pretty large family by most standards. Between us, my husband and I have 6 children, each with a spouse or significant other. We currently have 11 grandchildren – with potentially more to come from the youngest of our kids. Add nieces, nephews, brother, or ex-wife (yes, we have hosted her – and her husband), and the numbers climb even higher.
So when major holidays – like Christmas – roll around, my house is usually the epicenter of a lot of chaos. People need to be fed, gifts need to be distributed, pictures need to be taken, spills need to be cleaned, and dishes need to be done.Since I am basically anal, I like them done efficiently, thoroughly, and deliciously. I like things done, and done right.
But all of that doing means that I don’t get to enjoy sitting still and holding the baby, or laughing over a glass of wine, or playing a board game with the older grandchildren. I never get to connect with my family during hectic holidays – I am simply too busy trying to make sure everything is perfect for them. After everyone goes home, I am extraordinarily sad and contented at the same time. I am always pouting that I didn’t get to really talk to everyone, but so satisfied knowing that I provided a comfortable home, good food, and a happy memory for my family. It’s an internal conflict that I never resolve.
At the end of HRevolution, the unconference that was held in Chicago a few days ago and that I was proud and humbled to help organize, I felt exactly the same way. By the time the post-conference party was over and some of us were waiting to eat dinner, I was exhausted, hungry, and depressed. I was depressed because I knew I had missed out on an opportunity to connect with so many intelligent, wonderful people. I was too busy, as an organizer, to pay much attention to the individuals, in order to help create a good experience for the whole.
The attendees were highly grateful for the experience and most have thanked the conference planners profusely for their work. The planners even received a standing O at the end of the conference day – an uplifting and thoughtful gesture. In no way was my depression due to a lack of gratitude, and I was extremely happy to have had a small part in creating the best attendee experience possible.
I went to bed, though, wondering if I would ever do it again. Just like I do every Christmas.
Even though I have attended this conference several times in the past, this year I paid attention to something totally new. Something that I either ignored, or, even worse, scoffed at during previous conferences. This year I paid special attention to THE SPONSORS.
In conferences past, I paid no mind to sponsors. I always thought that sponsors were money-hungry vultures, looking to make a buck from a captive audience that probably didn’t have a choice about whether or not they really wanted to hear the sponsor’s name or message. Look the other way and walk by fast – that was my motto.
I had a change of heart this year. Several months ago I was asked to be a part of the planning committee for HRevolution, an unconference of cutting edge, forward-thinking HR topics. I had been an attendee at the very first HRevolution last November, and I was thoroughly delighted by the experience. I was humbled when asked to participate, and more than happy to help.
During these past few months of planning, I learned something very critical – a conference, or even an unconference, costs a lot of money. There is the facility cost, food costs, programming, signage, badges, perks or prizes (swag), and lots of little things that attendees have come to expect and that good planners want to provide. The downside is that you can’t charge the full cost to the attendee, or they never would be able to afford to participate. What can be done? Ask a sponsor for donations to help defray your costs.
This is why I paid special attention to the sponsors at my employment law seminar last week- they gave money so that I could learn something new. And this is why I am profusely thanking and loving the HRevolution sponsors. They are giving money or items or food so that the attendees can gain knowledge and professional development. They certainly hope for more business, but are not assured in any way of receiving it. They are believers in the message and goals of HRevolution, and they are opening their hearts and pocket books to prove it.
Sponsors, I have learned, are the angels of the conference world. The sponsors of HRevolution, shown below, are special angels. If I ever need the kind of service they provide, I’m calling them first, because I already know they “get it.” Join me if you can.