The Value is in Your Approach

I just returned from this year’s SHRM 2014 annual conference in Orlando and my head is still spinning.  I don’t know about you, but when I go to an event, I am almost overwhelmed with the amount of information I receive.  I’m not complaining, in fact, it is one of the most energizing feelings. I suddenly know that I’ve learned new approaches or seen new technologies.  I also appreciate all the networking opportunities that come along for an extrovert when you’re thrown in with approximately 13,000 of your fellow professionals.

This year, the theme of the event seemed to revolve around inspiration and transformation.  Please understand that it’s hard to deliver on a theme when it comes to a conference. The event participants often come from various industries and have a wide array of experiences and roles. So, it is no surprise then that whenever you attend an event, there are always a contingent of attendees that are not happy with their experience.

I will say that for me, the transformation theme was one that I could identify as it was woven throughout the event.  Some examples?

  • Topics. I mention this first because it’s the most important to me.  As a speaker who was selected to present about HR technology selection and implementation, I can assure you that in past years, you would be hard- pressed to find technology-related topics.  I was thrilled to have more than 40 people stay after the session to talk to me, and Steve Boese, my co-presenter.  These were HR leaders who were highly interested in HR technology and clearly articulated their desire to learn more.

Not only that, but this year I saw many more sessions about building key competencies around technology, social, innovation and business acumen.  It was very refreshing and I believe SHRM is doing all they can to get HR professionals current with the way our jobs are trending.

  • Logistics. The layout of the venue this year seemed to make sense.  Often, it’s been set up where it seems you walk more than you attend sessions.  This year, the expo hall was easy to find and access.  Kudos to SHRM for making the expo hall feel even more spacious than ever.  From what I heard from several vendors, traffic was up and the attendees were there for learning and discussion more than swag.
  • Innovation. There were many examples of SHRM upping the ante in the innovation category.  My favorite was the SHRM Connection Zone.  While SHRM has been setting aside space to network at past events, this year it was easily accessible and had some exciting new twists.  One was the SHRMbot.  This was a robot with an iPad face.  On the other end, at least when I saw it, was a wonderfully friendly SHRM member named Shelly.  We talked about her interaction with attendees as she was home in Virginia.  What a fun addition to the experience.  I wonder if we’ll have larger numbers of SHRMbots in the future so that people can attend live while virtual.
  • Future of HR. The last transformation was an over-arching feeling or yearning for change that I felt with each attendee I spoke to.  More than ever, it seemed as if attendees were not there looking for a party, but for real, tangible action items they can take back to the workplace and take it to the next level.  It’s the feeling that creativity and the ability to take a few more risks might actually be a reality for many HR professionals.  It’s also the changes that were recently announced by SHRM with regard to their certification.  Discussion of where the profession is going was far more popular this year than I’ve ever heard there before.

For me, it was an exciting event.  Were there things to be improved?  Always.  Overall though, I believe that you only get out what you put in when it comes to an event or conference.  If you go with an open mind, not being cynical up front, you will probably have a good experience and find good learning options for you.   It’s all in the way you approach the sessions, the networking, and even the vendors.

Did you attend SHRM 14?  If so, share your impression in the comments.  Hope to see you there next year as I’ll be submitting to talk again about HR technology.

Trish McFarlane, VP of Human Resources Practice and Principal Analyst,
Brandon Hall Group

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