We’ve been having a great time at the 2011 SHRM Conference. You’ll find some nuggets of wisdom we have taken away from the conference on Tim Sackett and Dawn Hrdlica’s personal blogs – here, and here. Plus, there are other goodies here on FOT as well.
Walking away from the SHRM Conference (and yes, walking, not stumbling like you might expect as it is Vegas), you can’t help but to be a bit introspective about the trip, and for me, I’m stuck thinking quite a bit about two things: one, young professionals in HR and two, how intimidating and massive this conference is. The two things go together hand in hand though.
Being a Young HR Pro at a SHRM Conference
I’m always very interested in talking to young professionals in HR. I am one. (Well, I’m teetering at the edge. As I learned from SHRM, they define a young HR professional as being under the age of 30.) Young pros in HR intrigue me to no end because I am always curious about how they found/chose HR, what they think of the state of our profession, and where they personally are looking to go in the future along with where they want to see HR go in the future.
Coming to a show like SHRM, I looked around at the conference quite a bit and wondered how and where I fit in as a younger HR pro. When you see the massive amount of pros at this conference – the 15,000+ who are here – you look around and you don’t actually see that many others who look like they may be of the same generation. Sure, part of it is economics. The cost of the conference and travel – it’s intimidating to ask to be able to attend as a younger pro, let alone get the approval if there is a bit of hierarchy at play within a team that drives attendance priority/necessity. And according to one of the SHRM staffers I spoke with who manages programs for young pros – 650 was the approximate count for young pros attending SHRM, based on the voluntary demographic data they have on members/attendees. LESS THAN 1,000 of the attendees are like me?! That’s crazy talk.
So, it’s a little concerning in my book. If I am lucky enough to attend a show like SHRM and soak in all that it has the potential to offer, you arrive but feel a little lost and out of place. A lot out of place actually.
The Massive Size and Scale of the SHRM Conference
On top of that? The show is so massive. Regardless of what generation or age-group you fall into, if you come to the conference not knowing anyone or knowing very few people? It’s super daunting. Just navigating and deciding what sessions to attend is one thing. But then from there, you may wander from session to session alone. You may eat lunch alone. You may eat dinner alone. You don’t quite know what the after-hour activities are and where others are congregating, so you might end up in a casino alone losing gobs of money at the Blackjack/Craps/Roulette table. (The house ALWAYS WINS by the way. That tip from me to you is free.) And so the scale and lack of structure in place to create more connections between attendees, that’s a little concerning as well.
I know – part of the gig here is that we’re adults. In HR. So we should be bold and go talk to others. But I don’t always think that’s so easy. I saw SO many people sitting alone, within feet of each other, but not interacting. People just aimlessly wandered by themselves avoiding eye contact with one another. Case in point. I was scanning the Twitter stream at SHRM at one point and noticed a guy tweet out the following: “It’s weird not knowing a single person here. And I’m so gregarious and cute…and sarcastic. I guess I’m not the typical HR person.” It broke my heart but made me laugh and I thought based on a comment like that, I would totally want to strike up a chat with this guy. So I replied to him via Twitter and we ended up connecting. We should never be left to our own devices like he was. There have to be more connections made.
Whine, Whine, Whine… So What’s to be Done About This?
So, what’s to be done about all of this? Well, social media for me is a huge factor. Location based services could be major – and SHRM could get there given they launched a smartphone app for the show this year – so maybe we take it a step further next year. But opportunities to facilitate real-life connections and relationship building, we somehow have to make that happen in an organized, concerted but intimate way. It could be SHRM, it could be a sponsor, it could be anyone who decides this is their mission at a large conference – to help build a better sense of community.
And then on a personal note, I’ll continue to try to put myself out there a bit more. I’ll plop down in random places for lunch and strike up a chat with strangers. I’ll exchange biz cards and connect with those folks on LinkedIn later. I’ll make more of an effort to talk to those I don’t know even though I find the prospect of it all a bit daunting. (I know, what kind of recruiter am I?)
But, then there’s you. If you come to a show like SHRM, or an ERE, or fill in the blank with whatever massive gathering of thousands of people is your pick this year or next – you’ve gotta do the same. At a conference like this, you have so many opportunities to learn and soak in ideas – but it’s more meaningful, and I think it’s more impactful, when you can talk about it afterward. Brainstorm with someone about the ideas. Talk about how it could play out practically speaking, or not. Then you go grab a drink after the fact, play some slots, and find a vendor after-party… and voila! You’ve got a new friend and business contact for life.
So, let’s connect. Or at least try to do a better job of it. I promise you it will make a conference like SHRM so much more meaningful and fun. See you next year.