Conferences: Find Better Speakers

Meredith Soleau Audacious Ideas, Communication, Don't Feed the Vendors, Good HR, Meredith Soleau, SHRM

Over the past two months, I have been to three conferences (Ohio SHRM, Recruiting Trends, and Digital Dealer). Each conference had good sessions and bad sessions.

I want to talk about the bad ones and piss off about half of the speaking circuit.

Motivational Speakers? Are Stupid.

Nothing makes me more upset than spending $800 to attend a two day conference, only to be able to bring nothing back to my company other than a renewed sense of self. Except, I've heard these same motivational speeches so many times, that they all seem the same. As soon as the speaker gets up there to motivate me these days, I tune him/her out and start playing on my phone.

Here's the thing, I'm not sure why we continue to book speakers telling HR people that they need to like people. Um. That's our whole job. We get it, already. If you don't like humans, and you need this same speech sang to you over and over, you probably shouldn't be in Human Resources.

No Vendors Allowed

Okay, maybe not all vendors should be banned from speaking, but vendors who are pitching a commercial to us, and we paid to get into this conference… those ones should be banned.

I can see their product in the expo hall if I'm interested.

At the Digital Dealer Conference, a mobile app vendor spoke to the crowd about why car dealerships need mobile apps. The dealership world is divided on this issue. Some of us feel that since we have excellent mobile websites, so why would need an app? Because really, customers don't want that app taking up space on their iPhones. A dealership is not Target.

The session would have been more effective to have another dealer standing in front of us, telling us how a mobile app increased his number of service repair orders, or helped him send push notifications to his app audience, thus increasing his sales $X.

We want to hear from our peers. Not from someone who has skin in the game of a product sale.

Wait. You haven't practiced HR in 12 years?

Consulting is one thing. If you're a consultant, I can see how you would be able to stay relevant with what is going on in the world of Human Resources. But if you are just writing books and traveling around speaking about Human Resources, how the heck do you know what we're facing everyday at the office?

You don't.

If you want to stay relevant in HR and speak about HR, you'd better be doing some darn HR.

Wait. You have never worked in HR or with any HR function? Like, ever?

At one of these conferences they actually booked an improvisation actress, who called people up front and basically put on a comedy routine.

Can someone please tell me what that has to do with my job?

It was a real stretch to get her session related back to the world of HR.

I'm sick of getting tips and tricks at the hotel bar.

No, I'm not a hooker (not those kinds of tips and tricks, get your mind out of the gutter).

At the Recruiting Trends Conference, I met Matt Charney, and we talked shop over drinks. I learned so much from him, and I'm actually excited to follow up with him soon so he can mentor me through setting up

the perfect online application which will allow people to apply with their Facebook and LinkedIn accounts (something we are lacking, and something I imagine a lot of small and medium businesses are lacking).

What if I hadn't met Matt? Sure, they talked about the ability to do this in a session about candidate experience (which, are we really still confused about candidate experience?), but had I not gone super in-depth with Matt, I'd still be floating around out there, out of touch with his awesome lesson for me.

Book more Matt's. Teach me things that the expense of this trip worthwhile. Stop talking about the BS fluffy topics. No wonder people think HR people don't know how to talk like business people.

Stop wasting money on big name speakers when you have people who live and breathe it in your backyard.

One of the best sessions I've ever sat through was one taught by my local HR buddy, Jill Kapanis. She was so knowledgeable about reducing healthcare costs in a self-funded environment.

Jill taught me at least five new things. These things helped shape our medical plan, and shaped it without cost shifting. As a result, we have offered insurance with $11 per week premiums for the past five years. Again, without cost shifting.

Jill is brilliant, and she lives right here in Toledo, Ohio. I think a lot of times, we get caught up in delivering the audience someone from Google, and we forget that the girl without a budget, from the medium-sized business down the street, she knows a lot of stuff. And maybe if we didn't pay speakers so much money to speak, it wouldn't cost the rest of us a small fortune to attend, *cough* *cough* SHRM.

Don't Hoard Information

In all fairness, since I have complained about speakers being a waste of my time, I have decided to do something about it. I have been going around speaking about social recruiting. I tell people straight up what to spend money on and what they can do for free.

My boss once asked me why I would share my secrets with other businesses. I told him I'm sharing them because no one else is sharing. We need to stop being snobby HR information hoarders. If you know how to do something, get up there and speak!

Tell me what worked for your company. Tell me what failed. Tell me where you made huge mistakes so I can avoid those pitfalls. Tell me the words that come out of your mouth during difficult conversations.

The speaker circuit needs fresh blood. I've been doing it for a few months, and if nothing else, you get into the conference for free if you have something to teach people. So look at it like that. If you have a totally awesome idea, and you are willing to share it with us, and you want to save your company $1,200 on a conference pass – call the conference and ask them to speak.

Who knows, you could become HR famous when you start speaking. And trust me, CEOs love getting the name of their business out there. People from all over the world have heard about Ed Schmidt Auto, Inc. because of it. Just don't get out of the game once you become HR famous, or you'll also become HR irrelevant.

What do you think? Have you sat through some pretty horrendous conference sessions? Or do you love yourself a good motivational speaker?