Between a keynote speech by controversial media mogul Arianna Huffington and the debut of several new features and events, there will be no shortage of buzz among the thousands of attendees at the 2011 SHRM Conference & Exposition, which kicks off in Las Vegas on June 26 and runs through June 29.
The Society for Human Resource Management’s announcement in March that Huffington will be speaking at Monday morning’s general session sparked debate on a LinkedIn site for human resources professionals regarding the decision to invite the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, a news and blog site, to speak at the nation’s largest gathering of HR professionals. The conference will be held at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
“The day after I paid my dues, they announced Arianna and I asked for my money back,” says Viola Spurgeon, an independent HR consultant who says she won’t be attending the session. Spurgeon, who started the discussion on LinkedIn, says she thinks Huffington is a poor choice with little relevance to HR. While not everyone joining the discussion agreed, several people expressed concern regarding SHRM speakers who are too political. Last year, former Vice President Al Gore gave a keynote address.
But SHRM officials defended their choices.
“We have heard from members that social media is important to them, and we believe that they will value the presentation by the founder of the Huffington Post,” says SHRM spokeswoman Kate Kennedy, adding that keynote speeches are not political in nature.
“At SHRM’s 2010 annual conference, Al Gore gave an exceptional presentation that incorporated HR and issues of importance to HR practitioners. He received two standing ovations and excellent reviews in conference evaluations,” Kennedy says.
Other scheduled keynote speakers at the 2011 conference include Sir Richard Branson, founder and president of Virgin Group, who kicks off the conference on June 26; Tony Hsieh, CEO of online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos.com, who speaks June 28; and Back to the Future and Family Ties star Michael J. Fox whose foundation raises money for Parkinson’s disease research and awareness, on June 29.
In the exposition hall, there will be a new health and wellness pavilion offering health screenings, massage therapy and presentations on various health topics. Also new this year, the conference will feature “practitioner exchanges”—seminars hosted by HR leaders from Cirque du Soleil, Google Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and other companies. A question-and-answer session will follow each presentation.
To keep track of all the conference happenings, attendees can use the new SHRM 2011 mobile app to access information and updates about all sessions, exhibitors and speakers. The free app is available for the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android. A widgetlike app is available for BlackBerry users and a mobile optimized Web version allows other users to browse the conference program.
Organizers expect 18,000 attendees for the event, Kennedy says.