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SHRM 101

June 19, 2008
Related Topics: Your HR Career, Career Development, Employee Career Development

San Diego. Washington. Las Vegas. Chicago. The cities may change and the venues may differ, but there is a comfy familiarity I always feel at the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference.

    In other words, if I’m stuck in some cavernous convention center in late June watching frenzied HR people fight over free roller bags and other tacky junk, I must be at SHRM.

    I catch a lot of flak for pointing out the predictable and silly things I see at the SHRM annual conference, and I’ll cop to that. "Why don’t you say anything nice about SHRM?" is something I’m always hearing, and my response is, I do say nice things. For example, here’s what I wrote from last year’s conference in Las Vegas:

    "I think SHRM does a marvelous job putting on this annual convention. It must be a logistical nightmare to put on an event of this size and coordinate so many moving pieces, yet the Society for Human Resource Management staff pulls it off every year with very few glitches or hiccups."

    While I can be nice, I can also be analytical (and sometimes critical) as needed. And that, along with my experience as a veteran SHRM conference attendee, makes me someone who is qualified to offer up a little advice on how you can maximize your SHRM experience in Chicago. Here are five tips that may help:

    Choose your speakers carefully. Keynotes are not slam-dunk, must-do events. Of the four in Chicago, Patrick Lencioni (Monday, 8:30 a.m.) is the only one I have heard before, and he’s glib, funny and interesting. I recommend him, but he also gets around. If you get to other conferences, you will probably have another opportunity to hear him. If I had to pick just one speaker to hear, I’d go with Doris Kearns Goodwin (Tuesday, 8:30 a.m.), because she will undoubtedly talk about her recent book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, something every HR person should be reading.

    Make sure not to miss the Sunday general session. Yes, Sidney Poitier is speaking and will probably be thoughtful and entertaining, but he’s not the reason to go. I’d attend because it will not only feature outgoing SHRM president and CEO Sue Meisinger’s farewell address, but probably also her introduction of SHRM’s new leader. If you care about where the organization is going, you’ll want to hear this.

    Stroll the exhibition hall, but on your own terms. You don’t want to be one of those crazy people chasing down free trinkets, do you? I didn’t think so. Instead, you should spend a few hours and leisurely walk the hall looking for ideas you can take back to your organization, and perhaps, a few tacky goodies for your pals back home. And make sure you skip anything with a long line. You’ll waste a lot of time standing around waiting to get your picture put on some cheesy magazine cover.

    Check out these concurrent sessions. Here are some I want to hear: the senior practitioner spotlight with Laszlo Bock of Google (Monday, 10:45 a.m.); "What to Do When People You Work With Drive You Crazy" with Lynn Eisaguirre of Workplaces That Work (Monday, 2 p.m.); and, "How Rude! The Effects of Incivility in the Workplace" with Peter Post of the Emily Post Institute (Tuesday, 4 p.m.).

    Get out on the town. Chicago is a great city with fabulous shopping, wonderful food, and interesting sights to see. You’ll be shortchanging yourself if you don’t budget some time to get away from the conference and take it all in.

    I said it last year, and I’ll say it again: There are lots of great speakers at SHRM, and great information you can take home and use with your workforce right away. And isn’t that the point of attending?

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