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The Last Word: Those Happy Days at SHRM

My real hope for you is that, like my first conference experience, you'll create lasting relationships while at SHRM.

May 28, 2013
Related Topics: HR/Workforce Trends, The HR Profession, Featured Article

During the past few months I've been setting up my home office. Not because I need a dedicated room to pen my great American novel or fire off angry letters to the power company, but after nearly three years it was apparent that those boxes of books, plaques and all manner of career collectibles weren't going to organize themselves.

Understand that journalists are much better at accumulating than purging. We hate to throw stuff away. Thirty years later and I just can't part with that Wall Street Journal clip about the S&L meltdown. And I'm convinced that a 1976 issue of the long-since defunct Crawdaddy magazine with Henry Winkler on the cover is bound to be a collector's item someday. Heyyy

As I dug into the final box, I came across a forgotten piece of work that I didn't recollect saving. In 2006, about three weeks after I started at Workforce, the staff's writers and editors descended en masse on Washington, D.C., to cover the annual conference of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Our task was to produce what's called a show daily—a 16-page daily magazine recapping the day's events at SHRM and to preview the next day's happenings. It was printed overnight and distributed to attendees in front of the convention center.

Six editors were crammed into a hotel suite converted into a makeshift newsroom. In an adjoining suite, the writers cranked out stories on just-concluded sessions, D.C.'s stifling summer weather and the never-ending hunt for swag. We even did a story about conference-goers getting sick from the boxed lunches. Yes, we covered SHRM like nobody's business.

From early morning all-staff planning meetings to sending out the final pages at night, we worked hard and then played just as hard at the dinners and parties around the city as we attempted in vain to dodge the monsoons that swept through the district that week. I distinctly recall wrapping up the last edition on Tuesday night, still on deadline, and listening to the reporters next door playing drinking games.

I barely knew the people who were writing the stories, rattling off headlines and playing quarters, the old-standby drinking game. I was unfamiliar with the content I was editing, and I hardly knew what SHRM stood for. But we were comrades on a communal deadline.

OK, maybe that's a bit melodramatic; this group that had largely been assembled during the previous 12 months for a twice-monthly publication was expected to immediately morph into a well-oiled daily newsroom. But it was trial by fire, and we rocked it.

Finding that old show daily—we abandoned the practice after the 2007 conference in Las Vegas—reminded me of the value of our improvised newsroom. No classroom or online training program could ever have provided me with the lessons I learned that week. Though Ed Frauenheim and I are the only ones who remain with Workforce from that 2006 staff, the three-day crash course in HR cemented my relationship with my new colleagues, most of whom I remain in touch with to this day.

Maybe you are attending your first SHRM conference this month in Chicago. Perhaps you are one of the hundreds of vendors or attending it as a member of your HR team.

I have no doubt that you'll glean valuable insights from the keynotes and sessions, close a big deal, snag a bag full of swag to take home to the family, or even play drinking games with your co-workers into the wee hours of the night.

But my real hope for you is that, like my first SHRM conference experience, you'll create lasting relationships. Those memories, like a dusty-old show daily from 2006, are the undiscovered gems that are worth keeping for years to come.

Rick Bell is Workforce's managing editor. Comment below or email Follow Bell on Twitter at @RickBell123.

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