HR Conferences need more innovation and more cowbell!
I have been kind of busy lately.
I have massive day job projects I am chasing. I am doing some consulting on the side. I have been all over the place in the new media space. I have public plans and secret plans. I am loving this!
So here is what is randomly rattling around in my brain this week.
Agility and Urgency in HR
#ff9900;”>I attended about 4 hours worth of the SHRM Staffing Conference in Orlando this week. SHRM had granted me press access, but unfortunately I was unable to get over to this event that was going on right in my own back yard. Thanks as always to SHRM for the generosity and the unfettered (and regrettably unused) access to the event.
#ff9900;”>I did manage to get maximum value out of the few hours I did manage to spend at the conference. I attended the opening of the Exhibit Hall and ran into many old friends, including Gerry Crispin, Eric Winegardener, Sarah White, and Carol McDaniel. I also got to meet Chris Hoyt and Chris Frede. What is awesome about seeing these people? The awesome comes from the hallway discussions you can have with these brilliant folks.
Without going into a lot of detail, the conversation on this day centered around two topics:
- Human Resources conferences in general, including unConferences
- the state of the HR profession
Lack of Urgency in HR
The summary version of this discussion isn’t really that new.
Our industry sometimes lacks a sense of urgency. Many HR professionals seem disinclined to take the steps they need to take to get ready for the future – not just with social media, but on many fronts.
And the professional conference, one of the major ways that professionals use to stay up to speed isn’t keeping pace with the changes either. There was a general consensus that professional conferences are far too mundane, and not pushing the leading edge enough with their content, probably since this is not what the majority of attendees are there to hear about.
Mainstream Conferences lack agility
Big professional conferences are starting to lag against HR unconferences in this regard. Events like TRU USA, or the upcoming HRevolution offer the promise of the cutting edge for those of us who want to be there, as well as superb and highly focused networking opportunities. They are simply more agile in their planning and frequency, and much more able to serve this niche than the larger general conferences are. Granted, the two types of events are different animals, but I think this gives the unConference a competitive edge right now. Groups like SHRM are getting some competition, and need to look at ways to increase their value proposition to those who find the unConference a better learning experience.
Feedback on the SHRM staffing event is that it was really a great event, with many great speakers, and a higher than expected attendance level. There was also some buzz around the freshness of the topics, and some of the new voices who were appearing for the first time. Let’s hope this bodes well for SHRM National, and that we see something similiar going on there as well. I will be attending the event on a SHRM press pass, so I will be able to see for myself, and will certainly report back.
Many companies and researchers utilize a concept of experimentation know as “fail fast”. Give a new idea or concept a try, see where it goes, and if it doesn’t work, kill it and move on. This is something of a low risk, possible high return approach, unless you are just a bad researcher. One hit makes up for a lot of misses.
Here are some ”fail fast” suggestions for any large conference organizer to think about, including SHRM.
- Sponsor some scholarships for first time attendees – students, non-profits, small business HR owners or HR peeps. Offer them an opportunity to apply and make 10 or 20 slots open for free to get new blood in there. Offer them a taste, and see if they come back. This would help reach some new markets.
- Reserve 5% of your speaking slots for new voices. Offer the opportunity of your buly pulpit to some of those leading edge thinkers that are out there. These won’t sell out an event like Jack Welch, but it will have greater long term returns!
- Bring some unconference elements to your concurrent sessions. Provide a space for dialogue with the speaker and the group by making it an interactive dialogue, not just a lecture. The learning is stickier,and the experience is richer for all, if they figure out how to play.
- Use more social media tools. Invite blogging teams. Set up a web page, a flicker page, and youtube. Offer flip cam interview opportunities to attendees and speakers alike. Live stream your event!
If you want cowbell at your event, invite Eric Winegardner to attend, and tell that he can bring his velvet jacket! Eric did a great job at the SHRM Staffing conference. He was the most active live blogger at SHRM Staffing and it was good stuff. It just wasn’t enough for the backchannel audience.
Last suggestion: Increase the outreach efforts at your conferences with a strategic approach. Invite people who enjoy doing this to help you. More and more shows are doing this. There are lots of us out there in the HR / Social Media who would do this at your event, so pay attention and invite us. We will add value!
The HR Florida state conference event this year is going to be a case study for the effectiveness of this idea. Watch us and see what happens!
The hidden track – stuff I am personally sick of hearing!
- I don’t have time for that social media stuff
- We are an organization with a conservative culture.
- You only have one choice
- We are reviewing that now
- We need a seat at the table
- We love input from our members
- I don’t have time