What It’s Like To Speak At SHRM


I spoke at the SHRM 2011 Annual Conference and my friends and family keep asking, “How did it go?”

Apparently I forgot to report back.

First of all, the conference had random speakers such as Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, and Michael J. Fox. I have no idea why those speakers were picked. The only person I watched was Richard Branson. It wasn’t a speech — he was interviewed on stage — and I’m pretty sure he didn’t see the questions in advance. It was a little painful and looked like this.

The moderator asked him to give an example of how HR is a strategic partner at his company.

He asked, “A strategic partner of what?”

Ouch. Hilarious language fail. In the UK, HR operates differently. Much of the recruiting function is outsourced and there are no benefits or retirement specialists. Human Resources is about as strategic as it gets — and it’s still rote work. No one in my former UK HR department would ever abide by the monicker ‘strategic partner’. They would have laughed at me.

Anyway, I spoke at 10:45 AM on a Tuesday. I was thrilled to be there — and it’s a prime speaking slot for those who aren’t famous like Richard Branson — but most consultants speak at SHRM to build business or gain future speaking roles at SHRM state conferences. My role at the conference was a little different. I’m not a consultant, I spoke at a session that was originally owned by someone else, and I don’t have a job where I sell goods or service to Human Resources.

My singular purpose was to attend SHRM and say something different about the very boring subject of social media. And it went okay. I stood in front of an audience — in a dark room with a lavaliere microphone that didn’t work — and discussed the underlying technology behind social media

And yes, I was a little nervous. I am a serious HR lady who started blogging after twelve years in a real HR job. I never feel the need to read through my CV when I stand on stage — but maybe I should. And I said the word dick and gave some HR people the vapors.

Oh well.

Do you really want to know what it’s like to spend five days in Vegas but only get reimbursed for two days because it’s supposed to be an honor and a business development opportunity to speak? And you know what it’s like to present to an audience and have five people walk out because you said dick? And do you want to know what it’s like to be told by an anonymous reader that the presentation would’ve been better if you went up there naked?


…it’s awesome.

Seriously, it is so much better than working in Human Resources.

I could be dealing with crabby VPs who bemoan the feminization of HR, acquiring a series of companies and orchestrating the layoffs of tens of thousands of people, or putting an employee on a performance plan. I could be firing someone due to the result of a sexual harassment investigation, suspending an employee for insubordination, or trying to help a manager through a difficult conversation with a smelly employee.

Speaking at SHRM? Unbelievably awesome by comparison.

Could my presentation have been better? No. Not at all. (Just kidding. Sorta.) Actually, it was perfect because I wasn’t sitting in a cubicle and talking to a benefits broker about the rising health care costs at my company. Sure, I will take the compliments and the criticism of my presentation. I will learn and grow from it. (Maybe.) But I will gladly stand in front of a group of people and talk about anything — cats, architecture, the Euro crisis — instead of operating as the HR party lady and ordering a tray of Quiznos subs for a team building event at a bowling alley.

Any time. Any day. I’ll do it. I will speak at SHRM again & again & again.

But I won’t be naked.

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