What Makes a Great HR Speaker?


It’s conference season in the HR world. You know what that means, right?

Imma earn a few donuts for making a bunch of speeches, yo.

But it also means that I’ll be exposed to SOME OF THE BEST HR THOUGHT LEADERS IN THE INDUSTRY.

I know, I know. The bar is low. There are really great speakers and there are really great HR people. There are very few who are one in the same. I know that I’m locked from being too specific about my work experience because I signed non-disclosure agreements with both Kemper and Pfizer when I left those companies. I waived my right to sue; released my employers from any liability; and promised that I wouldn’t spill the beans or disparage the brand. I did this in exchange for cash money and freedom.

Kemper is dead but I still have Pfizer PR and legal folks who visit this blog regularly. (Hi, guys.) And I know that word would spread if I talked too specifically about what I accomplished (or messed up) while working in HR. So I keep it vague and loose. Doesn’t make for a great representation of my knowledge, skills and experience; however, it makes the lawyers happy.

Dang lawyers. Ruining all the fun.

So I’m not sure how real HR people get away with speaking on the conference circuit. In fact, many don’t. What you often get is former HR professionals who are now vendors or consultants. A lot of good that does you, right? Hm.

That’s why I wanted to make a list of things that are required for an inspirational HR keynote speech and the qualities that are required to be a transcendent HR speaker.

You wanna be a professional speaker in my space? Here’s how to do it. SHRM can tell me if I’m wrong.

  • Right outta the gate, you have to establish your bona fides as a strategic thinker. It’s best to do this by being male and white. You can be a woman but you have to be over 40.
  • It’s about a journey. If I had a dime for every speaker who took me on his path from individual contributor to creative genius, I would be on a beach counting my dimes.
  • You mention having a ‘seat at the table’ without mentioning it. It’s all about having a dominant share of voice! And credibility!
  • There’s talk about metrics. HR can’t do math but we cannot leave this fad alone.
  • It is all about partnerships. Never mind that HR exists because managers and leaders have a history of violating basic human rights in the Western world; it’s about befriending your business leader and understanding his needs.
  • Social media comes up. Bonus points if you say, “Your organization can no longer afford to ignore the power and community of social media. Your company has a brand whether you control it or not.”
  • You have to talk about power and influence as if you’re humble, powerful and influential. It helps to cast yourself as a benevolent soul who’s just trying to help inform the marketplace.
  • Fashion is still important. If you’re a male speaker, skip the tie. If you are a woman, pearls are still nice.
  • You have to talk about Human Resources as if you’re not really in HR.  It’s about balancing the shame of being in Human Resources with the desire to do better. Mix in finance phrases and you’re golden.

I have to say that I’m guilty of many of these items. And I’m so bad at playing this game that it’s actually hard for me to watch the tape. I cringe when I see myself going through my vision for the future of Human Resources.

But the check cashes, mothereffers, and I’m no longer beholden to a life as a Human Resources lackey. I live to blog another day.

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