The lanyards are ready to be hung on my hook of past conferences. The conference bag full of swag I thought I needed is bulging as I get ready to haul it into the office and add “toys” to my ever-growing office menagerie. The memories of incredible food at several places steeped in Cajun spices still make me salivate. And, the incredible improv blues/jazz/rock melodies from the jam session where any musician could bring in their instrument and jump on stage at Cafe Negri still resonates fondly in the recesses of my mind.
Oh, yes, then there was the ocean of people moving like a giant system of streams throughout the endless New Orleans convention center. Each one trying to find a concurrent HR session to make sure they were getting a full dose of professional development. The thousands of attendees of SHRM22 were constantly on the move. Session rooms were filled and emptied. The lines for coffee, food, vendor swag, box lunches and chances to win a ticket to SHRM23 ebbed and flowed with ease. The parties and gatherings that once again came to life throughout the city were all magnificent, colorful, and energetic !!
The SHRM22 Annual Conference and Exposition was fulfilling in so many ways. To see HR peers gather together en masse was thrilling to see. Watching people shop in the SHRM store, have conversations with each other off on the side, seeing the SHRM Executive Network grow and participate, as well as a full contingent of HR students from around the country filled my heart. On top of this, there were several global attendees that filled the halls. I met folks from Korea, Canada, India, Barbados, Bahamas, Ireland, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and more.
Yes, I’m a fan of the Annual Conference. I’ve been fully immersed in them for over the past decade as a volunteer leader from the local to the national level. I’ve been fortunate to be a speaker for several years and I get to sign books. I get a thrill every time I get to meet a person willing to chat and tell me their story as I sign my name. This year was a “return” for me because I was able to be an “attendee.” Yes, I had social media commitments and I spoke at two sessions, but that was stepping back from the past when almost every moment was scheduled with obligations and appearances.
I loved it !! It was freeing to swim in that ocean of people.
I wanted to make sure people felt a bit of that same passion. So, I chose to throw down a gauntlet to see if my peers would willingly pick it up. They did and it was magnificent !!
I noticed, as with most HR conferences, that people are far more concerned with getting their lanyard, their badge, their conference bag, etc. than they are in greeting and meeting the people milling around them. Attendees rush to sessions to grab a seat. It’s great to see full rooms, but the effort to run to sit is astonishing to watch. Few, if any, look up to see the thousands of amazing humans within arms reach.
People who are talented, experienced and disconnected. It’s true. In the 35+ years I’ve been in this field, HR pros eagerly take in as much content as they can at every session, but they miss the chance to meet the most incredible resources available to them. If even a fraction of the attendees at SHRM22 met each other, we’d see a gathering of such phenomenal HR knowledge exist that we’d have a natural bank of intelligence we could tap . . . if we connected.
The gauntlet I threw down was during one of my sessions when I challenged the capacity room to stop looking down. Pause. Look up and notice the other humans. Then . . . say “Hello !!”
The challenge was to be carried out throughout the venue including escalators and I said I’d be watching to see if people did. Oh, boy did they !! That was on a Monday afternoon and from then on you could hear people greeting each other out loud for the rest of the conference. The energy at the event jumped even higher as you saw smiles, laughter, and cheerful greetings happening everywhere. It spilled out into the events, the streets, and all over the city !!
It was a simple reminder that we need to show life ourselves in order to breathe life into others. What we do as HR pros is challenging work. We need to not only enjoy our time at HR conferences, but we need to return to our workplaces and bring encouragement, strategy, humor, fun and light. It’s not enough to say you attended SHRM22. You now have the chance to shape, shift and improve your role, your company, AND yourself !!
The gauntlet has been lifted, a positive wave has gripped many and they are now going forth to their corner of the HR Universe until we meet again. (And I can’t wait !!)