Al Gore at SHRM San Diego: Will He Finally Spill on the Big Oil Spill?

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Jun 17, 2010
This article is part of a series called ERE Media Conferences.

One of my frequent gripes about the annual SHRM conference and exhibition – coming later this month to the beautiful city of San Diego – is that the keynote speakers usually have nothing at all to do with HR.

In fact, they rarely mention human resources, ever. Whether it be Jordan’s Queen Noor , comedian Bill Cosby , seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong , or former Secretary of State and Army General Colin Powell (all recent SHRM keynoters), the speakers are usually long on star power and pretty short on practical advice or guidance for HR professionals.

One notable exception was last year’s opening day keynote speaker – former General Electric CEO Jack Welch. As I noted last year , “Say what you will about Jack Welch, but he ALWAYS has a lot to say about HR… his presentation (at SHRM New Orleans) was the most focused and HR-specific opening speech of any I have heard in the past half-dozen SHRM conferences.”

This year’s speaker lineup at SHRM is noteworthy because there are essentially two opening day keynote speakers – publisher Steve Forbes and former Vice President Al Gore. Forbes, however, will be speaking on Sunday in the slot that traditionally goes to the “big name” SHRM speaker, with the former Veep talking to the assembled faithful on Monday morning.

That’s a little surprising, of course, because you would expect Gore to be the bigger name for the Sunday slot, but Forbes was pinned down as the opening keynoter long before Big Al agreed to speak. My take is that SHRM knew they couldn’t bump Forbes (a big time conservative) from the opening keynote slot for Gore (a big time liberal who they landed late in the game) without Forbes feeling snubbed and perhaps even opting out of speaking altogether.

So, SHRM attendees get two “name” speakers in San Diego; Forbes on Sunday and Big Al on Monday.

Although it’s possible that Forbes could talk about talent management to the SHRM audience, I’d be shocked if Al Gore had anything to say about HR or talent at all.

And that raises the question: what exactly will former Vice President, Nobel Prize winner and noted environmentalist Gore be speaking about at SHRM? If he’s smart, he ‘ll talk – finally – about the big oil spill that’s playing out in the Gulf of Mexico.

Surprisingly, Gore has said zero-zip-nada about one of the biggest environmental disasters of our time, according to a story in The Daily Beast .

“The spring of 2010 has brought an oil spill already several times larger than Exxon-Valdez, featuring the same cycle of catastrophe, recriminations, and pledges to do better,” writes Dayo Olopade. “But 56 days after oil began flooding the Gulf of Mexico, Gore—whose Academy Award and Nobel Prize have made him the most influential environmental activist in the country—has been largely silent during the worst environmental catastrophe in memory…Friends and foes alike are noticing his absence.”

Here’s my prediction: Steve Forbes opens SHRM San Diego on Sunday June 27 with a keynote speech that follows in the footsteps of what Neutron Jack Welch said last year, with lots of specifics about HR and the critical role talent plays in organizational success. Then Al Gore follows up on Monday morning by weighing in with his perspective and finally “spilling” on BP and the big environmental mess that has everybody so worked up.

Sound far-fetched? Maybe, but not by much. If both Forbes and Gore were to follow this script (and feel free to give me credit if they do), it would make for one incredibly memorable speaker lineup and a big, big reason to show up for SHRM San Diego.

This article is part of a series called ERE Media Conferences.