As SHRM’s 62nd Annual Conference & Exhibition winds down today in San Diego, here are a few wrap-up thoughts and observations as everyone tries to recover and head home for the long Fourth of July weekend:
- How to define SHRM San Diego? As an attendee of a half dozen SHRM annual conferences, I’ve seen the ups and downs, good speakers and bad, smart sessions and petty politics. From the monsoonal-like rains in Washington to the “June Gloom” this year in San Diego, I think I’ve seen it all.
So, how would I describe this year’s conference? Overall, the vibe was pretty good. People were positive, upbeat, happy to be attending. Yes, you can say that about a lot of SHRM conferences, but there was less of the wild rush for swag in the exhibit hall and overall party atmosphere, and, more of a sense of seriousness about hitting the educational sessions and getting exposed to some smart thinking.
The big difference this year, for me, was a greater sense of perspective by the attendees. After a down year economically in 2009 (and a pretty downbeat SHRM conference in New Orleans), people seem really appreciative that the economy is a little better and that they’re traveling again. SHRM attendees seemed a lot more focused on buckling down and getting value out of the conference than they did in past years, and although it’s always great to have fun, this new-found seriousness made for a lot stronger conference environment.
- Helping the military transition back to civilian life. One of the big elements of SHRM San Diego was the program on Saturday and Sunday called “Military Veterans: Transitioning Skills to the New Economy.” The goal was to help the many HR professionals attending the conference tap into the large pool of military personnel returning home (and to the workforce) from places like Iraq and Afghanistan as they try to shift back to civilian life. The Labor Department is involved in this program, and Asst. Labor Secretary for the Veterans and Employment Training Service, Ray Jefferson, was on hand to speak and lend support. This is one of the better ideas to come out of SHRM recently, and the big push behind it in San Diego seemed to be well-received.
- Ray Jefferson – next year’s keynote speaker? Asst. Labor Secretary Ray Jefferson turned out to be a pretty big hit in San Diego. Not only was he deeply involved in the military veterans program at the conference, but he gave a short but passionate speech before Steve Forbes at the opening general session on Sunday. In fact, his speech was so well received that I heard a number of people say (after hearing Forbes speak), “They should have had Ray Jefferson as our keynote speaker instead.”
It’s not a bad idea. A West Point graduate, Army Ranger and member of the Army’s Special Forces, Jefferson also has a Harvard MBA and was a White House fellow. I’d rather hear something fresh and passionate from him than more of the same old stuff from Marcus Buckingham again.
- Next year in Las Vegas. SHRM’s annual conference returns to Sin City in 2011, and it seems like SHRM was just here, doesn’t it? Well, SHRM was just here – in 2007 – when SHRM staged the largest-attended annual conference, ever.
Vegas is a big draw (yes, you know what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas) because of the night life and other extracurricular activities that aren’t available in places like Orlando, Chicago, or Washington, D.C. However, you lose the ability to casually walk from the hotel to the convention center and back that you have in a city like San Diego, and that casual back and forth from conference to hotel may be one of the reasons SHRM conferences in San Diego always seem to go so well.
You can’t do that in Las Vegas, of course, because most of the big hotels aren’t near the convention center, and no one is up to a stroll in 108 degree heat anyway. Still, it will be interesting to see how well attended SHRM 2011 in Vegas is since SHRM 2007 there was such a huge event. I have a feeling I’ll be there again to let you know how it goes.