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May 24, 2011
This article is part of a series called ERE Media Conferences.

One thing I’ve learned about conferences: It can be tough getting the brain cells to buy whatever a keynote speaker is selling early in the morning

So it was Monday as I sat in the San Diego Convention Center listening to best-selling business author Daniel Pink talk about motivating employees at WorldatWork’s Total Rewards 2011 Conference & Exhibition. Yes, I was nursing my morning java, but sometimes, even coffee strong enough to wake the neighbors may not get you through a so-so presentation.

Fortunately, Pink is a wry, humorous, and engaging speaker with an important and powerful message. He got me, and the large Total Rewards crowd, revved up for the day ahead — coffee or no.

And isn’t that what a keynote speaker is supposed to do? For Pink, author of Drive — The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, his overall message is simple: our theories about what motivates people may be all wrong because many of our underlying assumptions about motivation may be wrong.

I’ve written about Pink before, and the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce animated video of Pink’s talk before that group last year (I’ve included it again here; it’s been nominated for a Webby Award) and it is a great way to get a 10-minute version what he talked about Monday in San Diego.

Random thoughts from Total Rewards

  • A kinder, gentler exhibition hall? Unlike most conferences, WorldatWork’s Total Rewards takes a different approach to the exhibition hall. Rather than running it from 9:30 or 10 am straight through to 4 or 5 pm (as most do), Total Rewards takes a more staggered schedule — open from 11 to 2 pm, then again from 4 to 6:30 pm. This makes it possible for people manning the booths, or, those who can only do business with vendors when the hall is open, to attend a good number of the concurrent sessions. I’ve never asked anyone at WorldatWork why they do this, but it make it a lot easier to be able to both attend sessions AND deal with the vendors and exhibit hall. There is something to be said for that.
  • Concurrent sessions I wished I could have attended Monday. Age: A 21st Century Diversity Imperative, Is Pay for Performance Possible, and, Slide Rules, Stagecoaches and Mad Men: Building the Business Case for Wellness.
  • Another reminder that business travel is back. If 2010 was the year that businesses started to let employees travel again, 2011 is when we clearly see business travel getting back to normal. And the preliminary numbers from Total Rewards in San Diego mirror what other conferences have been reporting this spring — the best attendance they’ve seen in at least four years. Although I didn’t get specific numbers Monday (and I will before the show ends) WorldatWork staff believe the 2011 conference will show a significant increase over 2010 in Dallas.
  • Biggest disappointment this week (so far) in San Diego. It’s gotta be the weather. We usually get “June Gloom” here in Southern California, but what’s with the “May Gray?” Temperatures on Monday barely hit the mid-60s — and it even drizzled a little rain. As compensation guru Ann Bares told me, “it was warmer back at home in Minnesota!”
This article is part of a series called ERE Media Conferences.