SHRM Chicago 1: Here’s What I Didn’t Get to Hear From Hillary Clinton

As someone who has been to a number of SHRM national conferences, take it from me that the opening general session of the Society for Human Resource Management’s 65th annual Conference & Exhibition here in Chicago on Sunday was probably the oddest of them all.

And how odd was it, you might ask? Let me count the ways.

  1. The media was banned from the opening session for the first time in my 10 years attending these SHRM events. I’m told it was a demand of Hillary Clinton, and that she does this all the time when speaking to groups like SHRM. It makes me wonder: does banning the media work when you’re talking to, oh, a small, intimate crowd in the neighborhood of 12,000 people? As one person tweeted, “Everyone in this room has a camera phone and Facebook. You can’t stop the free and unfiltered press at #shrm13.”  
  2. Because of the media ban, I got to sit in the Blogger’s Lounge and listen to the part of the opening session that was streamed in — the faux Blues Brothers and Bob Fosse “Chicago” musical numbers, Master of Ceremonies Juana Hart Akers (always good to see her every June), SHRM CEO Hank Jackson, Board Chair Bette Francis, and CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. It looked like we would somehow get to see Hillary Clinton, too, until Hank Jackson’s introduction got cut off in mid-sentence.
  3. Instead of video of Hillary’s speech, my media friends and I instead got to see the Twitter stream of people tweeting about the Clinton talk. It was a good idea, but not exactly a substitute for the real thing.shrm_2013
  4. I had to recruit some SHRM members who weren’t part of the media herd to feed me coverage of Hillary’s secret speech. Some of it is below, but jeez, let’s hope she doesn’t run for president because I don’t think the country is ready for a presidential campaign you have to cover this way.
  5. Fareed Zakaria, who hosts a show on CNN, was the warm-up act for Hillaryand I doubt there are more than a handful of the 12,000 people in attendance who remember what he had to say. It’s hard playing second banana to a Clinton, but Zakaria did his best. He gave a thoughtful speech in which he declared the 21st Century “the century of human capital,” and that the U.S. needs a training program on the scale of the GI Bill because “learning is a lifetime commitment” and “we need a whole  different conception of what it means to educate and train people.” This is important stuff that probably got lost in all the hoo-hah over Hillary Clinton’s appearance.

What Hillary Clinton had to say

So, what DID Hillary have to say? Here are some dispatches from my intrepid TLNT correspondents.

From Bradley Galin, SPHRBlogger ( – he didn’t attend on a media credential) from Bloomington, Indiana and a Director at Large, Indiana State Council – SHRM:

Following FZ, Hillary Clinton came to the stage obviously well versed on her audience. Her speech was tailored for the audience and she got shout outs for the Blackhawks reference. Her speech focused on (five) 5 lessons that her travels as Secretary of State taught her. They are:

  1. Good decisions are based on evidence, not ideology.
  2. Leadership is a team sport.
  3. You can’t win if you don’t show up.
  4. A whisper can be louder than a shout.
  5. Follow the trend lines, not the headlines.

Within each of these areas, Ms. Clinton provided examples of where these lessons were applied and how they can influence our work in HR leading organizations. I especially liked her emphasis on the importance of building relationships. This aspect was woven throughout her speech but was hit upon most strongly when talking about the importance of showing up and how relationships can allow the whisper to be as effective as a shout.

Ms. Clinton also talked about the importance of bringing people together who can make a diffference and the impact that can have through a foundation like the Clinton Global Initiative. She gave a great shout out to SHRM and its partnership with FWI promoting flexible workplaces. She also talked about the importance of feeding young minds and providing the brain nourishment as so much of our brains are developed by the age of 5.

The session with Ms. Clinton ended with Hank Jackson, the CEO of SHRM, asking some “softball” questions. These were good natured but still provided Hillary the opportunity to share more of what she learned. The opportunity to take on challenges is very daunting. She spoke about her decision to run for the Senate and how a basketball player introducing her at an event whispered to her “Dare to compete, Mrs. Clinton” was such a strong influence on her decision to run. Of course, the closing questions from Hank (well done I might add) tried to get her to commit in 2016 (to running for president). She of course, did a nice job answering with a non answer!”

From Katie Williams, Field Marketing Manager and Matt SingerSenior Director, Marketing Programs, Jobvite, from the Q&A session with Hillary Clinton (comments are paraphrased):

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How have your leadership experiences shaped how you are today? Dare to compete. It’s important to take criticism seriously, but not personally. HR professionals get criticized a lot — listen to it, but learn what you can do better and don’t take it personally.

How do you feel about immigration reform? (Mrs. Clinton hopes there will be a new law with comprehensive immigration reform.) Hopefully the Senate will pass the bill and send it along to the House to consider. It’s way overdue, she said. Yes, we need to make sure we have border security to fight drugs,trafficking, and terrorism, but we have to do more to bring people out of the shadows. Hold employers accountable if they employ people who are illegal. Put people in line to get legal status. Give more student visas than H-1b visas. Our economic recovery is fueled by a steady stream of well-qualified workers coming from our own institutions. Immigration reform is an economic issue. The U.S. is country of immigrants and we need to move forward economically and competitively.”

I’ve got more correspondents-for-a-day who may send me their reports on Hillary Clinton’s speech throughout the evening. I’ll update this blog post as I get more.

My hope is that this opening session — where the media doesn’t get in to listen to a pretty basic speech for no good reason — is as odd as SHRM Chicago 2013 gets. Only time will tell, of course, but I’ll have a number of reports here on TLNT (from me and other regular contributors) throughout the conference as the week goes on.

Stay tuned.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.