How to Improve HR Conferences Post-Pandemic

Hey gang, I’m on my way back from SHRM Talent in Denver and thinking about how we can improve the conference experience. My favorite conference to attend is SHRM Talent. Almost everyone I run into as a TA title and these are my people! Shared pain brings us all closer together!

I was having a conversation with an attendee with the premise, what if never had HR conferences, so we had no preconceived notions of what an HR conference should be, what would we do differently? Here are some of my ideas:

– Virtual conferences suck. The interaction is limited at best. I would love to see what Facebook/Meta spaces could be for virtual if we all had headsets in a virtual conference hall. So, I’m saying conferences should be in-person, but I know we’ll always have a virtual component moving forward.

– A one-hour+ presentation sucks. I actually don’t mind doing them because I love to hear myself talk! Also, in an hour you can fumble around and still get to the end with no problem. 15 -30 minutes you must be tight! You must get to the juicy stuff quickly! People pay greater attention to shorter time segments. We love TEDx presentations because they are 17 minutes and it leaves us wanting more!

– Every conference should have some sort of professional speed dating. The real reason we go to a conference is to expand our professional network, so we have folks to lean on when we need help outside our normal work network, which tends to be limited.

– Let’s say 500 people attend a session and on a scale of 1 to 10, let’s say 30 people give it an 11! They love it! They want more! Those 30 people should have some sort of way to set up additional times outside of the conference for further discussion and networking. Community building makes your conferences more sticky. 

– Don’t put everyone in dark conference ballrooms! Set up a stage outside in the sun and let folks get some vitamin D. RecFest in London is great at this. But you also have to have some balance for those who can’t take all the heat all day. But, if I’m in Vegas or Scottsdale in October, put a stage outside and let folks get some fresh air. We all need some recess! 

– More coordination amongst conference organizers. In 2022, this spring, I’ve already run into a week where there are 3 conferences going on in the same week that I want to attend. Can’t there be a big shared Google calendar? Hung Lee put one of these together but not enough conference organizers know about it, so they all plan their stuff in the same weeks.

– Better food and drinks. It’s 2022, and we can’t figure out what people want vs. these are the options we offer you? My kid’s high school can have a food court with 15 options, but somehow I’m paying $2,000 to attend an adult conference and I get dry chicken and wilted lettuce?! And never any diet Dew!? (Except SHRM Talent – Shoutout, I had diet Dew every day!)

– Put the best speakers and keynotes upfront. We do this dumb thing where we try and keep conference attendees to the end by putting the best content last. It doesn’t matter, 40% of the folks are taking off early. Every. Single. Time. Stop trying to force people to stay at your conference longer than they want. Just put the best upfront when everyone is there, and let the ones with average content get better with fewer people watching. Unless you have Oprah or Michelle Obama as your closing keynote, you’ll always have a big number taking off on the last day to get home at a decent time.

– Make attendees commit to expo demos. You get to come, but you actually need to do three demos. You think you’ll hate them, but you’ll actually learn something. If you don’t do them, you don’t get invited back. We’re here to learn and be better, it’s okay to place some expectations on attendees. I know this sounds stupid, but I think it would actually help HR Pros.

Okay, what are your HR Conference ideas?! Hit me in the comments, let’s come up with some awesome ways to make them better.

5 thoughts on “How to Improve HR Conferences Post-Pandemic

  1. HR professionals suck at networking. Maybe TA pros are better at it than their Generalist brethren but I agree with the suggestion of structuring networking events and making it fun so people actually do it without feeling too self-conscious.

  2. I’m the battered and bruised organizer of more than a few TA conferences, and I can attest that these are spot-on observations and terrific suggestions. Thanks, Tim, for sharing them.

  3. I’m 100% NOPE on making attendees to demos. If I’m paying $2K to attend, I determine how I’m using my time. The conferences are making money on both ends from attendees and vendors. If the conference was smart, what they could do is offer discounted admission in exchange for three demo’s, I’d support that. It’s like the free show tickets to listen to a stupid time share pitch in Vegas.

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