Letty, tell us who you are and what you do: I am the director of conference programming and development for SHRM which means I oversee the educational experience/content for all our SHRM conferences – from keynoters to concurrent sessions. So, as you can imagine, it is quite challenging, but fun all at the same time!
You have been involved with SHRM for over a decade, how did that all start, and what keeps you at SHRM? I started at SHRM in the Research department, worked there for several years before moving to Knowledge Development and then eventually found my way into the Meetings and Conference department. What keeps me here is the amazing people I have the pleasure of working with – this not only includes my colleagues at SHRM but also our amazing partners - our vendors, speakers as well as our members. SHRM’s mission also really struck a chord with me and I just really love what I do. It is so rewarding to see the onsite experience come to life after many, many months of planning and working on all the details.
Let’s talk about programming, give us some insight to the process of selecting speakers. What are the biggest challenges to doing this? As you can imagine, it is a tough job! It takes a village when it comes to selecting our speakers and is something we take very seriously as we want to ensure our attendees/members are hearing from the best and brightest. We have a committee that reviews every single proposal we receive. It is extremely competitive and we always end up disappointing amazing speakers each conference, but if we accepted everyone we could, our conference would be two weeks long! That is one of the biggest challenges, the other challenge is getting all the information during the proposal process – we ask that everyone submit videos of them speaking so that we can access their platform skills, but we also need to know the benefits of someone attending their session – what will our attendees learn? Not everyone provides all these details and it really helps when determining both the speakers as well as the session content.
I love the Smart Stage component of the conference (*Disclaimer – I am speaking for the second time on the Smart Stage this year). Is this growing in popularity? What other types of new programming concepts might we see in the future? Yes, it is growing in popularity. Attendees want choices and as we all know everyone has different learning environments/styles that they prefer – some like short sweet content which is what the Smart Stage offers. We also offer something similar in the Exposition with two theaters there as well.
Do you have a subject/topic that you think is a burning issue for HR practitioners this year at the conference (example A.I. in recruiting, #metoo, dehumanizing of the workplace, etc.)? There are so many! One of the things that I have learned over the years is that there are certain evergreen topics that are always going to be relevant to our attendees i.e. FLSA, ADAA, etc. This year I think you hit the nail on the head with your examples – harassment is front and center these days as well as dealing with change.
Who was your single favorite speaker over the years and why? We have had the pleasure of hosting so many wonderful speakers but I have to say that my favorite was Sidney Poitier. He was the consummate gentleman and an absolute delight to work with. He made the effort to shake hands and thank every single person back stage. To this day, that experience has stuck with me.
What keeps you up at night? So much. I want to make sure that the educational experience provides our attendees with the tools and information that will allow them to be more effective in their day to day jobs. I also want to provide an amazing experience. I want people to leave inspired so what keeps me up at night is how to take this huge conference and make it personal for every single one of our 16,000 attendees
What advice would you offer a first-time attendee? Prepare. I would take the time to read and participate in the conference community – this is a great resource to get questions answered ahead of time as well as connect with other attendees. I would also suggest that everyone should have a plan – create an agenda with the sessions you want to attend (have back up sessions as well) and the exhibitors you want to meet. The conference can be extremely overwhelming so attend the orientation on Sunday as we give as high level overview of the essentials to navigate SHRM18. If you are traveling alone, take advantage of our meet to eat program so you don’t have to dine alone and you can meet other attendees. Those would be my top three tips.
I’ll be back with another behind the scenes look in a couple of weeks, till then I will be busy preparing for the next installment of my LAST HR JEDI tour stopping at the SHRM Talent Management conference this April in Las Vegas. Hope to see you all in person in Vegas!!!