Milestone 20

This coming week will be my 20th SHRM annual conference to attend. This feels like such a milestone in my life. It was supposed to happen last year, but COVID-19…

Since some of you reading this may be attending your first SHRM conference (like one of my #peacocksisters/best friends, Tina Marie Wohlfield), I hope that you might appreciate me waxing nostalgic on past conferences. So, let’s start with the first conference that I attended.

San Francisco 2001:

I had just gotten engaged to my wonderful husband, Ken, and he helped me to save up so I could chaperone 4 UNC Charlotte students at the annual conference in San Francisco. We stayed in a two-star hotel off the beaten path with a roll away. I love San Fran and had been there several times when I was in my 20s. I played tour guide and walked so many steps. I remember being just overwhelmed by the size of the conference and awed by the expo hall. After attending my first conference, I was hooked.

Philadelphia 2002:

Ken and I had recently gotten married, so we postponed our honeymoon in order for me to chaperone again and attend the annual conference. We brought my son with us, and they did all the touristy stuff while I attended the conference with the UNCC students. I remember attending every session that I could as I needed to recertify my credentials the next year.

Orlando 2003 and 2014:

In 2003, my husband rented a minivan, and we brought a group of 10 UNC Charlotte students with us since I was now the UNCC SHRM student chapter advisor. My twins also came and attended the Epcot Tuesday night event. Our favorite memory was watching my dear friend, Dave Magee, run the Conga line at the event with 1000+ in the line. It was quite the sight.

During the 2014 conference, I was serving on the MAC and all the craziness with certification was going on. The highlight of this conference was that Tim McGraw came out into the audience, grabbed my husband’s hand up high, and sang to him. Many women were so jealous.

New Orleans 2004, 2009, 2018…. and will be 2022:

New Orleans holds a special place in my heart. My mom was born there, and it is where I fell in love with my husband. Our first date was at Mulate’s which is a fabulous restaurant near the convention center. 2004 was all about the changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (I will blog about that next year).

2009 was “the after Katrina and the Great Recession” conference. It was half the size of a normal conference. I still quote Jack Welch from that conference when he said there is no such thing as a work/life balance, but instead work/life choices.

2018 I was in my second year on the SHRM Foundation Board and so many wonderful things were going on (and they still are). Plus, I was very busy with the Blog Squad and as one of the SHRM Foundation FitBit Challenge captains.

San Diego 2005 and 2010:

San Diego is so much fun. I attended with a bunch of Charlotte friends and then my husband brought my twins and my good friend’s, Nancy Harville, two kids and we toured around California after the conference. My husband thankfully survived this trip without choking any tweens.

In 2010 I spoke at SHRM annual for the first time. I came by myself and can remember freezing in the conference center. I had to buy a jacket in the SHRM store. San Diego can be surprisingly chilly in June.

Washington DC 2006 and 2016:

D.C. is always great for the attendees, but not so great for SHRM staff. In 2006 we were able to visit SHRM headquarters but most of us were stuck in buses in DC horrible traffic during rush hour. Since I have been attending the SHRM volunteer’s conference in November in and out since 2003, plus I used to live early in my HR career, I was thrilled that this conference was the first one to truly focus on global HR. Also, former Secretary of State Colin Powell opened the conference and mesmerized everyone.

In 2016 my daughter (one of my twins), Alexandra “Alex” Torres, was working in her first HR job and was my conference roommate. We rented bicycles and biked all over downtown D.C. Train was the Tuesday night entertainment, and we love them. We got up front near the stage and sang all their songs with my longtime friend/past conference roomie, Beatrice Runyan, and our huge group of friends.

Chicago 2008, 2013, 2017:

Chicago is Alex’s favorite conference location. In 2008, she and my husband just came to Chicago to hang out with me while I attended the conference. At the time she said she would never want to be in HR. HA!!!!!! That is yet another story for another blog.

By 2013, Alex was in her junior year at UNC Wilmington majoring in HR. She wanted to attend the student conference at SHRM annual. I was serving on the MAC at the time which gave me upfront seats at the conference. I won the “Mother of the Year” award at that conference as Kelly Clarkson was the entertainment and they allowed her to come to sit with me.

2017 was my first year on the SHRM Foundation board so Alex was super helpful and kept me going to the right places. She had earned her SHRM-CP in February 2017, so she was all about the recert credits. She really enjoyed attending the Steve Gilliland sessions as he is one of her favorites. My highlight was seeing Melanie Peacock, the other one of my #peacocksisters, speak for the first time. I also was asked to join the SHRM Blog Squad at this conference.

Atlanta 2012:

My husband and daughter also attended this conference. Since this was close to our old home in Charlotte, it was an easy commute. I was glad to finally attend an annual conference in ATL as I was supposed to attend in 2000, but life got in the way. As a news fan, I really enjoyed seeing Tom Brokaw. Also enjoyed authors Jim Collins and Malcolm Gladwell.

Las Vegas 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019, and 2021:

My oldest friends know that I am a huge ABBA fan. The 2007 conference was super meaningful to me because I was able to see the play “Mama Mia” with Michele Langley. We were singing and dancing in the aisles. It was the best!

In 2011 I was serving as the NCSHRM President and my local chapter president of Charlotte Area SHRM was Rhonda Williams. Rhonda had lost her husband to cancer a few months before the conference. The entertainment for the conference was Keith Urban, one of Rhonda’s favorites. We were in the middle right side of the venue when Keith goes into the audience, walks up to Rhonda who was next to me, hugs her, and proceeds to sing to her. That was by far one of the most special moments at a SHRM Annual Conference and Expo . Our whole group was in tears. Rhonda said that she was not bathing for a week.

In 2015 I had recently moved to the Houston, TX area after 24 years in Charlotte, NC. My daughter had recently graduated with her HR degree, so this annual conference was her first time to attend as a HR professional versus the student conference. I also brought one of my new job’s HR managers, Christina Mercado, to the conference. It is a lot of fun to watch someone attend SHRM Annual Conference and Expo for the first time.

2019 was full of meetings and goings-on with the SHRM Foundation for me. This conference also included the FitBit Challenge and the Blog Squad. I really enjoyed singing along to Lionel Richie on Tuesday night with my dear friend, Jeff Luttrell, since he was serving on the MAC and was able to sit upfront.

Final thoughts:

The SHRM annual conference has been a family affair for me. My Alex calls it our annual mother-daughter trip. This year I will enjoy spending time with my daughter and all my amazing HR friends who are coming to the conference. With the pandemic on everyone’s mind, we will all be super careful and learn from each other.

I am so looking forward to this week of learning and sharing HR stories in Las Vegas. Remember to pack your comfy shoes, water bottle, jacket/sweater, and bring snacks for just in case.

I hope telling my stories was interesting and maybe a little bit inspiring to you.

See you in Vegas!!!!

Paula #SHRM21Influencer #SHRMNMTE #HRCommunity

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