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What Was Hot, What Was Not: SHRM 2008 Crowd Reactions

I spent most of my time on Tuesday, the last day of the SHRM conference, wandering around. Half of my time was spent trying not to get lost, and the other half was spent either 1) eating or 2) talking to people. In my moments of talking to attendees and exhibitors, I found out a lot of useful and interesting tidbits. My eating time was not actually wasted, either – you’d be surprised to find out how much people will tell you while lingering over a small electric grill and a smattering of juicy bite-size steak samples.

So, what was HOT and what was NOT, according to the people on the street – er – exhibit aisles of McCormick Place?

HOT: The concurrent sessions offered over the course of the three-day conference period were widely enjoyed and said to be very worthwhile…

NOT: …but the scheduling and overlap of these valuable sessions was an area of complaint for many whom I spoke with. Those who complained said that they didn’t get the opportunity to attend all of the classes they wanted to because so many sessions overlapped – and while this may be a testament to the significant value of the sessions, attendees said they would get even more out of the educational element of SHRM if these sessions were spread out and scheduled differently. As one attendee expressed (but many would likely echo), “I paid a lot of money to attend this conference!”

HOT: The instructors who were organized, started classes on time, filled up the chairs in the rooms, and cut people off from entering classrooms after a certain time as to not disrupt the rest of the class.

NOT: Small rooms and a large amount of people. I heard from almost everyone I talked to that the classrooms were overcrowded – and although some liked that there was a cutoff point for entering a session when the class was full, the flip side is that people paid a lot to attend the conference, and to get shut out of multiple sessions just because the room capacity was too small for the number of attendees was said to be unacceptable.

HOT: Getting to bring back schwag for employees who couldn’t make it to SHRM. I spoke with one woman who was carrying a ton of stuff, from hats to kids’ toys to stress balls, and I asked her what she planned on doing with all that. Throw it away or toss it in the closet? Oh, no! She explained that she actually won a ticket to SHRM this year, and since none of her co-workers were able to attend, this was a great chance for her to load up on fun stuff and take it into the office for them to “go at it.”

She explained that with a tight budget, her company can’t do a lot of extra things for employees, so this is a nice treat for them. I thought that it was a great pay it forward-type idea for repurposing all that schwag.

NOT: Lugging all that stuff around.

HOT: Exhibitors who were engaged and wanted to tell attendees more about the meat of their business or services.

NOT: Exhibitors who preferred to just clap a lot and tell them to “Take a spin on the wheel!” while shoving schwag in their face. One attendee said that she truly wanted – and needed – to find out as much information as she could, and was interested in discussing with exhibitors what they actually had to offer (other than free giveaways). She said that some exhibitors were so focused on the “prize” element of their booth that she couldn’t seem to get them to talk about the real issues – and she says it’s gotten worse over the years. Exhibitors, take note.

HOT: Finding your hotel and getting on the right shuttles at the right times.

NOT: Finding the right shuttle, but then having that shuttle break down on Michigan Avenue (I can verify this occurrence – I was on that shuttle). Thankfully, it did not happen while we were in the tunnel…

HOT: Signage in the men’s restrooms. Spotted upon walk-in by our illustrious graphic designer, Craig:

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NOT: The women’s restrooms. I did not get any elaboration on this – just a rolling of the eyes from a disgruntled patron of them. Personally, I thought they were fine. What did YOU think?

Overall, people seemed impressed by the booths, the certification classes, and the concurrent sessions that were offered by exhibitors. Many who I talked to raved about the continued value of coming to SHRM’s annual conference and of having many different types of exhibitors and providers of new services all in one place. As one woman put it, “I wouldn’t be aware of half of these things if I didn’t come to SHRM. I learn something new here every year. This conference keeps me informed of what’s cutting-edge.”

As for the bathrooms? Well, we’ll just chalk that up to McCormick Place’s, um, charm.

Amy K. McDonnell

About Amy K. McDonnell

Originally hailing from Ohio, Amy is the editorial manager on the content services team and has been with both CareerBuilder and the city of Chicago for nearly a decade. She writes on a range of recruitment topics on The Hiring Site, striving to bring a dose of clarity and humor to sometimes complicated issues around employee attraction, engagement and retention. When she's not working, Amy spends as much time as possible reading, pretending to be a chef, writing short stories, eating Nutella out of the jar, waiting for CTA buses and trains, going to see her favorite bands live, and spending time with people who inspire and challenge her.


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