The SHRM Annual Conference & Expo is the world’s largest event dedicated to the human resources profession in the world. HR professionals from around the globe will gather for 3+ days of learning, networking, vendor demonstrations, engagement, and celebration. If you have not attended a “SHRM Annual” before, you may have no idea what to expect. Since my first SHRM Annual was just a few years ago, I hope to share some of my experiences to help you prepare for what will likely be one of the most amazing HR events that you will have ever encountered!
As with any major event, planning can make a significant difference in being prepared and helping you to make the most out of your conference experience. It is purely an individual decision on how structured you may want to be, but I have heard that preparing to attend your first SHRM Annual may be remarkably like planning for your first visit to Walt Disney World. By comparison, both can be overwhelming without a plan, you cannot possibly see everything, and you will need to prioritize your “must-see” activities to make the most of your time there.
Here are five suggestions to help you plan and prepare for the 2022 SHRM Annual Conference & Expo:
- Arrive Early – One mistake that I made for my first SHRM Annual was to arrive too close to the start of the conference. I arrived at the convention center about an hour before the first keynote session and felt so rushed to register, navigate to the session, and find a seat. Since that first conference, I have always arrived the day before the start of the conference. By doing so, I have been able to pick up my badge from registration, see where the conference is located, and take the evening to meet up with other attendees to prepare for the next few days. By arriving a day early, on the day of the conference I can start off with plenty of ample time to check out the conference venue, grab a coffee, and begin my first session relaxed and prepared.
- View the Session Schedule and Exhibitor Information – As soon as the Session Schedule is published on the SHRM web page, I start looking over the content tracks and speakers to start selecting what I consider to be my “must-see’ sessions of the conference. Remember to build in time to arrive early to your selected sessions as rooms can often fill up and reach capacity. I find that it is always a good idea to have a “backup” session identified, just in case the one that I wish to attend is full. For the Exhibit Hall, make sure that you are aware of when the hall is open, keeping in mind that the hall closes on Tuesday afternoon. Also be sure to download the SHRM Events App for your phone from the App Store or Google Play. This will allow you to have the schedule and other important conference information right at your fingertips whenever you need it.
- Review the Venue Maps – With so many concurrent sessions and other activities taking place at the convention center, it will be extremely helpful to view a map of the venue to find where your sessions are located and estimate how long it may take to travel between sessions. At 1.1 million square feet, the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is HUGE! Having some idea where you are going will help save you some steps however, if you are not sure where you are going, a team of dedicated SHRM volunteers will be available to help answer your questions and point you in the right direction.
- Plan Your Evening Activities – After a long day of “conferencing” that may start with a 7:30am session and end with your last session at 4:30pm, you may just want to return to your hotel and relax. While this is certainly an option, there is usually so much to do each evening that you will want to make sure that you plan out your evenings as well. Many vendors will sponsor networking events, along with hosted SHRM Certification, SHRM Regional, and SHRM Foundation events. Plan to attend some of these events to network and connect with other attendees. It is a fantastic way to end the day by meeting with other HR professionals to share your experiences of the day. Finally, one of best benefits of the SHRM Annual Conference is the world-class “Tuesday Night Entertainment.” Previous annual conferences have featured such entertainers such as: Lionel Ritchie, Kelly Clarkson, Michael Bolton, Patti LaBelle, and Harry Connick, Jr.; all who provided a private performance exclusively for SHRM Annual Conference attendees. This year, global country music superstar Brad Paisley will be performing for SHRM 22 attendees, so remember to pack your boots and cowboy hats!
- Pack Your Necessities – This should be obvious, but you will want to ensure that you pack everything that you will need for a four-day conference. There are many tip sheets and guides that past attendees have created to help you pack and prepare for your conference. One of the best was created by #SHRM22Influencer Claire Petrie prior to the 2019 SHRM Annual Conference, #SHRM19 Packing List! Some of the most common suggestions for packing include: phone charger/power pack, comfortable shoes, light jacket (yes, the air conditioning can be cold in the convention centers), water bottle, pens/highlighter, and some snacks. You will also want to make sure that you have some space in your luggage for the books, SHRM Store purchases (or me, it will be SHRM Socks!), and vendor swag that you are sure to bring home!
I hope that these tips from my past conference experiences are helpful. I don’t want to make it sound like a great deal of advance planning has to take place before attending the SHRM Annual Conference, but from my experience, each year that I have attended I have picked up a few more tips that I then consider for the following year. I pass these along to you to help make your annual conference experience a more enjoyable, relaxing, and trouble-free one, and look forward to hearing your tips for next year’s SHRM Annual Conference.