If you do the math, the vast majority of speakers at every SHRM National Conference are vendors and consultants, not practitioners. Why is that?
The topic came up when I was reading a post yesterday by Tim Sackett over at Fistful of Talent on What I Wish I Learned at SHRM10. Tim did a nice job of breaking the conference down and moaned a bit about the lack of practitioners presenting at SHRM. I hit him up in the comments and asked him why he thought that was the case, year after year. Here's what Tim pointed to regarding why there aren't any practitioners speaking at SHRM:
"1. Process to speak is a year in advance - most HR Pros are fighting fires daily and it just doesn't come to mind to fill out a form to speak a year from now. Plus they don't have the "past" experience necessary to make it thru the SHRM vetting process. Maybe a good idea for SHRM would be to have Practitioner Track - where so many spots are only given to active HR Pros to speak - at least you'd know what you're getting.
2. Unless you're "in" the speaking circuit - you really don't know how to become involved. I didn't get started until someone invited me to speak - I thought that was how it worked - it doesn't.
3. The majority of HR Pros I know - great HR Practitioners - would be afraid to speak in front of a large audience - it's a very small percentage that would - then even a smaller percent that would actually have something wise to say and be entertaining. My guess is about .01% of HR Pros could be successful speaking - but that still leaves thousands that aren't putting in to speak.
4. There is a WIIFM issue - HR Pros struggle to see the greater value for them is engaging in their practice of HR and becoming more involved. The Speakers and HR Vendors who do speak clearly have the WIIFM answered - and it's why they come in droves to present.
5. The majority of people don't think what they have to say is important - that's just a fact - and it holds people back. Some of my best learning at conferences comes in one-off's with a fellow HR Pro who is very talented but would never put their ideas out to the masses.
6. No recruitment committee by SHRM to go out and get top HR Practitioners to speak. You and I both have been invited to speak at a number of events - and once invited, it's very hard to turn down."
Tim's right on all his points. Still, there's a mixture of responsibility here. SHRM can do more to seek practitioners out who would be effective, entertaining speakers, and this just in - HR practitioners have to be open to stretching themselves in this way, especially if they've got the credibility/communication skills to make it work. Two way street - both SHRM and you (yes, I'm talking to you if you're reading this) can do more to step up.
Not many practitioners have the skills to speak at SHRM national - but some are. If you’re seeking credibility as an HR pro, you not only need to know more about the competencies of HR than that blowhard VP of engineering at your weekly meetings, but you also have to be willing to engage him in front of others when it comes to talent topics. Dave Ulrich calls this the "credible activist" competency, and it means you step forward and advocate for your position on any topic related to your function. You’re the expert, so talk! Engage! Fight!
Public speaking is a good way to do that. Stretch yourself at least once in 2010 by speaking to a group outside your company. You may never present in the big room at SHRM - you might not be good enough. Who cares? The Rotary Club is a great place to get your credible activist game on.
Just do it. Small steps.