Rejected Again to Speak at SHRM – Could It Be I’m Not Boring Enough?

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I got a SHRM Strategy Conference rejection letter last week.

Some of you might remember the last rejection I got from SHRM. If not, here’s the post on Fistful of Talent (FOT)  – SHRM Doesn’t Like Us – But You Should.

Here’s the email from Rejection No. 2:

Dear Tim,

Thank you for submitting a proposal for the SHRM Strategy Conference being held September 30 – October 2, 2013 in San Diego, California.

Each proposal was given careful and deliberate consideration. We strive to offer a balanced program of educational sessions at the conference and select the proposals that best fit the overall programming framework of the conference. Please understand that we receive many proposals with several on the same topic. Exceptional proposals are turned away each year for the simple reason that we have limited speaking slots. Your proposal was not selected this year. However, your interest in offering your skills, background and knowledge is greatly appreciated.

Once again, thank you for your submission.


Letty Kluttz, SPHR, MBA

Manager of Conference Programming

What SHRM should have written

Here’s what I wish Letty would have written instead:

Dear Tim,

Thank you for submitting a presentation proposal….blah, blah, blah.

I either liked it or didn’t like, it doesn’t matter – we didn’t select it. We didn’t select it because: (followed by 3 actual reasons)

    1. The content didn’t fit what we wanted to do – next time try ….
    2. It’s been done before a thousands times – next time try …
    3. You have no idea what you’re talking about, etc., etc., etc.

Please try again next time – if you want some pointers catch me at the next conference and we can have a cup a coffee.

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3 tips for getting a SHRM speaking gig

There’s no doubt Letty is smart – George Washington MBA grad – and she actually worked at a staffing company (you would think Letty would have a kinship with me!), and she is a long-time SHRM employee.

I’ve been a SHRM SPHR holder and member since 2001, and I keep hearing how they want “fresh blood” and “new ideas,” and yet, every SHRM conference I attend I see the same content, the same faces presenting, the same SHRM.

I’ve actually seen a presentation from a guy at SHRM national who has been doing the same presentation for the last 10 years – he just changes the dates on the first slide! I wanted to shoot myself. But I stayed to listen to him and he gave me these tips for getting accepted by Letty and the SHRM crew:

  • Sell out. Go completely old school HR – FMLA is exciting, OHSA rocks, I have 4 cats.
  • Make a title that sounds so boring you fall asleep actually making it – but make sure to use words like: Strategic, Influence and Results.
  • Don’t say anything slightly controversial in your bio or presentation description – don’t piss off the powers that be.

Sorry, crew – I won’t do it.

Sour grapes?

Truth be told, Kris Dunn and I actually did follow these rules for the 2012 SHRM national show in Atlanta and we got accepted, but then did the presentation the way we wanted to by just using SHRM’s boring title slide. It was well attended, we got great feedback and got strong survey numbers – and – we didn’t get invited back this year.

Letty, Letty, Letty – it’s OK. I don’t bite, really! I’m a former headhunter like you, our kind needs to stick together!

Ugh. This just sounds like sour grapes. I give up on trying to help SHRM.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


26 Comments on “Rejected Again to Speak at SHRM – Could It Be I’m Not Boring Enough?

  1. Oh, Tim this is too funny! Exactly what is wrong with SHRM, anyway? And yes, I’ve been a member since 1997. Whatever happened to that anti-SHRM group? Are they still around? Maybe you could speak for them??:)

  2. Some conferences, you’re the dog; other conferences, you’re the hydrant… oops, that’s probably a little too edgy… I’ll hold my breath while waiting to be deleted.

  3. Wow, too funny. We’ve received the exact letter… now multiple times! Good luck with the next “call for speakers”

  4. From my last denial letter I tried to get a better response back from Letty besides great proposals are received every year blah blah blah. Here is what I sent and received back.


    Thank you for your consideration. To ensure we are providing a
    high rated session in the future, can you help me determine what were the
    reasons my proposal was not selected this year.

    Thank you for your input and time,

    Her Response (Surprised I actually got one)


    Over 100 proposals were received, for a very limited number of
    slots to fill. Many excellent proposals are not accepted each year based on
    limited slots available.

    Great thanks for the help……….Can’t wait to try again next year.

    1. Dustin –

      There is definitely a better way to give feedback – maybe we could get an HR group to come and help SHRM out with that. Oh, wait…


  5. We found that in conferences (granted, these were technology and software conferences, not HR conferences), if we didn’t get our speaker proposals accepted and we really wanted to have a bully pulpit, we’d sponsor lightning talks in the evening. We’d roll in cases of beer and tons of finger food into one of the rooms, promote it (want free beer? come by!), and we’d usually get more people in the room for the lightning talks than were participating in the conference sessions. Beer and appetizers: the great equalizer for conference corporate bureaucracy.

    1. Jason –

      You should be consulting for HR vendors! Alcohol and food will get you more quality conversations than free pens and lame stuffed animals!


  6. Hey … how about all the turned-down speakers start their own Counter-SHRM conference, running parallel dates and location … with cheap registration, free beer and finger food. Bet you have a better conference, with great attendance and REALLY great presentations!

    1. PJ –

      TLNT – are you listening? That would actually work. You probably wouldn’t get 15K like SHRM – but you might get 1,500 of some really good HR folks wanting something different.


  7. Tim great post – I have seen the same thing north of the border with the various provincial HR associations…and here I thought SHRM had a leg up! Let the insanity prevail…..

  8. At my last job (also for a staffing company), I helped submit SHRM speaker proposals for one of our HR guys who constantly travelled. He was accepted every year and would simply change a few necessary dates. In fact, he will be presenting the same presentation this year. Ha!

      1. During the year, he would speak to SHRM groups across the country so they may have helped him but he also liked using the word “strategic” multiple times and big HR words to seem more knowledgeable. Kind of sounds like your friend 🙂

      2. During the year, he would speak to SHRM groups across the country so they may have helped him but he also liked using the word “strategic” multiple times and big HR words to seem more knowledgeable. Kind of sounds like your friend 🙂

      3. Also, the company was a Partner with SHRM so all of our seminars were pre-approved through them. This may have had a large influence on his acceptance.

  9. In fairness to SHRM, they probably receive hundreds if not thousands of presentation submissions per year for their conference. Should they really be expected — as per your recommendation — to give a detailed reply to each submission as to why they were not selected and what they should have done instead? Do you want poor Letty to tear her hair out??

    1. Andrew –

      No doubt SHRM receives hundreds of applications for it’s events. They also have 15,000 participants at $2000 per, plus vendor fees = just for National, let alone all the other specialty conferences. It’s a HUGE money maker – where the majority of speakers are volunteers. SHRM is ‘non-profit’ like the Catholic Church is ‘non-profit’! Give Letty some budget to hire some extra hands, and give some ‘developmental’ feedback. That’s all I’m asking.


  10. I love it! The comments are almost as funny as the post! Be honest . . . why would anyone actually want to speak at a SHRM conference?

    1. Jacque –

      Major exposure from SHRM in the HR community. You can completely suck as a speaker, but have on the resume you spoke at SHRM National – and local and state SHRM chapters, organizations and corporations will pay you money to be crappy in front of them! I know many people who would actually pay to speak at SHRM because it would drive their business. Not everyone is a giver like me! 😉


      1. Why would anyone want to speak at SHRM? Branding and strategic add-on to one’s professional clout… or to market themselves… Although I don’t know how many people actually drive any business from these….. Attendees certainly get their brownie points (HRCI credits), and speaker gives away free content – some of it is pretty decent and some not so (no different to classes at school with both good and bad teachers). SHRM conferences makes you sign a promise that you will NOT be selling your services in any way, shape and form, and that your presentation will be honorarium and
        actually verify with attendees in the feedback survey if the presenter tried to sell you anything, and ask them if they’d like to invite the speaker back next year! The national ones are the toughest and the state ones not so much. But remember SHRM is also looking to increase their clout with speakers who will be a ‘pull’ for them. Therefore, most speakers are selected on these bases:
        1. Speaking history with solid feedback surveys/references
        (videos preferred)
        2. Author of book/books
        3. Trends and ‘HR speak’
        4. Topic and content – if it matches their tracks
        Finally, and most importantly:
        5. Sponsor at the conference/or buy booth at expo

      2. Tim — Let’s just say that I agree with what you said in the article.
        Enough said.

  11. I just took a look at the SHRM site for conference proposals (I haven’t turned in a proposal for this event in many years.) There is no way in the world that innovation is within their true goals.

    Proposal Acceptance period for the June 2014 event ran from Feb 2013 – July 15
    2013. That’s right 18 months before the event they want to you to tell
    them what the trends and new developments will be.

    Speakers are announced December 2013, giving a bit more than 6
    months to complete your presentation of innovation that is at least a
    year old.

    Present in June 2014, long after your “new idea” is common practice or
    no longer applicable due to changes in rules, regulations, changes to
    the market etc…

    Innovation is about movement…and the speed of that movement.

    Compensation and HR professionals can learn from this cycle. If you want to innovate don’t guess at a decision 18 months before you intend to take action. Make the 18 months (or hopefully shorter period) all about action. The presentation will follow naturally.

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