SHRM Las Vegas Day 2: Huffington on Sleep, Healthy Living, and Social Media

I’ll be upfront about this: certain accents give me a problem.

Years ago, when the late Pope John Paul II visited Los Angeles, I was fortunate to get invited to a special session where the Pope spoke to the media and entertainment communities. The only problem was, the Pope’s Polish accent was so thick, I could hardly understand much of what he said even though I knew that whatever he was saying was in English.

That’s how I felt on Monday at the General Session of the annual SHRM conference in Las Vegas. Although Arianna Huffington’s Greek accent isn’t quite as hard to decipher as that of the late Pope, I found listening to the Huffington Post founder a challenge all the same.

Talking about sleep, healthy living, social media

Maybe it’s just me. I asked my colleague and co-hort Lance Haun if he had trouble understanding Arianna, and he said that although it was a little difficult, he didn’t think it was a problem.

So, maybe my ear is just not attuned to Southern or Eastern European accents. And, perhaps that had something to do with my appreciation for what Arianna Huffington had to say to SHRM’s Monday general session.

Frankly, I was expecting a lot more focus on HR and people management. To be fair, she did talk about both the importance of talent and managing talent a little, but I felt that she just touched on the topics here and there. Mostly, she talked about social media, the importance of sleep and healthy living, and (like Sir Richard Branson) the importance of giving back and being involved in social causes.

I’m not a big fan of Huffington, although I marvel at her ability to build a huge online audience at the Huffington Post and then be able to turn around and sell it to AOL. She deserves a huge amount of credit for that, but it remains to be seen if she can run a media operation at AOL that is larger than The New York Times news staff, and, rebuild the moribund AOL brand.

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Huffington highlights

Like Branson, Huffington touched on a number of topics in her SHRM presentation, and here are a few that jumped out at me:

  • A nod to the importance of HR: Huffington said she really learned about the “incredible value” of HR with the Huffington Post, especially “how much you (HR professionals) affect everyone’s life in the workplace.”
  • On the balance between online vs. offline life: Not many people who have made a huge splash in the Internet world would ever say this, but Huffington said that “the qualities and values we look for online are the same we look for offline.” She listed four of these qualities she believes are important — trust, authenticity, empathy, and giving back.
  • On why naps (and nap rooms) are important in the workplace: “I urge you in HR to institute a nap room in your work environment,” Huffington said, because a simple 20 minute nap can do wonders to rejuvenate an employee. And in a nod to a potential HR issue, she added, “we haven’t seen many disappear in pairs (into the nap room), but we’re watching for it.”
  • On a balanced life: Huffington seemed particularly energetic when she discussed the importance of balance in life and the need to unplug and recharge. Getting away from our hyper-connected society is incredibly important, she said, and that’s surprising coming from someone who’s work these past few years as largely been predicated in getting people to be MORE connected online.
  • On the challenges and economic struggles we’re currently facing: “We’re living through a time of very deep challenges,” Huffington said. “Clearly, those of us working are the lucky ones.” She noted that the United States is listed at No. 10, behind France, in upward mobility, and she felt that this clearly is felt by so many college graduates in the U.S. who get out of school only to find there are not enough jobs. This is something we all need to focus on and work at fixing, she felt.
  • On people and talent management: “The most important asset every company has is those who work there.”

Overall, I didn’t find Huffington’s presentation — or her message — even as compelling as what Richard Branson had to say on something. If I gave him a “B ,” I would say that Huffington’s talk was no better than a “B minus.” I was disappointed by that, because I was expecting a lot more out of her.

But as I said earlier, maybe it was me. Maybe my difficultly dealing with her accent colored my appreciation of what she had to say. That may have been what happened to me with SHRM on Monday, just as it was years ago when I heard Pope John Paul II in L.A.

Other than getting to shake his hand, like Arianna Huffington, I don’t recall anything that he had to say being all that earthshaking either.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


2 Comments on “SHRM Las Vegas Day 2: Huffington on Sleep, Healthy Living, and Social Media

  1. This was a really interesting take on her talk, John, especially as I enjoyed her talk at SHRM Legislative/Legal last year. I found her accent barely noticeable, and I think it’s nice of you to acknowledge that has possibly colored your impression a bit.

    What’s also interesting is that I am forced to experience this conference from the blog posts and Twitter stream, and you seem to be in the minority on both Branson and Huffington. The Twitter stream was somewhat quiet during Branson’s talk, and most bloggers hated the Q&A format. The stream exploded during the Huffington talk – lots of positive tweeting. I haven’t seen any other blog takes, yet.

    Does this mean your standards are different than the average SHRM attendee? Just askin’. 🙂

  2. Joan – All great points here. Interesting perspective to hear that the Twitter stream was a lot more engaged with Arianna Huffington than they were with Richard Branson.

    Part of my problem with Huffington vs. Branson is probably my expectations. I have heard Branson before and didn’t expect much from him. Although many may not have liked the Q&A, Branson was better in this format than he was when I heard him before. Believe it or not, he exceeded my expectations.

    As for Arianna Huffington, I expected more. I thought she would be much more pointed about talent management and people practices at the Huffington Post and now at AOL where she seems to be hiring people at a fast and furious pace. How about more on all of that? Frankly, I thought she had a lot to say but really didn’t say it, bit maybe I just had set my expectations too high for her.

    So, that’s why I felt the way I did about her. As much as the Twitter stream liked her a lot more compared to Branson, I didn’t see him as the standard to beat.

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