Total Rewards Day 2: Just What Is a Motivational Poet, Anyway?

Conference speakers are an acquired taste, and if you have heard very many of them, you know that they come in all shapes, sizes, and varieties.

Here’s a good example of that from Day 2 of the WorldatWork’s Total Rewards 2012 Conference & Exhibition at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Kissimmee, Fl: Tuesday’s speaker at the “Celebrate the Profession” breakfast was a guy named Sekou Andrews, who is described in the program as a “motivational poet and spoken-word artist.”

Say what? A motivational poet and spoken-word artist? At a compensation and total rewards conference?

An out-of-the box speaker — and presentation

It’s safe to say that I was as surprised as anyone when I saw that description in the program, but I’ve learned to go with the flow on these type of things, because really, you never know what you will get. In fact, I’ve found that some of the oddest sounding speakers or presentations (like the guys who juggled chain-saws last year at HR Tech in Las Vegas) are actually the most original and entertaining.

Motivational poet Sekou Andrews

So it was with “motivational poet” Sekou Andrews here in Orlando. It’s hard to describe his presentation except to say that it was part inspirational, part educational, and completely entertaining — an extremely important element when you are talking to people at 7:30 in the morning.

His talk was totally original and focused throughout on HR and total rewards. In fact, it was much more focused on the audience at-hand than virtually any keynote speakers you’ll hear at the SHRM annual conference. Here are a few of the things he said, and please forgive me if they don’t sound as interesting as they were when I heard him speak because they come off a lot better from a good motivational poet and spoken-word artist:

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  • We are all products of our experiences … and the experiences are the product.”
  • “Its is not about us, it’s about the rush of helping someone discover themselves.”
  • “A big part of their success is about us — it is about us.”
  • “If you can make the work world better, you can make the world work better.”
  • “You harness the purpose to make others succeed.”

You really had to be there to appreciate this unique presentation by Sekou Andrews, but I give the people WorldatWork kudos for pushing to break out of the mold and really engage the attendees here in Florida with something completely different and unexpected. Other conferences could really learn something from that.

Other highlights/thoughts from Total Rewards

So, here are some of the highlights from Tuesday at Total Rewards 2012 in Orlando:

  • Development priorities for Total Rewards professionals. WorldatWork released a survey here  this week (in concert with the inaugural Total Rewards Professionals Week, May 21-25, 2012), and it’s a career census asked 2,300 HR professionals from around the world to identify key focus areas to move the profession forward and create a broad view of success factors for top performers in total rewards. The top six future professional development priorities are
    • Strategic thinking;
    • Influencing/persuasion;
    • Leadership skills;
    • Understanding company/organization operations;
    • Executive presentation; and,
    • Project management.

The top trends identified in the survey were fairly similar across respondents of different organization sizes and responsibility levels

    • Using total rewards to drive employee engagement
    • Using analytics to quantify HR impact
    • Ensuring total rewards is communicated clearly and effectively to staff
    • Tying rewards to organizational strategy and business success.
  • Overcoming manager objections to flex work. I get busy at conferences and don’t get to as many concurrent sessions as I would like, but one that I did Monday was titled Top 10 Manager Objections to Flex and How to Overcome Them. Good topic, no? Kyra Cavanaugh, president of Life Meets Work Inc., not only dug into the top objections to flexible schedules and work arrangements, but she gave solutions to each concern, too. And it’s a good thing, because she says that two of the top three barriers to flex work are executive buy-in and manager resistance. “Even in the most award-winning organizations for flexibility,” she said, “there are still pockets of resistance.” This was an interesting and thought-provoking session that should have been much better attended.
  • Other concurrent sessions I wished I could have attended Tuesday. Meaningful Metrics for the Mathematically Challenged, The Power of Play: Games Get to Work and Better Second Time Around: How Say on Pay Losers Became Winners in 2012.
  • Watch your fingers, please. The Gaylord Palms Resort may be somewhat removed from the center of the action here in the Orlando area (no smart comments, please), but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t create a little excitement of its own. Example: every evening at 6:30, you can go watch them feed the resort’s resident alligator population. Just the thing for hungry HR and total rewards professionals who get tired of the conference and miss being back in the office.

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.


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