Total Rewards Day 3: A Surprisingly Engaging Final Day in San Diego

One thing you learn pretty quickly if you go to many conferences is this: the half-day session on the last day is usually a pretty big waste of time.

It’s not that the organizations putting on the event don’t try to make it productive and meaningful, it’s just that, well, it’s a half-day. Who wants to hang around for another half a day?

A lot of people who attend conferences bag that last day. You know how it goes; you may have done it yourself (as I have) and done it more than once. You’ll see it big time at SHRM’s annual conference and exhibition next month in Las Vegas, and although scheduling Michael J. Fox as the closing speaker is a big push back from SHRM to try and reverse this trend, don’t expect it to help much. After all, it’s Vegas, and even Michael J. Fox will have a hard time competing with that.

So, knowing how this works is why the last half-day of WorldatWork’s Total Rewards 2011 Conference & Exhibition in San Diego was such a surprise, because a larger than usual number of attendees (I estimate about 40 percent of them) decided NOT to bag the last day and instead, stayed to see Total Rewards to the end of the final, closing speaker.

And as surprising as that was, I don’t think they were disappointed. Here’s why:

Strong concurrent sessions

I thought the last morning of sessions was unusually strong, including titles such as Work-Life Balance: Going Beyond Just Lip Service, Employer’s Mindset of  ‘Catch Me if You Can’ and the DOL’s Game Plan for ‘When I Catch You,’ and Tapped In, Tuned In, and Gung Ho: Making Employee Wellness Work. Intriguing titles all, and certainly a reason to hang around and catch a later flight home.

An answer  to one of HR’s ultimate questions

One of the morning sessions I attended had a pretty big crowd, and the title of it says why — What it Takes to be a Successful Human Resources Professional. Globe-trotting HR consultant John Rubino had a highly-interactive and philosophic session that tried to provide an answer to what it takes to succeed as a HR pro.

He had a lot of great insights, of course, but Rubino didn’t provide a laundry list of qualities to clip and take home. Instead, he offered questions, suggestions, and some philosophy and zen to help the participants develop their own list of HR qualities one needs to succeed. But, Rubino did offer this set of things HR people need to have that I found useful:

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  • Know thyself;
  • Know they stuff;
  • Walk the talk;
  • Honesty and integrity;
  • Excellent, interpersonal skills; and,
  • Superior communication ability.

A smart, sassy, and thoughtful closing speaker

Total Rewards closing speaker Bertice Berry
Total Rewards closing speaker Bertice Berry

I have never heard Bertice Berry speak before, nor did I know anything about her. All I know is that she was described in the program as an “educator and social activist,” and it was the social activist part that worried me.

I shouldn’t have been. Berry was warm, humorous, thoughtful, and encouraging. It’s hard to encapsulate all the wisdom she imparted here, but her message of positive change came down to this — ” To change the world, we must first change ourselves, (because) at the end of the day, the only person I can change is me.”

She also pushed the crowd to “find their purpose,” and noted that “your purpose is not your job — it’s your calling.” When you “walk with a purpose,” she observed, ” you collide wish destiny — and you never know when that might be.”

If you get a chance to hear Bertice Berry speak, make sure you do so. She’s wonderful — even if the label “social activist” hardly does her, or her message, justice.

Next year in Orlando

Total Rewards 2012 will be held next May 20-23 at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee, Florida. It will be interesting to see if the upward attendance swing for WorldatWork continues for a fourth consecutive year. Unless we have another economic stumble in the next 12 months, my guess is that it will.

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 “Total Rewards Day 3: A Surprisingly Engaging Final Day in San Diego

  1. Awesome insight, John! I had the good fortune to attend a few really great sessions and a few others that were disappointing. I had commented on a post Lance authored last year that speaker selection/content can be a crap shoot (viva las vegas). Going into SHRM 2011, I would love to see a post of what makes for a great presentation. I saw presenters that seemed genuinely interested in educating and others that seemed to be grandstanding to sell a product or service.

    Your thoughts?

    Thanks for sharing – Dave

    1. Dave: You are absolutely right — speaker selection and content at a conference can be a crap shoot, and you see that at every big conference.

      Part of the problem is that sometimes, the most promising titles for sessions are the best part of the presentation. The actual content is flat, or perhaps even boring, and that makes for a bad session.

      I think there is an inverse quality scale to the amount of PowerPoint that is used in a conference session — the more PowerPoint, the worse the session. The best sessions have nimble and engaging speakers who really know their stuff, a moderate amount of PowerPoint used to simply spark the discussion, and some fun visuals like cartoons, videos, and other such stuff.

      Now, you don’t need all of that for a great presentation. My friend Mel Kleiman over at Humetrics did a great SHRM session last year in San Diego on 30+ Tools and Techniques for Attracting and Retaining Top Talent in 75 minutes. It was light on PowerPoint, but heavy on Mel’s wit, wisdom, and insights. Guess what? It played to a packed room of 350 or more who loved every bit of it.

      Content is at the heart of any great conference session. Great content, and a great speaker who know their stuff, is what I look for. Unfortunately, I find it infrequently.

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