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2022 Update: Your Guide to the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo

Written by
Ben Travis
Ben Travis

Every year, almost 20,000 HR professionals convene for the largest HR Conference in the world. 

Bonusly is excited to attend SHRM this year and talk with attendees about how to recognize and retain your employees. Come visit us at Booth #4670!

In case you're out of in-person conference practice, we've put together a #SHRM22 guide with everything you need to know, pack, and plan to get the most out of your experience. Be sure to check out the SHRM22 COVID-19 precautions page for the latest safety regulations, too. 

We’ve assembled advice from veteran conference-goers to make this year's SHRM Annual Conference & Expo the best one yet. 

  1. Plan for the event!
  2. Pack reasonably
  3. Experience ideal conference sessions
  4. Navigate the expo floor
  5. Take advantage of after-hours networking and entertainment
  6. Reflect on your time and follow up

From conference floor essentials to important documents you won't want to forget, this SHRM packing list has it all. 

1. Plan for the event!

The SHRM Annual Conference & Expo is a massive gathering, and you’ll be faced with more educational, networking, and entertainment options than you can shake a stick at. Before you jump in, prepare yourself by planning ahead of time. Start with your top level goals, use tools to hone your schedule, and don’t forget to give yourself a breather.

The National SHRM Conference is a huge event, so realize in advance that you won’t be able to take it all in. But, proper planning will allow you to make the best out of your experience. Utilize the conference app to pick out a minimum of two sessions per time slot and the vendors you want to visit; join the SHRM Annual Conference Networking & Events group on Facebook to learn best practices, connect with others, and find nighttime events; and follow the hashtag on all social media platforms. Finally, join the  Steps Challenge; it’s for a good cause.
- Amanda Brunson, SHRM-CP, Radixx (@TheHRPanda)

Be ready for a marathon, not a sprint. SHRM lasts several days, and they can be jam-packed. Pace yourself, and set reasonable expectations for this fête de HR. 🎉

You’ve booked your hotel and flight... now what? The SHRM events app (iOS or Android) is a great starting place. It not only has a schedule but allows you to connect with other conference-goers, shares vendor information, and includes a map. The SHRM Annual Conference Networking & Events Facebook group is a super helpful unofficial community where you’ll find lively discussions and a calendar of exciting events.

I think the best thing you can do to prepare for SHRM is get the app. The app will connect you with the schedule, the people, the events, the vendors. You can download it early to start planning your schedule (including the Smart Stage and book signings). I love that you can start connecting with other attendees right away – start making plans for coffee, lunch or that drink after the conference.
- Wendy Dailey, Talent Advisor, Sanford Health (@wyndall93)


The Annual SHRM Conference and Exposition is massive and, with that, comes a sense of panic for those first-time attendees. Don’t fret. There are more opportunities than you will be able to take advantage of so free yourself of any stress. Take time ahead of arrival to pour over the sessions being offered. Look at the tracks available to you for specific content or itemize your schedule based upon topics of interest. Walk in with a plan! It will help you feel more equipped to attack each moment of the conference.
- John Baldino, MSHRD SPHR SHRM-SCP, President, Humareso (@jbalive)

Did you hear that? Walk in with a plan! Visualize your ideal conference experience, and make it happen. Plan your schedule, but also leave time for serendipitous moments.

Focus on the reasons why you're attending. Are you more interested in learning from the speakers than in meeting new people? Are you hoping to establish client relationships with new vendors for your company's immediate needs? Alternatively, are you just looking to expand your professional network? Your intentions can guide you in getting the most out of the conference.
- Osasumwen Arigbe, PHR, HR professional (@OsasuArigbe)

Why are you going to SHRM’s Annual Conference and Expo? The year's best concert with HR pals? All that expo swag? OK, maybe a little. But you’ll also want to outline your professional goals beforehand.

I found that connecting via social media (via Twitter or SHRM Connect for national SHRM members) prior to meeting in real life makes the first encounter much easier. Attendees can follow the hashtag #SHRM or #SHRMBlogger to join the conversation.
- Mary Williams, Regional Manager Business Operations and HR, Harbor Light Hospice (@conmkw)

If you’re interested in getting to know some of the friendly faces you’ll see before you pack your bags, think about joining in on #NextChat discussions on Twitter. You’ll hear from talented peers and have opportunities to share your own advice!


2. Pack reasonably

When you’ve got a rough idea of what your time at SHRM's annual conference and expo will look like, you’ll be ready to pack your bags! Most folks will be flying in, so chances are you’ll want to optimize your luggage space.

Two of the most important features we highlight every year is bringing a spare battery pack (so you don’t have to continually go back up to your room to charge your phone—and comfy shoes so you can be on the floor all day and all night without dying. If you’re going to important presentations bring a pair of flats for running across the hotel and convention center. No one wants to get blisters day one of the conference.
- Jessica Miller-Merrell, Founder & CIO, Workology (@jmillermerrell)


I plan my attire carefully for warm weather outdoors, but very cool A/C indoors during the sessions—and always bring an extra layer as well as comfortable walking shoes to withstand the 20,000 steps per day.
- Mary Williams, Regional Manager Business Operations and HR, Harbor Light Hospice (@conmkw)

Keep in mind that the weather outside might be hot or unpredictable, and you'll be dealing with cool air inside cars, shuttles, and the event center. Have a busy day planned? You might be hoofing it for 5-10 miles.


Stay hydrated. Use a beverage container and regularly fill it up at water fountains. This will help avoid line-ups at retail venues and is an economical and environmentally-friendly option. Dressing in layers and wearing comfortable shoes is critical. There will be lots of walking and varying temperatures. Remember to pack a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen which provide protection when walking outside and/or waiting for the shuttle buses.
- Melanie Peacock PhD, MBA, CPHR, Double M Training & Consulting (@doublempeacock)

Investing in a solid water bottle is money well spent. In addition to bringing water, also think about packing snacks to ward off hunger as you power your way through the conference. As for the rest? From conference floor essentials to important documents you won't want to forget, this SHRM packing list has it all. 


Wear comfortable shoes, drink plenty of water, and have a portable charger for your phone. Follow the #SHRM hashtag on social media to see what’s happening throughout the event. Say hello to someone sitting next to you in a session, you’ll build your network of HR peers.
- Jon Thurmond, Host, #HRSocialHour Half Hour Podcast (@Jon_Thurmond)

Your phone is your lifeline, so take care of it. From finding sessions to connecting with peers to discovering after hours events, everything will be easier with your phone.

This should go without saying, but make sure you bring your mask, hand sanitizer, and antibacterial wipes so you can clean your seat everywhere you go to keep yourself and other attendees safe. 


  • Bring a spare battery pack
  • Dress comfortably, especially your shoes
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Prepare for warm, sunny weather with sunglasses and sunscreen
  • Pack snacks
  • Bring your COVID-19 care kit

3. Experience ideal conference sessions

From award-winning authors to SHRM’s very own Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., you’ll be surrounded by some of the best HR speakers of our generation. After looking at the schedule, you might be overwhelmed, but here are a few tips to find the right sessions:

Map out a schedule and download the conference app. Be flexible and be prepared to deviate from your plans. Build your days around the speakers, sessions and exhibitors that are MUST sees.
- Jeff Palkowski, MHRM, SHRM-CP, PHR, HR Sushi Bar (@JeffPally)

Start with the sessions that you’d regret missing out on. Then map out your “nice-to-haves” as well as some sessions that are outside of your comfort zone, and know that you won’t be able to do everything. Plan conservatively and see how you’re feeling that day.


Look through the agenda and find your “must attend” sessions, use the conference app, stay informed! Be sure to fit in time for you to recharge, grab a coffee, call home, whatever centers you, so you can keep on going! Oh, and dress comfortably, leave the Spanx and stilettos at home! You’re going to walk a lot, and be seated a lot, so wear what makes you feel good. No matter your communication style, you will make some amazing connections and form some long lasting friendships here, so be open for it!
- Jenni Stone, HR Director, Partner, HR Shield (@HRRockStar1)

Don’t forget that it might take a while to walk between sessions. Note which rooms you’ll be in so you’re not caught off guard walking from one end of the convention center in between sessions.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the energy of the event, so schedule a few breaks for yourself.


As HR professionals we ensure that others are appropriately recognized and rewarded for their work. In doing so we often forget that we must tend to our own needs in order to properly provide for others. People run out of steam as well so don’t feel pressured to always be “on”. Don’t over-schedule and allow for flexibility in plans. Take time to rest as it can be too easy to get caught up in the activities and burn out early in the conference experience. Remember to be good to yourself so that you can be good to others. Doing so ensures that the SHRM experience will be a sure bet for success.
- Melanie Peacock PhD, MBA, CPHR, Double M Training & Consulting (@doublempeacock)

Focus on yourself. You can’t pour from an empty vessel, and you won’t be able to make the most of the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo if you’re out of gas the whole time. 


Some sessions fill up quickly, and so to maximize your experience, a backup session will be useful.
- Osasumwen Arigbe, PHR, HR professional (@OsasuArigbe)

In case the session is packed or not what you thought it would be, you should always have a plan B or maybe even C for each time slot of the sessions to maximize your educational experience. If you do leave a session after it has started, be respectful, and leave quietly. I always sit in the back on a session I may be iffy about.
- Paula H. Harvey, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, GPHR, VP of Human Resources/Safety, Schulte Building Systems (@Paula4Harvey)

Be prepared for full sessions and long lines. If you want a good seat at a popular event, you’ll have competition and might have to settle for a seat on the floor. And if a session doesn't pan out, go for the Irish Exit.


Make sure you take plenty of business cards with you AND make sure you get business cards from the people you meet. If you are in a concurrent session you will be sitting around others in the session. You will have a reason to connect to someone in the future, if for no other reason than to perhaps get a piece of information you missed from the session. Make a note on the back of their card what session you met them in so you can reference that later.
- Michael D. Haberman, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, HR Expert, Omega HR Solutions (@MikeHaberman)

Business cards still matter! If you have a great conversation with someone, don’t forget to share your contact information. Extra points if you share your session notes.

The SHRM Annual Conference and Exposition is going to be A BLAST! Jeans, tie-dye and sneakers are perfectly acceptable. Check out the speaker line up and vendors ahead of time to make sure you don’t miss something important to you! The 7am sessions are good ones, so get up and get to the convention center on-time! Use Twitter. If you don’t have an account – make one now! Follow #SHRM and #SHRMBlogger for all the great session nuggets, meet ups and other information. I’ve met so many of my great friends at the annual conference and through Twitter!
- Claire Petrie, PHR, SHRM-CP, Talent Acquisition Manager, Remedy Intelligent Staffing (@_strclaire)

That’s right, you’ll find some of the best sessions are bright and early!

You’ll also find the official SHRM bloggers to be helpful guides in navigating the conference while you’re there. Follow them on social media, and tune in to #SHRM22.

I rely on the SHRM Bloggers to provide extra insights and a sneak peek into the speakers, sessions and vendors: follow the bloggers and also follow the SHRM blog for SHRM posts.
- Mary Williams, Regional Manager Business Operations and HR, Harbor Light Hospice (@conmkw)


  • Schedule sessions beforehand
  • Fit in breaks between sessions and recharge
  • Be prepared to walk and sit a lot
  • Bring business cards
  • Expect full sessions, and have backup options

4. Navigate the expo floor

The expo floor brings together more than 600 vendors! It’s a chance to meet some of the major players in the HR world. If you’re looking for the right partners and tools to make your job easier (or want a break from conference sessions), plan a visit to the expo hall.

Make a list of the things you've been thinking about at work that are too big for you or your team to handle, things you need help with, or areas you need additional expertise. Then, when you get to the SHRM expo, ignore all the giveaways, and spend your time looking at and talking with companies that actually have the ability to help you solve your problems. Another free pen isn't going to change your outcomes at work, but the right vendor partnership can make a world of difference.
- Ben Eubanks, Principal Analyst, Lighthouse Research & Advisory (@beneubanks)

The expo hall is a great opportunity for education and networking. You’ll discover solutions (and a few duds) and hopefully some inspiration.

If you’re like me, your first inclination at the expo might be to go straight for the free swag. 🙈 Do NOT accept everything that vendors give. If you do, you’ll end up needing a whole new suitcase to transport tchotchkes that are likely to end up in the trash anyway. Instead, check out the expo floor ahead of time (online or via the SHRM events app) to prioritize your stops.

Don’t overdo it in the Expo Hall on the giveaways as you have to get all that stuff home.
- Jon Thurmond, Host, #HRSocialHour Half Hour Podcast (@Jon_Thurmond)


Yes, vendors are people too and they know a lot about stuff you don’t. Learn from them and connect.
- Michael D. Haberman, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, HR Expert, Omega HR Solutions (@MikeHaberman)

Most vendors will have a wide range of client experience around specific topics. Want to learn more? Ask them! And if it’s not a good fit, don’t be afraid to cut the conversation short and move on.

HR can be an isolated business function and it is essential to build a community online and in person to grow. We have a thirst for learning and use the conference to ensure we remain at the cutting edge of thought leadership in this space. As a tip, don't underestimate the learning available in the Expo Hall, hundreds of relevant companies and services to learn about!
- Ben Watts, CEO, wattsnext (@wattsnextBen)


There are way more vendors than you can even imagine, so make sure that you highlight those that you know you want to visit, and make time to engage in conversation around your business needs and how those vendors can support you. Remember that the vendors are there to build relationships, network, and ultimately find new customers. Be kind when you start getting the follow up emails and phone calls weeks and even months following the event. Even if you dropped your biz card (or let the vendor scan your conference badge) in the hopes of winning a new iPad with absolutely zero interest in their product or service, know that they are looking at your name as a potential customer. Your treatment of them when they contact you is a reflection of who you are, and who your business is. Make sure that you behave in harmony with those values. Even if you're not interested in their product (right now), extend a professional courtesy. You'll make much better use of your time (and theirs).
- Kyra Matkovich, PHR, SHRM-CP (@KyraMatkovichHR)

Plan out your visit, and look at the Expo hall map ahead of time. You’ll have a few days to explore, so don’t overload yourself!

Look for vendors you currently work with and those you’d like to know more about. And don’t forget to visit Bonusly at Booth #4670 while you’re in the hall to learn how employee recognition can help your team.


  • Prioritize partnerships over free swag
  • Manage giveaways
  • Map out vendors ahead of time
  • Use the expo as a learning opportunity
  • Visit Bonusly at Booth #4670 😉

5. Take advantage of after-hours networking and entertainment

SHRM always chooses amazing cities to host their events! The conference and expo portion will be excellent, but don’t forget about everything else that comes with the experience, especially after-hours networking and entertainment.

The magic at a SHRM conference happens after the expo hall closes. The best relationships are facilitated at 8-10pm, not 8-10am. My advice? Attend after hours events. SHRM usually has a couple official after hours events that are worth attending (and are included in admission). Several larger vendors in the expo hall will also host (sometimes extravagant) after hours events that are sure to impress. But, if there's not an official after hours event to attend...make your own. Don't stay in your hotel room, sync up with a few attendees, and build relationships that will last beyond the conference.
- Brett Farmiloe, CEO, Markitors (@BrettFarmiloe)


You can make so many valuable connections in a short period of time. Attend the many evening networking events sponsored by various groups. It’s a great way to connect with others in casual environments. While the conference is the main purpose for you visit, don’t overlook the fact that there's so much to do and see.
- Jeff Palkowski, MHRM, SHRM-CP, PHR, HR Sushi Bar (@JeffPally)

While you’re in town, think about catching a show, eating some delicious grub, sipping on some local wine, and soaking in the local arts scene. Before you start planning your extracurriculars, just make sure you're keeping an eye on local COVID-19 regulations. 


This is your time to get out of your shell! Meet new people, but also give yourself a break when networking gets stressful. When you’re ready to re-engage, jump back in.

Practice your pitch - You'll be introducing yourself a lot. Be ready to tell everyone you meet the following info in 30 seconds or less: Your name, what you do, and why you are at this particular conference. Be genuinely interested in the people you meet - Dale Carnegie's old advice definitely applies to networking at a conference… Your ability to drive an interesting conversation that isn't all about you will be a breath of fresh air for your fellow attendees. Try the following: When you meet someone, repeat their name and use it in the conversation, ask open-ended questions, practice active listening, smile and ask targeted follow-up questions.
- Katharine Zaleski Co-Founder & President, PowerToFly (@KZaleski)

Plan talking points ahead of time, not only about yourself, but industry trends, a recent workshop you attended, or why you can’t wait to see Michael Phelps speak. 🎤 Still want to learn more about conference networking? Read Katharine’s My 5 Tips for Networking at a Conference.


  • Attend after hours events
  • Take in the cultural experience
  • Make new connections
  • Don’t be afraid to strike up conversations

6. Reflect on your time and follow up

The SHRM Annual Conference & Expo will be a whirlwind, so you’ll also want to plan out what to do after the conference wraps up, too.

Follow up and share the wealth - This is where the real fun begins. Connect with everyone you'd like to stay in touch with on LinkedIn and/or social media - when appropriate, you can use the notes you took to add a personal message that references something unique about the conversation you had!
- Katharine Zaleski Co-Founder & President, PowerToFly (@KZaleski)

You’ve just met some of the best folks in the HR industry, so make sure you keep up the relationships you started! Send over a personal message to let them know that you appreciated meeting, and make plans to keep in contact.


Remember that the vast majority of the information you obtained during the sessions will be gone in short order unless you take good notes, refer back to those notes, and write down (i.e., build goals off of) a few take-aways from each session that you can potentially implement when you return to work. Engage in conversations with your senior leaders about what you learned and what may be a benefit to your company. Follow up with the speakers. Make sure you follow up with the other HR Pros that you connected with and with whom you likely exchanged business cards. Intentionally building relationships with your network is one of the best ways to continually learn and grow. Stop making excuses about how you "don't have enough time." After all, we are in the business of people, so make people your top priority - both inside and outside of your business.
- Kyra Matkovich, PHR, SHRM-CP (@KyraMatkovichHR)

You’ll also want to retain the most important bits, so jot down notes in your hotel room, on the airplane, or wherever suits you best. Think about how to apply what you learned during the conference and how you can help those you met at the biggest HR event in the world.


When you’re back in the office, thank your boss for sending you and share what you've learned!
- Jon Thurmond, Host, #HRSocialHour Half Hour Podcast (@Jon_Thurmond)

Don’t forget to recognize your leadership and team for sending you to the conference. Recognition is important!


  • Reconnect with folks you’ve met through social media
  • Jot down notes for yourself and your colleagues 
  • Thank your company for sending you

Before you know it, you’ll be at SHRM's Annual Conference & Expo! It’s up to you to make the most of your own experience, so plan accordingly, bring your "A" game, and get ready for a great time! 

Did we miss anything? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Originally published on May 09, 2022 → Last updated June 2, 2022

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Ben Travis

Ben is the Marketing Manager at Bonusly. With a passion for employee experience and a background in digital strategy, he uses data to drive organizational impact.


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