Employee engagement

2024 Update: Your Guide to the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo

David Brown
May 25, 2024
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Now more than ever, your organization must create a high-performing culture where highly-engaged employees thrive. And at SHRM24, the Society for Human Resource Management’s 76th annual conference, you’ll get invaluable insight from leading industry experts on how to do just that.

But SHRM is about so much more than keynotes, workshops, and educational sessions (even though those are world-class!) It’s an unbeatable opportunity to connect with your peers, learn about the latest HR tools and solutions, and—dare we say it—have FUN. 🎊

In fact, there’s so much going on at SHRM that it can be a lot to take in. We’ve updated our annual guide to help you get the most out of your experience at this year’s conference, and we’ve included advice from veteran SHRM attendees throughout to give you the inside scoop.

While you’re at SHRM, don’t forget to stop by the Bonusly booth (#2035) and say hello! We’re looking forward to talking with you about the best ways to motivate employees and boost retention. 💪 

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

6 Essential Steps to SHRM 2024

1. Get ready!

✈️ You’ve booked your hotel and your flight to Chicago. Now what?

Start connecting

The app. Downloading the SHRM events app (iOS or Android) is a great way to start getting ready for the conference. You can see the schedule, connect with other conferencegoers, check out vendors, and review a map of the event. 

“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, HR Content Writer, Mineral (@wyndall93)


The Facebook page. Join the Unofficial SHRM Annual Conference Networking & Events Group on Facebook to take part in lively discussions and access a calendar of meet-ups, parties, happy hours, and other networking events.


 Twitter. Follow SHRM’s official Twitter account (@SHRM) to see the latest conference updates and get to know fellow attendees online before meeting IRL.

“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, Head of People, Pinnacle Advertising (@conmkw)

Envision your ideal conference

SHRM is a huge event, and you’ll have access to far more educational, entertainment, and networking opportunities than you could possibly attend or participate in. To make the most of your experience, it’s helpful to think about why you’re going to SHRM and what you hope to get out of it.

“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)

Getting clear on your goals and the experience you want to have ahead of time will help you make it all happen when you get to the conference. But plan to pace yourself—SHRM lasts several days, and each day can be jam-packed with activity.

“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)

Key points:

From the essentials you’ll need on the conference floor to the important documents you won't want to forget, this SHRM packing list has it all

2. Pack thoughtfully

🧳 When you’re ready to pack your bags for SHRM, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Prepare for varying temperatures—and lots of walking

In addition to attending indoor events—think cool, air-conditioned spaces—you’ll be waiting for shuttle buses and walking outdoors in warm weather. Conference veterans highly recommend bringing comfortable shoes, layers of clothing, and sun protection.

“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)

 “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, Head of People, Pinnacle Advertising (@conmkw)

You’ll want to stay fueled and hydrated

Investing in a refillable water bottle is money well spent. In addition to bringing your water bottle, consider packing snacks to help you ward off hunger as you power your way through the conference. 

“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.”
- Melanie Peacock PhD, MBA, CPHR, Double M Training & Consulting (@doublempeacock)

Your phone will be vital

Your phone will be your lifeline throughout the event, so take care of it. From finding sessions to connecting with peers to discovering after-hours events, everything will be easier with your phone. Previous SHRM attendees recommend bringing a battery pack to make sure your phone stays charged.

“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.”
- Jess Miller-Merrell, Founder & CIO, Workology (@jmillermerrell)

“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.”
- Jon Thurmond, Host, #HRSocialHour Half Hour Podcast (@Jon_Thurmond)

A thorough packing list is key

Download our comprehensive packing list for SHRM to make sure you’re not leaving anything behind. 

Key points:

  • Bring comfortable shoes, clothing layers for a range of temperatures, and sun protection
  • Plan to keep snacks and a refillable water bottle with you throughout the conference
  • Have what you need on hand to keep your phone charged
  • Reference our comprehensive checklist while packing to make sure you bring everything you need

3. Make the most of your days

🌞 SHRM24 promises to be bigger and better than the conference has ever been before, with over 375 sessions offering insight into the world of HR. To help you tackle it all, we’ve assembled a few pointers.

Identify your must-sees

Start planning your days by identifying the “must-see” sessions that you’d regret missing out on. Additionally, map out your “nice-to-haves” and try to include some sessions that are outside of your comfort zone.

“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!”
- Jenni Stone, SHRM-CP, PHR, CareerLearning, (@HRRockStar1)

“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)

Consider the early sessions

Return conferencegoers recommend getting to the conference center early for the first events of the day.

“The 7am sessions are good ones, so get up and get to the convention center on time!”
- Claire Petrie, PHR, SHRM-CP, Manager, Managed Talent Services, Lighthouse Technology Services (@_strclaire)

Have back-ups in mind

Events fill up, so be sure to have some alternatives to your top picks in mind. Remember that you won’t be able to do everything—plan conservatively and see how you’re feeling each day.

“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)

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

Factor in walking time and long lines

Expect long lines for popular events and 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 by having to walk from one end of the convention center to the other.

Plan for downtime

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the energy of the event, so don’t forget to schedule breaks for yourself so you can make it through all four days and the sessions you really want to attend.

“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)

Have business cards on hand 

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

“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 (@MikeHaberman)

Keep tabs on social media

Checking Twitter (#SHRM24) and the official SHRM blog can be helpful in navigating the conference while you’re there. 

“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, Manager, Managed Talent Services, Lighthouse Technology Services (@_strclaire)

“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, Head of People, Pinnacle Advertising (@conmkw)

Key points:

  • Identify your “must-see” events, but map out alternatives as well
  • Figure out your “nice-to-haves”, including a few events outside your comfort zone
  • Factor long lines and walking time into your planning
  • Give yourself breaks each day—it’s a marathon, not a sprint
  • Keep business cards with you
  • Check Twitter and the official SHRM blog as you’re navigating the conference 


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

4. Don’t miss the SHRM Expo

💡Whether you’re looking for tools to make your job easier or you just need a break from all of the conference sessions you’re attending, it’s worth your while to check out the SHRM Expo.

Zero in on a solution provider

If you’re headed to the expo hall to find new solutions or partners, it can be helpful to plan a little in advance. Previous SHRM attendees recommend identifying the issues or pain points you’d like to address and homing in on the companies that may potentially be qualified to help you. With over 650 vendors in the hall, it can be easy to get distracted or sidetracked.   

“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 

“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.”
- Kyra Matkovich, PHR, SHRM-CP (@KyraMatkovichHR)

Remember that it’s also an educational opportunity

Your visit to the SHRM Expo doesn’t have to be about finding a new product or solution. It’s also a great opportunity to network with and learn from vendors in your industry.

“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 (@MikeHaberman)

“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)

Don’t forget: "You have to get all that stuff home" 😀

Enjoy the conference swag, but just remember—anything you keep, you’ll have to fit in your suitcase going home!

“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)

Say hello to Bonusly

We’re at booth #2035 this year and we’d love to connect! 


  • If you’re looking for a new solution or service provider, do a little advance planning by getting clear on the pain points you’re hoping to address
  • Remember that the SHRM Expo is also a great networking and educational opportunity—there will be hundreds of knowledgeable vendors in the hall 
  • Don’t forget that any tchotchkes you keep will need to fit in your bag for your return flight
  • Visit booth #2035 to connect with Bonusly!

5. Take advantage of after-hours networking and fun

🎉The conference and expo portions of SHRM are excellent, but don’t forget about everything else that comes with the experience, especially after-hours networking, and fun.

Count on official events and casual socializing

There will be plenty of official events for networking and socializing, but unofficial meet-ups and get-togethers are also a big part of building relationships and having fun at SHRM! 

“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, Featured (@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 your 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)

People at SHRM are primed to connect!

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. 

It doesn’t hurt to have a pitch

You’ll be meeting a lot of new people, so having a quick intro in mind isn’t a bad idea. 

“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.”
- Katharine Zaleski, Co-Founder & President, PowerToFly (@KZaleski)

To learn more about conference networking, read Katharine’s post: My 5 Tips for Networking at a Conference.

Key points:

  • Be ready to take advantage of official networking events and opportunities for more casual socializing
  • SHRM attendees are primed to connect, so don’t be afraid to strike up conversations
  • Give yourself breaks when you need them!
  • Have a quick intro in mind: who you are, where you work, what you do, and why you’re at SHRM

6. Keep the momentum going

🪪 When SHRM wraps up, you’ll have plenty of new contacts and lots of new information to share with people in your organization. What comes next?

Stay connected

You’ve just met some of the best folks in the HR industry, so make sure you keep building the relationships you’ve begun! Send a message or connect on social media to let contacts know that you appreciated meeting them and you look forward to staying in touch.

“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)

“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.” - Kyra Matkovich, PHR, SHRM-CP (@KyraMatkovichHR)

Use what you’ve learned

How will you apply what you’ve learned at SHRM? If you plan to create a presentation or write-up for your organization, review and add to your notes shortly after the conference when the material is still fresh in your mind.

“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.”
- Kyra Matkovich, PHR, SHRM-CP (@KyraMatkovichHR)

Give thanks

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

Key points:

  • Send messages or connect with conference contacts on social media 
  • If you plan to create a presentation or other materials reporting on what you’ve learned, review and add to your conference notes shortly after 
  • Thank your company for sending you

You’re good to go!

🤝That’s it! You’re ready to make the most of your time at HR’s premier gathering. Have fun, stay hydrated, and get to know as many of your HR peers as you can!

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


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