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State Leadership Conference Toolkit


      The State Leadership Conference Toolkit was created to provide state councils with an outline of the processes necessary to host a successful leadership conference.  You will find helpful tips for planning, budgeting, etc. as well as sample agendas and forms for your use.  The SHRM Affiliate Program for Excellence (SHAPE) requires state councils to sponsor a state leadership event for volunteer leaders in the state.

This toolkit is a "living" document.  You are invited to share ideas, successes and/or documents from your state's leadership event at

 Objective | Planning | Committee | Venue Selection
Selecting Topics/Programming | Speaker Selection | Conference Evaluation


The objective of a state leadership conference is to introduce new chapter and state leaders to the role of a SHRM volunteer. This is the opportunity to introduce volunteerism and responsibilities of volunteering to new and returning volunteers. 



Successful leadership conferences all begin with timely and thorough planning.  Here are a few tips gathered from previous leadership conference volunteers.

Make sure you assign a person who has good project management skills, listening skills, and can work well in a committee.

Identify your audience.  Some State Councils invite all chapter board members while others focus on chapter presidents and presidents-elect in addition to the State Council members.

Consider inviting SHRM student chapter members and provide concurrent sessions of interest to the students.

Identify a date for your conference and notify your FSD. Your FSD can help you determine if your date conflicts with other regional or national events. In addition, they can provide advice on planning a successful leadership conference.

Assign a committee to work on the programming for your conference. Make sure your committee is diverse (i.e., senior volunteers and new volunteers). The more input you have, the more effective your conference will be and it will contain information for all levels of your attendees.  Remember: Volunteer turnover is high and you will always have “new” volunteers. Make sure you cover the basics.

The earlier you start your planning process the better.  A best practice: work on your leadership conference the same way you work on your annual conference. Included in the toolkit is a Project Plan Template that may be helpful.

Determine the number of days for your conference. Do you have enough content to cover one, two, or three days. Most successful leadership conferences are at least one full day because of the amount of basic information that needs to be covered.

Identify the topics for your conference. Send out and/or post on your website a “Call for Presentations” to source a variety of speakers to meet your varied needs.   Your speakers should be familiar with the mission of your state council and SHRM. Make sure you review speaker presentations in advance of your conference.

States should try to invite all chapter presidents gratis. Some states will cover the expense for chapter presidents’ hotel expense, and travel.  However, covering these expenses will be dependent on your state’s budget. Having vendors is another way to off-set this expense.

Try to provide programming participants can receive recertification credit through HR Certification Institute.

Some leadership conferences represent more than one state.  This works well when travel distance is not too great.  Great synergies can be found by working with one or two states to hold a larger leadership conference.  One state alone may not be able to offer vendors or pay for speakers; but, by partnering with another state these additional offerings can be provided.  

SHRM resources and structure should be discussed and presented by your Field Services Director (FSD) so volunteers can understand the mission and vision of SHRM, understand the relationships between the chapters, state councils, regional councils, Member Advisory Council (MAC), and the SHRM Board of Directors as well as understand their responsibilities in reporting to SHRM via the SHRM Affiliate Program for Excellence (SHAPE) Year-End Report.

Learn more about planning your leadership conference.  Best Practices in Planning your Leadership Conference is a 60-minute recorded webinar featuring Gerry Hoeffner, past Leadership Conference Chair for HR Florida.  In addition to the recorded webinar, you'll find a PDF of the presentation and links to sample documents.



The development and execution of a leadership conference can be less daunting through the collective work of a committee.  In addition to spreading the work, the committee format provides volunteer engagement opportunities.  It brings together talent from across the state and capitalizes on the experiences of a broad range of volunteers.  The committee would be under the direction of the Leadership Conference Chair.

Please find listed below possible subcommittees outlining sample tasks for each.  Your committee’s composition and scope may vary depending upon the size and duration of your conference. 

Speakers/Programming/On-site Hosts

  • Identify the topics for the conference by soliciting input from volunteers via a survey ( is a popular survey tool and the basic package can be used free of charge).
  • Send out a Call for Presentations to chapters and post on the state and chapter websites. 
  • Identify all speakers/presentation times and locations
  • Request copies of speaker presentations
  • Review all speaker’s material and content
  • Serve as/assign on-site host for all speakers
  • Identify a separate room for speakers
  • Send out a request for equipment/supplies needed to all presenters
  • If appropriate, submit information to the HR Certification Institute requesting pre-approval of presentations for re-certification credits
  • Your FSD can speak on a variety of SHRM-related topics


  • Develop a marketing communication plan for the conference
  • Develop the conference theme
  • Design and develop all conference marketing collateral
  • Design and develop the leadership conference brochure – including copies of presentations or DVD of presentations
  • Send out all e-mail and other communications to leaders in the state
  • Design signage to be used on site for identifying the location, breakout topic rooms, speakers rooms, etc.


  • Identify the venue and obtain approval from the board
  • Review venue contracts with state legal representative
  • Responsible guaranteeing all contracts are signed
  • Determine the feasibility of conference insurance
  • Select all food and beverages for the conference (Check with Tammy on tips for determining amount of food)
  • Set up room blocks and negotiate lower fees for room stays
  • Work with venue representative to guarantee adequate space is available for break-out rooms, banquet, etc.
  • Review and sign-off for all charges at the venue
  • Review the agenda with the venue representative guaranteeing everything runs smoothly


  • Determine the cost for the conference
  • Set up on-line registration or method for registering for the conference
  • Provide an update of attendees to the state council on an on-going basis
  • Print name tags for all attendees
  • Stuff Leadership bags (conference brochure, vendor information, SHRM information, copy of presentations, etc.)
  • Set up registration area – including a roster of participants to determine overall attendance
  • Determine how people will pay on site (if applicable), or on-site registration


  • Determine audio/visual needs
  • Try to reduce costs by asking board members or volunteers to bring projectors, markers, flip charts, etc.
  • Work with the venue’s audio visual staff to make sure all rooms are setup properly with right equipment
  • Obtain list of equipment needed by presenters from the program committee


  • Some state councils offer entertainment or an activity during the conference.  This is intended for networking and fun. 
  • There may or may not be an additional charge for this event. 
  • Some ideas include an open house at a local museum, bowling or golfing


  • Securing sponsors for an event can help defray costs
  • Opportunities that can be offered include:

Provide booth space
Opportunity for “podium time” during a meal period
Have company logo published in on-site brochure
Provide company literature/giveaways in conference bag
Gift for a door prize or drawing


  • Determine the number of vendors needed
  • Set up vendor booth costs
  • Develop sponsorship packages and determine costs
  • Develop a diagram of the vendor marketplace and assign booth numbers
  • Request potential vendor lists from chapters and ask for their help in identify potential vendors
  • Send out all materials to potential vendors
  • Confirm in writing all conference vendors, assign booth numbers, setup and breakdown times identified, all other logistics needed.
  • Greet all vendors and monitor their conference experience
  • Send out thank you letters to all vendors and solicit for next year’s conference

Some state councils have developed an Operations Manual for their conference.  The manual, which  documents the scope of the committee along and includes samples, serves as an effective instructional guide and transition tool from one year’s committee to the next.


Venue Selection

When selecting a venue for a state-wide event, a centrally located facility with easy access to/from interstate highways will make it easier for volunteers to attend.  Budget considerations are a major part of the selection as well.  Pricing of meeting rooms, audio/visual, and food and beverage are all part of the selection process.  If your conference will include an overnight stay, room prices and availability are to be considered as well.

In estimating your costs make sure you budget 30% for service charges. Service charges can quickly grow and become a big ticket item. If you have someone on your state council that has experience booking venues and events, you are encouraged to work with that person. They can probably save dollars an experienced person would not identify.

Contracting with the venue is an area you should examine closely.  It is a good idea to have your legal counsel examine all contracts prior to signing. Remember, the hotel or venue will be writing the contract to benefit them. Your responsibility should be to protect the interest of the state council.

There are several contractual areas that should be examined closely.


Insurance should be considered and purchased if possible.

Cancellation Fees

Make sure you have the venue write the cancellation fees clearly without room for interpretation. For example, clearly identify a specific penalty if the event is canceled in 30, 60, or 90 days. It is the practice of some venues to base their cancellation fees on their potential loss of revenues. Ask them to specific the amount up front so it is clear to both parties.

Attrition Clauses

Make sure you understand them and the charges associated with each attrition clause.  In most cases there will be attrition clauses for room blocks, food & beverages, and breakout rooms. Attrition clauses address estimates you make for the amount of food you will need, rooms used, and breakout rooms you will need.  For example, you estimated that you will need $10,000 in food and beverages but only use $6,000. Your attrition clause may state that you are still responsible for the full $10,000.

National Threat

Since 9/11 everyone understands the impact a national disaster will have on businesses, travel, and conferences. To protect your state council under these circumstances, you may want to include verbiage in your contract as protection to total loss. It is recommended that you include, for example,  a clause stating “if the national threat level raises to red” within 7 days of your event you will have the option of cancelling the event – but- you will reschedule the same event at the same venue within the next 6 or 12 months.  This will protect you and also the venue since they will not lose revenue; but, instead allocate those revenue dollars later in the year.


Selecting Topics/Programming

Selecting Topics

Send out a survey to all volunteers asking them for topics. Remember, regardless of their requests there is basic information that should always be presented.

Don’t forget that you will have new leaders at each of your conferences.  So that you can focus on best practices during your conference, ask your leaders to view pre-recorded webinars on the Volunteer Resource Center (VLRC). Pick from a large selection of webinar topics from “SHRM as a Resource” to “Membership Recruitment and Retention.”

A well rounded leadership conference will include a variety of topics including leadership development.


The number of sessions and variety of topics you can offer will depend upon the length of your conference, the volunteer leader categories you are including and the number of session rooms your budget will accommodate.  Agendas should allow adequate time for the topics you want to be covered.  The following are sample agendas covering different content, formats and time frames.

 One Day Event Day and One-Half Event
      Alabama      Minnesota (Sunday-Monday) 
      Nebraska      Virginia (Friday-Saturday)
     New York      Wisconsin (Thursday-Friday)


Videos on specific topics can be used at your leadership conference. You can use SHRM videos independently or have someone with the respective background and expertise to be available to address questions.  For example,  have someone with expertise in financial and/or tax to facilitate the session. After the video they can address questions. 

The following SHRM staff members have recorded videos that will be helpful resources.

  • Henry Hart, J.D., General Counsel, discusses legal issues important to your chapter’s operation.
  • Mary Mohney, CPA, Chief Financial Officer, from a financial perspective discusses financial and tax issues to guarantee your chapter’s compliance.
  • Amy Thompson, Vice President  Public Affairs, provides information on working with the media and provides examples of how SHRM uses the media and the relationships they have developed to guarantee access to media resources.

Video website address:


Speaker Selection

Your leadership conference is the opportunity to energize and excite your volunteers to work efficiently in their volunteer positions.  It is encouraged when selecting speakers that they understand the structure, and philosophy of SHRM and your state council.  Utilize volunteers on your state council board and at the chapter level. This is an opportunity for your volunteers to develop their presentation skills and, in some cases, demonstrate their level of expertise in the areas of HR and business.

Other resources to identify speakers include:

SHRM Chapter Speaker Program

  • The SHRM Chapter Speaker Program is comprised of speakers that have spoken at other chapter or state council events that will either speak gratis or reduce their regular fee.  The state council is responsible for travel, room and board.

Field Service Directors


Conference Evaluation

Your conference committee should hold a debrief meeting to assess the overall conference experience.  The debrief may be held immediately following the conference while everyone is still together or by conference call following the conference.  This will also provide insight for the next year’s conference.

Most conference committees want to “hear” from the conference attendees.  Many will include evaluation forms for each session during the conference and/or an overall conference evaluation form.  The easiest method of distribution for the on-site evaluations is with the conference materials inside the conference notebook or bag.  Some committees will field an evaluation survey via e-mail following the event.  The results of the evaluation will be helpful in the post-conference assessment.     


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