ATD 2021: Opinions and Reflections

First and foremost, I have a difficult time imagining how the live portion of the ATD International Conference and Exposition 2021 in Salt Lake City, Utah last week could have been administered any better given all the givens, and I applaud everyone who had a hand in pulling it through!

I’m going to guess there were about 2000 in-person attendees. The expo floor seemed like it was about 25% to 30% of 2019 representation, and booth traffic (a.k.a. leads) was probably well below expectations for most exhibitors. Then again, those expectations were probably formed based on conference history, which was pretty much irrelevant (for all the obvious reasons).

So, if you were representing a company in a booth in search of those leads, guess what you wound up with? Time! And, to fill that time, it appeared as if many dove in and spent it networking and having meaningful discussions with other suppliers (who surprisingly enough also had time on their hands!). A different supplier experience for sure, but a productive one for those that pursued that path.

The content sessions were “weird.” No getting around that. Forty people spread out in a room that would normally hold five times that many with a speaker on a podium that seemed like it was across the street. Or a ballroom session that was accessed by earphones and a dedicated channel in a socially distanced seating configuration. It was amazing how quickly everyone adapted to all that (speakers and learners), and I would offer the quality of the content has never/rarely been better.

I, by no means, hit every session. But here were four that I felt provided transferable return on my investment to attend:

Angela Duckworth – True Grit

This was perhaps the best keynote I have ever heard and would recommend buying her book immediately (if you happen to be one of the six or seven people that haven’t done so already!). Her message at face value is sort of a blinding flash of the obvious: High achievers are hard workers with passion for what they are doing that finish what they start. Beyond that, high achievers get as much as they possibly can out of their talent and potential, and (as a result) are happier people. What seemed like irrefutable evidence was presented along the way to substantiate every assertion.

Joseph Grenny – How to Build a Culture of Accountability

Perhaps the most emotional and inspirational session ever. That may seem like a bit of an overstatement, but I can assure you it is anything but! Google The Other Side Academy in Salt Lake City (TOSA). What you will find is an organization that exists to provide a second chance (in some cases, the final chance) to hardened criminals looking at serious jail time for committing serious crimes.

Two graduates of TOSA shared real-life experiences of living in a culture fueled by peer accountability and how that culture not only saved their lives, but it also transformed their purpose and reestablished their personal dignity. It hits you somewhere during this discussion that the art/science/act of holding people accountable really is choice. And, as was mentioned: “You can’t establish a culture of trust … unless your motive is love.”

NovoEd; The Presentation Company™; Facebook – How Facebook got 95% Engagement With On-Demand Storytelling

Representatives from these three organizations highlighted how content from The Presentation Company™ could be delivered asynchronously but in a manner that was comparable to live ILT on the NovoEd platform in service of the behavior-changing learning objectives of Facebook employees, worldwide.

If nothing else, this three-tiered discussion demonstrated the potential of “customer-focused supplier collaboration” and provided a compelling account of what can happen when you put learners at the center of your design efforts and leverage the power imbedded in the reality that “learners learn better together.”

Patrick Lencioni – Steps to Regenerate Your Team

It has been my experience over the years that Lencioni never disappoints! His keynote on Day 2 of the conference was no exception. He began by reviewing the essence of his recent best seller, The Ideal Team Player.” You want to hire people that are hungry, humble and smart. Get those folks “on the bus” and you increase your probability of success exponentially. He then revisited the themes from his first book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.” If you want a team to perform at a high level, it is a function of managing the interrelated dynamics of trust, conflict, commitment, accountability and results.

His most recent research speaks to an interim dynamic. After you get the right people on the bus, and before you can reasonably expect to see results, you must make sure the people on the bus are in the right seats! Net – net: There are roles on teams that each of us were born to fulfill, roles we can’t stand and aren’t good at and roles we can play if we have to (but would really prefer to avoid!). On the basis of personal experience, I highly recommend hitting this website and learning more:

Once again, to all at ATD, thank you! Last week’s conference couldn’t have been easy, but it was very much appreciated!