The Association of Training & Development (ATD) annual conference is one of the flagship gatherings of our industry. It draws attendees from around the globe. This year I attended as not only a participant, but also a speaker on the topic of digital credentialing along with my colleague and BFF Britney Cole, Blanchard’s Vice President of Innovation.
Knowing that I was going to write this blog, I played the part of a roving reporter throughout the conference. I'm excited to share with you what I saw. Here are my five key takeaways.
The Nike Swoosh
Attendance at the conference reminded me of the Nike swoosh—we’re heading upward! Last year, attendance was way down (trust me, we still had a great time), but this year was a very different experience. When I walked into the Expo Hall, I felt a “we’re BACK!” jolt of energy. I'd estimate there were a few thousand people in attendance; a huge jump from last year. Even with the increase, though, we still have a way to go before we’re back to pre-COVID numbers.
The energy was the best part of the conference. You could feel it everywhere. People were hungry to get together and see friends and colleagues they hadn’t seen in three years. I witnessed, and was part of, many joyous reunions.
We’ve all aged in the last three years. Some of us have new crow’s feet around our eyes. Some of us are a little thicker, some (not many) are a little fitter, and some are a little grayer. But something about this gave me great joy as I soaked it all in: it's part of our beautiful human story. I was thankful to see many of my colleagues after so long. At times I was even on the brink of tears—my heart was so full.
New Vendors Everywhere
There were a few large vendors strutting their stuff, but a number that weren’t there. This gave lots of smaller companies a chance to step into the spotlight, similar to the Learning Solutions conference last month.
The first thing I noticed was the presence of a lot of new leadership companies—they seemed to be coming out of the woodwork. I also noticed many companies offering new DEI solutions. I couldn't help but wonder about their point of view, the expert or team behind them, and the research that supports and underpins it all. Of course I wonder—because at Blanchard, we’re ALL about the data!
It’s true that we didn't have a booth this year for a number of important reasons; otherwise, Blanchard was everywhere. We were at the ATD Bookstore, we held book signings, we hosted a partner and client event at Top Golf, and we sponsored the prestigious ATD BEST awards. How amazing (and humbling) to be in the presence of our industry’s finest examples of excellence. To all of the winners—I am SO PROUD of you! To round out the Blanchard ATD22 experience, of course, we had a number of speakers on a wide range of topics. Save the Expo Hall, Blanchard was literally all over the place!
Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley, Blanchard’s Trust Practice Leader, talked about their new book, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. Scott Blanchard and our partner Jennifer Brown spoke on Inclusive Leadership (see more on that below). Susan Fowler, Senior Consulting Partner, motivation expert, and coauthor with Ken Blanchard of Self Leadership and The One Minute Manager, spoke on Optimal Motivation. Betty Dannewitz, Solutions Architect, spoke on Immersive Technology, and of course Britney and I also hit the podium during the three-day conference.
The Best Session I’ve Ever Attended—Like Anywhere
I've attended ATD for many years and have seen countless speakers. I’ve sat on the ATD TK Program Advisory Committee. And I've been to hundreds of sessions across a half dozen international conference bodies in our field. But Scott Blanchard and Jennifer Brown’s presentation on Inclusive Leadership was one of the best sessions I've ever attended at any conference. At this talk, attendees in the room felt like Cinderella at the ball, hoping it would never end. I heard people say they could have sat there for another two hours—and I felt the same.
Jennifer Brown, Blanchard’s partner for our latest collab and newest course, Courageous Inclusion (coming soon), shared her thoughts about diversity and inclusion. She is extraordinary. She likened the multitude of diversity dimensions to an iceberg: we can see the tip, but most dimensions lie beneath the waterline. Diversity is about much more than what you can see. It's about religious affiliation, points of origin, caregiver status, gender identity, mental health (which usually doesn't get much airtime), and so much more. It is about the entire human experience. After seeing Jennifer speak, I know in my heart that Courageous Inclusion, while it took a minute to get here, will be well worth the wait. And it will change the world.
It’s no secret that Blanchard had to make a huge pivot when the pandemic struck. We were a face-to-face leadership and performance company, and we knew that if we were going to go virtual, digital, and blended, our offerings had to be the very best in the world.
At ATD, I saw some companies that remain at different points of the spectrum of their virtual/ digital/ blended transformations. Others are still wrestling with how to create effective hybrid learning solutions. There is still great interest in this—I could tell by the sheer number of sessions on the topic. It was a poignant reminder for me about the extraordinary change we've gone through.
A Round of Applause for Networking Night
The last night of the conference my posse and I attended the ATD22 Networking Night, which was held at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. Although it rained for a bit of the evening, the rain actually forced us to sit down with friends old and new for a spell! (See what I did there?) When I look back on it, had we been racing to all the rides that night, some of the best conversations may not have happened. What could be better? I know my friends at ATD put a ton of work into the evening and it was a terrific experience. Thank you, ATD ICE programming team, for a great, great night!
About the AuthorMore Content by Ann Rollins