ATD 2019 in Washington D.C. featured two keynote speakers whose messages overlapped very nicely for the talent development audience. Seth Godin talked about how people want to be seen. Oprah explained how people want to be heard.
In full disclosure, you should know that I am a big fan of both Seth and Oprah. Having worked in marketing for almost 30 years and attended numerous marketing conferences, I’ve seen Seth speak many times and own most of his books. And Oprah. Well, she is Oprah and I am a fan. I buy into her philosophies of “live your best life,” looking for “AHA moments,” and understanding the power of gratitude. So, I think my opinions below were trending positive before they set foot on stage.
Oprah: We are all seeking validation
The crowd erupted in cheers and a standing ovation when Oprah entered. Of course, she greeted us with her classic, and often spoofed, loud and elongated Oprah welcome! She’s had such a long career and led a fascinating life, she could talk for days and not run out of interesting stories. I was curious to see how she would frame her messages to the talent development audience.
She opened by describing herself as a truth seeker. The common language we all share is the truth. That every day we can hit the reset button on our lives and every day is an “AHA moment.” We are all looking for the same thing: to live out the truest expression of ourselves as a human being. She said her show really took off when it became a platform to present the truth through storytelling, ideas, and information because viewers were validated by those stories.
I thought this was a perfect link to ej4’s business of training and performance improvement. Our videos are designed using storytelling, ideas, and information to connect with the learners to help them improve upon and learn new skills.
She explained that even the guests on the show were seeking validation. People like Beyoncé and Obama would ask her at the commercial break “Was that ok?” or “Was that good?” We are all seeking validation. Do you see me? Can you hear me?
This absolutely applies to corporate America. Employees don’t just want to be a cog in the wheel of business. They want to be seen and heard. They want to be thanked and appreciated. I think that is at the core of our business. Learning is becoming more personalized. It’s not solely about training people on the skills that will benefit the company. It’s listening to the learners, hearing their needs, and helping them personally grow.
A funny story from her personal life shows that even Oprah needs to be heard. One day while Stedman was playing golf, she decided she was going to surprise him with a goose dinner. She went through a lot of effort to find and cook the goose. In her eyes, this was an act of love. So, when he came home very late, her feelings were hurt and she was upset. (Note, this was pre-cell phone days).
Even though Stedman did not ask Oprah to cook dinner, nor did he request goose, his response was perfect. “I hear you and this will never happen again.”
Seth Godin: Sowubana
The title of Seth’s session was “Dancing on the Edge of a Revolution.” I was very proud of his description of what talent development professionals do. He said we tell stories that make a difference and make change happen. That change might be a subtle improvement in someone’s leadership skills. Or it might be an innovative new approach.
He showed us a clip from an Italian bike race where the rider in last place dramatically changed his approach to go from last to first in a minute and twenty-two seconds.
It’s exciting to me to think about the potential impact of what we do. What if our training could inspire someone to figure out a new and better way of doing something like that biker did?
He talked about the difference between learning and education. How education is mandatory and done to people but we choose to learn. (As a side note, we explore adult learning theory in our blog.)
He did a fun exercise with the audience. Why don’t you play along right now? He directed us to “raise your right hand as high as you can. Now, raise it higher.” Pretty much everyone proved his point. We all hold something back. So, how do we get more?
He posed the question “What attributes do you want to hire?” No one is born with 100% of those traits you listed. But they are learnable and that’s where we (and our industry) come in. My favorite quote of his was “Soft skills are real skills.” They can be taught.
My second favorite thing he spoke about was “Sowubana.” It’s a Zulu greeting that means “I see you.” Of course, I Googled it and found this:
I see you with my heart and I can see your heart as well.
I can see where you are coming from.
I am deeply grateful to meet you, here, right now.
I see your deep desire, your passion and your uniqueness.
I can see and feel your individual potential and believe in your strength and your fantastic abilities.
Sowubana – I see you.
I have a feeling the director James Cameron has heard of this. Jack says “I see you” to Rose in Titanic. And “I see you” is a greeting in the Na'vi language in the movie Avatar. It’s a powerful statement to say to someone and mean it. Especially since most of us don’t see anyone since our heads are down in our phones most of the time.
Talent Development: Making the world a better place
I doubt Oprah and Seth got together to coordinate their keynote scripts but I love the overlap.
We all want to be seen. And heard. I am very proud to be part of the training, performance improvement, and talent development space. I believe we are making the world a better place.
Hear me out.
- If we provide someone with better communication skills and they go home and are better communicators with their families, they may be happier.
- If someone shares our driving safety courses with their teenager at home, we help everyone be a little safer.
- If a dysfunctional team completes training on emotional intelligence, they may become less stressed, reduce conflict, and have better relationships both at work and at home.
After successfully completing training, I imagine learners gaining confidence and self-esteem. I see them being happier, getting promoted or earning raises, and putting more positive energy out into the world. It’s fulfilling to be part of an industry that is making the world a better place.
I highly recommend this conference. Over 300 sessions and 400 exhibitors. I took 24 pages of notes in three days but I am the nerdy girl who brings her laptop to every session. I already have some new ideas in action.
Photos courtesy of ATD