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Harbinger Travel Diaries: My First ATD Conference and Trip to D.C.

I want to start by thanking the two partners at Harbinger, Greg and Krista, for giving me the opportunity to be apart of the Association for Talent Development (ATD) International Conference & Exposition, in Washington, DC. It was an incredible experience, and I certainly learned more than I expected. The overall atmosphere of the event was bustling, yet well-coordinated and disciplined.

About ATD

For those of you that don’t know, the ATD conference “is the largest, most comprehensive event for talent development professionals worldwide. It will provide you with the knowledge, strategies, and solutions you need to effectively train and develop talent.” In addition to the hundreds of speakers and sessions, ATD also offered pre-conference courses which a couple of team members and I participated in.

Keynote Speakers

The conference offered three keynote speakers; Oprah Winfrey, Seth Godin, and Eric Whitacre. I had the opportunity to listen to Oprah and Seth. Both were dynamic in their own way. Oprah did an excellent job storytelling. From her authentic reflections stemming from her 25-year-old show to her learning experiences from opening a school in South Africa, Oprah shared some very insightful advice. She insisted the audience to live out the truest expression of ourselves and to always trust our gut feeling.

After speaking with a fellow team member, Colin, he told me that what stood out the most to him from Oprah, was when she talked about always having a specific purpose or intention in your actions. To always ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing and who does it benefit? If you can’t come up with a good enough answer, then is it really worth your time and effort?

My favourite part of her speech was when she talked about learning that development starts with the instructors and leaders, rather than the students or trainees. She started her school by finding the most talented and gifted girls in South Africa without much thought in the teachers and administration that were going to lead them. This led to major issues and she learned that a tremendous amount of value needs to be placed on these instructors. As a basketball fan, I always try to relate what I learn in basketball terms. So, I can see how much sense this makes considering how some NBA teams with less talented and experienced players can outperform their expectations because the coaching staff and player development systems are well structured and full of excellent leaders.

On the other hand, Seth Godin was excellent in capturing the audience’s attention and keeping us engaged. His theme was “are you ready to level up?” In other words, are you ready to take accountability, responsibility and leadership in your own development? I really admired his focus on ourselves as individuals being the most important factor in our development. Like Oprah, he discussed the differences between a manager and a leader. He emphasized that you need to be a leader and the one who decides how change happens. His main messages were to take responsibility, rather than wait for authority; training happens instantly, whereas development is throughout; and, education is mandatory, but learning is something we choose to do.


The pre-conference course that I enrolled in was to earn my E-Learning Instructional Design Certificate. The two-day course offered excellent insight and depth towards being an Instructional Designer. It was amazing because it was my first taste of the Learning & Development industry. I got to witness some brilliant minds in the course that have been on the design and development side of training for decades. To have the opportunity to share a classroom with so much experience, I believe it will elevate my creativity and passion to improve in Instructional Design. I had a chance to see where this role can take me and hearing the remarkable ways my classmates have applied the ATD model and framework in their workplace showed me a good start on how to get there.

The Conference

In my opinion the other sessions and speakers were either a hit or miss. I ended up at some that weren’t relevant to me due to misleading titles. But the ones that were good, were actually really entertaining and informative. I had the opportunity, not only to learn about some advanced tips on E-Learning, but also great future outlooks on training, and AI, and technology’s involvement in the industry. Particularly the concept of chatbots and how they can aid employee’s motivation and help them reach their goals by getting them to self-reflect. I found this extremely interesting, considering I had never thought of chatbots as a motivational tool rather than an informational tool. The engagement levels that were tracked were much greater than I would have expected (over 90% engagement). It really got me thinking of how Harbinger could use chatbots, and who knows, maybe we will someday.

All in all, the conference was an amazing experience, the weather in DC was fantastic, it finally felt like summer, and I am certainly looking forward to attending next year, if I’m given the opportunity.



Adam Rifai Accounting & Business Analyst / Associate Consultant Toronto



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