There are particular moments during every conference that stand out above all the educational sessions, networking events and engaging discussions with colleagues beyond the convention center’s air-walls. Most of us have high expectations for things like an opening keynote, a must-attend session on a particularly relevant topic, or an industry debate certain to spark an animated discussion. But it’s those unexpected moments – little gems that are unearthed when we least expect them – that can leave the biggest impact. These moments can make us realize why we invest time and money to attend conferences, and can leave a lasting impression on our personal and professional psyche.
During VenueConnect 2013 in New Orleans, that gem of a moment was discovered by many who attended the Closing Keynote, “The Power of One: Take Back your Life, Ignite your Possibility and Change Your World.” The title itself carried a lofty promise for those who woke early for the Monday morning session in a city known for its nightlife. And the speaker, John O’Leary, was not someone many of us had heard of before.
With the room filled to capacity, John thanked those hearty souls who came to hear him at such an early hour. And then, with particular poise, O’Leary began his story. Taking us back to his youth as a nine-year-old growing up in St. Louis – and to the day he was severely burned in his family home. O’Leary brought attendees into the mind of a child, fearful not of dying, but of disappointing his parents over the mess he’d left at their burned-out house.
He deftly painted a picture of the many individuals who saved his life – his older brother who battled the fire to rescue him, the doctors who gave him a 1% chance of survival, the custodians, nurses, therapists, his parents and even a local legend, baseball announcer, Jack Buck, that stopped by the hospital, first to encourage John simply to survive and then with one simple question, “What more can I do?” returned day after day to help O’Leary overcome the many challenges he would face along the way.
Soon O’Leary had the audience both laughing and crying, as he shared his story of tragedy and inspiration, love and motivation, all woven throughout with humor, humanity and hope. His story was relevant to venue managers – encouraging us to see the impact we make on the lives of those we guide – each staff member with a role, large or small, but all equally important to the success of our organization. O’Leary reminded us that through the investment of love and how we value our personal and professional relationships, we can impact each of those lives we touch. He ended with one simple question for each of us to ask ourselves, “What more can I do?”
I left New Orleans awoken. Cognizant of my own role, and asking myself, “What more can I do beyond my usual duties as a wife and as IAVM Marketing Communications Manager, to make a difference for my family, for our IAVM members and for my community?”
My hope is to ask myself that question daily. I am taking John’s “21 Day Challenge” and I am looking to find ways to inspire and support each individual who enters my life. I know it is a small step towards what our IAVM President and CEO, Vicki Hawarden, has envisioned for our organization – an IAVM with a mission to provide excellent, meaningful and inspirational support for each of our members and even to our own staff. With a goal of working together and asking ourselves, “What more can we do?” as John O’Leary can attest, the answer holds the possibility to change our lives and change the world.