It isn’t every day you’re asked to spend a week with some of the most amazing people in a given industry to both document their journey and do a small part in helping them take a positive step along it. That is, however, exactly what happened to me in July 2016.
The request came from the Credit Union National Association, the group that represents the $1 trillion US credit union industry.
One of their signature services is CUNA Management School, a rigorous three-year program that develops the advanced management and operational skills necessary to run a financial institution in the 21st century. 20 instructors from around the world serve as CMS faculty members every year, a massive honor for those selected.
This year, I was doubly blessed: I was asked to join the CMS faculty to present the final workshop for the third-year students of the 60th CMS graduating class, and invited to stay for the rest of the week to document the experiences of the students through photos.
Both responsibilities presented unique challenges.
From a speaking perspective, what would I say that was fresh and interesting to a room full of seasoned and ridiculously intelligent professionals during their 60th and final CMS workshop? By the time I would stand in front of them, they’d already spent nearly 250 hours in classes and workshops, and many multiples of that studying and practicing their new skills back at their organizations over the previous three years. Hadn’t they heard everything…twice?
As for the photography, it was all about capturing the emotions and connections that happen during this intense, multi-year program. What made that complicated was – not to put too fine a point on it – me.
Some of the 200+ attendees recognized me from previous speaking engagements, and it was good to see those friendly faces. Others had no clue who I was. No matter their level of familiarity with me or my picture-taking responsibilities, though, that didn’t stop them from feeling a little self-conscious every time I raised a camera to my eye. After a few hours, though, everyone relaxed.
After discussing the unique needs of the group with Kristin Ryan, the head of CMS, we decided the best message I could deliver as a speaker was the half-day version of Heroes, Villains, and Drunk Old Men. It was one of my favorite engagements of my speaking career. At the end, there was hardly a dry eye in the room…or at the front of it.
I would later learn than every single attendee gave the session the highest possible marks. What blew me away even more was what they put in the comment sections of their feedback. Here is everything they said, straight from the report:
My week at CMS was a watershed career moment. Documenting and speaking at a program that has graduated over 5,000 professionals in the last 60 years was a professional dream come true. I have many wonderful memories to cherish, and look forward to adding to them when I return to CMS next summer.
I can’t wait.