In every sport there is a winner, the champions, the best team.  Oftentimes we celebrate first, second and third place.  I recently attended the Engage conference, put on by Bullhorn (our company’s business software) where I heard a dozen or so speakers and presenters.  Each session I went to provided tremendous value, but there were three presenters who were my favorites!  I wanted to share a few key takeaways from each of my top three choices for keynote speaker.

The conference was kicked off by Steven Levitt, Economist and author of the book Freakonomics.  In college, Steven knew he loved economics but asked his dad for advice on how to make a living with his education.  His father’s advice was for him to study off-beat economic issues.  His dad said that neither of them really had a talent and that if people like them were ever going to succeed in a profession, they’d have to find a topic that nobody else in the world were willing to study and be the best at it.  He went on to tell stories about how people had come up with some very obvious ideas for improvement.  He challenged the audience to think outside of the box and come up with 1-2 great ideas each year – ideas that may not appear obvious at first, but solve important challenges.

Ann E. Dunwoody, the first woman in US Military history to achieve a Four Star General rank, spoke to us about having integrity in leadership.  General Dunwoody told stories about doing the right thing in tough situations.  Data is power in making good decisions, however, decisions requiring personal courage are the hardest.  She reminded us to do what is right in our hearts, no matter how you think leadership above you might react.  General Dunwoody encouraged us to believe in ourselves and not let society define what “having it all” means.  She was very down-to-earth, approachable and seemed like a great leader.

My favorite speaker was Mary B. Lucas, author of Lunchmeat & Life Lessons: Sharing a Butcher’s Wisdom.  Mary shared many lessons about leaving people better as a result of having met you.  Mary’s father, a butcher, had a big impact on her life, teaching her how to inspire people and bring out the best in others through meaningful connections.  She explained that we should pour Comeback Sauce on everyone we meet – be intentional, really listen to people and learn about what’s going on with them.  Mary’s recipe for “Comeback Sauce” is:  1 part recognition, 1 part connection and a dose of the unexpected.  Slow down and make a personal connection, empathize, listen more and then wow them with something that will resonate with them and make you unforgettable.

Conferences are always a great time to get re-energized and learn new things.  I met some really great people and came back to the office with a fresh outlook.  If you want to learn more about these speakers, do a quick Google search, read their books, watch their TED Talks or YouTube videos – you’ll be glad you did!