11 Years of Symposium

As we approach the 11th year of Chief Learning Officer Symposiums, it’s only appropriate that we stop and reflect a bit. Let’s talk a bit about how the Symposium came to be, and how an event of its nature could continue to grow and thrive over a decade after its inception.

The first Chief Learning Officer Symposium took place in Dana Point, California from February 16 to 18, 2004. It offered 3 days of workshops, keynote speeches, and panel discussions to around three hundred learning leaders.

In order to delve deeper into the history of the Symposium, I spoke to Human Capital Media Vice Presidents John Taggart and Gwen Connelly.

CLO Symposium According to John

When Executive Vice President John Taggart and his friend and business partner Norm Kamikow, the late President of Human Capital Media, first set out to create a conference for learning and development professionals, it was a completely original event. There were no comparable conferences catering specifically to high-level L&D leaders.

“At the time, Chief Learning Officer Magazine was available in print and online. The next logical step was to create an in-person experience,” John told me. But not just any experience. 

They set out to make the Chief Learning Officer Symposium something special.

According to John, the original 300-person size of the event is a tradition they have remained faithful to for the last 10 years. Their goal was to create an affair that catered specifically to c-suite learning leaders, and the smaller size of the event allowed attendees to make more meaningful connections with other high-level learning and development professionals.

John and Norm decided to eschew traditional conference models, such as offering a tradeshow for vendors and exhibitors. Instead, they set their laser-focus on reducing the typical “noise” of common conferences, facilitating worthwhile conversations among learning leaders, and reaching out to as many Chief Learning Officers as they could to speak and attend.

The flagship event in 2004 was so successful that it sold out completely.

“[Chief Learning Officer Symposium] has continued to grow and change each year. I think it’s lasted this long because we keep tweaking and changing it to make it better,” said John. “And everyone keeps coming back.”

CLO Symposium According to Gwen

When I chatted with Senior Vice President Gwen Connelly about the history of Symposium, she was keen to share a few of her favorite memories of past events. I’m going to let her stories speak for themselves.

“The Symposiums have challenged our nerves and taught us to bend at the knees and roll with the punches!

Our very first meeting in Laguna, we were lucky enough to have an extremely well-known Chief Learning Officer moderating a panel on our main stage. Just like on TV, we mic and prepare our presenters on the main stage before the curtain is raised. It was getting very close to the start of the afternoon program, and no sign of our main speaker.

We called her admin without luck. We called the hotel’s front desk, tried her cell phone, all without success. Finally, I recruited one of our board members to cover for her. Just as we opened the main ballroom, our speaker came calmly in, flanked by a half dozen of her team. They had driven up and stopped for lunch on their way up from San Diego. This was 2004, before texting and cell service was next-to-impossible on the cliffs of Laguna.

She laughed at our anxiety. This was par for the course for her. She took the stage without skipping a beat and got her microphone right there.”

And on the topic of the second Symposium…

“The second Symposium just happened to take place during the most active hurricane season in years. Sure enough, [Hurricane Jeanne] hit Bonita Springs while our team were preparing the night before. Even more dramatic, airplanes were delayed and canceled across the eastern seaboard, causing many of our attendees to bond overnight in Atlanta!”

So our journey into Symposiums past comes to a close.  The flagship Symposium created a successful blue print that has guided and influenced every Symposium that came after, and the excitement generated by that first event has set an enthusiastic tone for all of our Chief Learning Officer Symposiums, past, present, and future.

Come rain or shine (pun intended), the show must—and will—go on!


Kaitlin Williams


Event Marketing Coordinator