I had the joy and honor to work alongside General Micheal Hayden last night at the 2018 SWLA Chamber Banquet. This guy was pretty kicka$$. His long list of impressive credentials go on for days; but it was more than that which caught my attention: The kind demeanor and almost gratuitous conversation and etiquette he gave through his conversation alongside the care he took with every handshake, and picture request was what was so inspiring...
I arrived an hour early to the Golden Nugget's event area to set up in the two locations I'd be spending the next four hours in between (on stage & in a secondary exclusive book signing and meet-up room for their cocktail hour with the guest speaker). On the table within the room were stacks of beautiful hard back books. In my past experience, it is communicated by the hosting party or the speaker's reps brought in for such commercial events that everything must be done involving images as quickly as possible. Nothing new for myself and my long list of experiences with such events, so I kept under the assumption tonight would be no different.
As General Hayden came in, with an already full room of guests awaiting his arrival, I jumped right in organizing everyone and keeping them lined up and "ready to roll", allotting about 10 seconds per image. As I introduced myself and guided him to his mark in front of the background, I'd already picked up on his casual, calm manner within an excitedly busy room of well dressed guests and fans. He didn't rush forward. Or even brush off the pulled aside conversations that had already begun as he came in. But rather stopped and shook the hands, and contently introduced himself in response to every guest (even as we all well knew his name)!
I moved everyone through, assuring we had enough time so no guest was left out within this secondary room, still leaving enough time for book signings. He took care to ask if there was any specific names or spellings, even when the book receiver was trying respectively to settle for only his name hand written within the cover. General Hayden calmly stayed ready for anyone that might pop into the room delayed and looked to CEO George Swift and myself to let him know when he should head into the main ballroom for the banquet chapter of the night to begin.
This may sound "normal." "Why would a paid speaker do anything different?" you may ask...
Evolution is imminent. Whether it's with our geography, quality of our national news interest, or in this case, our expectations of how someone should hold themselves, no matter how SMALL or BIG they are viewed within their invisible, social, and/or intellectual capital. So with the vast experiences I've had photographing countless notable people within these types of social events, I always go in assuming a few key theories:
- They don't have a lot of time.
- The event doesn't have a lot of time.
- The guests happily have all the time in the world.
- The photographs become the pride and joy of the event but the notable guest doesn't have the time to create them.
I already could tell, with still three hours left, that this man was holding himself differently.
The event began, the awards were awarded, and then we had General Hayden's speaking time. President Swift closed out the banquet and, being a non-weekend Tuesday night, I assumed the 1200 attendants would scurry out, eager to get home. I'd also assumed, based on virtually EVERY OTHER EVENT, that General Hayden would obligately stay until George left too - the final informal closing of the night. But I waited. I held back on breaking down my equipment now that my time was typically done. I'd seen the difference in him earlier and was curious how he was about to handle the long line that immediately formed up to his dinner chair on stage. George and he even struggled a bit to squeeze in a cordial handshake before departing, as the kind but VERY excited attendants were already surrounding the General with their books and phone cameras in hand.
ME: How long, General Hayden, would you like to stay for these extra pictures, if at all? I can help with your departure by providing a cutoff.
GenH: Thank you! But no need. As long as you're willing to stay, too to get a professional picture with me, I'll be right here until I've met with everyone who wants to come up.
ME: Well okay then!
**Insert happily blown away face here.**
And so we did.
Thirty minutes later, I had a full card of images, snapped countless guest phone pics too, and we shook hands and both agreed it was now time for a well deserved beer to close out the night. We were some of the last to leave the ballroom that had just been filled to the brim minutes before.
The man took pride in his evening. He was contently ready to go above what was formally asked of him. You could FEEL it and SEE it. It was beautifully apparent. Inspirational and thought provoking.
His DEMEANOR was what out-shined his long list of uber-impressive credentials. And his intellectual capital.
The fact that he was so different within last night's time spent at the Banquet left me driving home wondering:
Is it really such an EPIC thing to see such a vast difference in last night's event?
Is it the EVOLUTION of our expectations, through what we've been trained to experience/accept, that have been so altered that we are no longer disappointed when others abide by the modern listed rules of engagement when with their audience? When we show admiration and excitement to those we look up to, wouldn't it be GRAND to receive a form of the same in return??
If General Hayden's intent was to create an even larger fan base of his thoughts, ideas, book buyers, and CNN watchers by speaking.... he has absolutely succeeded in gaining at least one new REALLY BIG FAN.