SHRM Chicago 3: Dan Pink on Why We’re All Really Salespeople

Attend enough SHRM conferences and you’ll hear a broad variety of well-paid speakers with all sorts of different messages.

This 65th annual SHRM Conference & Exhibition in Chicago is annual conference No. 9 for me, and over the years I’ve heard speakers as varied as Al Gore, Lance Armstrong, Jordan’s Queen Noor, Steve Forbes, Jack Welch, Michael J. Fox, Sir Richard Branson, Malcolm Gladwell, Ariana Huffington, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Tom Brokaw, and Ted Kennedy Jr.

Yes, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the boring when it comes to speakers at SHRM, and at the risk of seeming overly critical, I wonder: what was it that made SHRM think that they just had to have Dan Pink as a keynote speaker here on Day 3 in Chicago?

Yes, we’re all salespeople

It’s not that I don’t like Dan Pink, or quibble with his message, because he gets gold stars from me on both points. My issue is a lot more basic: Dan Pink seems to speak everywhere, to everyone, at all manner of events, and he was a keynoter at the SHRM annual conference as recently as 2007 in Las Vegas.

So, why is it that with all the speakers available to SHRM, and all the resources they can bring to bear to attract great speakers, that they had to go to Dan Pink, who seems to speak to everyone everywhere, yet again?

shrm-2013Having said that, Dan Pink had some pretty interesting observations in his morning talk:

  • About 1 in 9 Americans — 15 million people — work in sales.
  • However, when all workers are asked the question, “what portion of your time do you spend convincing people to give up something for something you have to offer,” people say that they spend 41 percent of their time on that activity.
  • This leads to this conclusion: we all spend a great deal of time convincing, persuading and influencing people to make a change.

In other words, as Pink puts it, “It’s kinda like selling … except the cash register doesn’t ring. … and like it or not, we’re all in sales now.”

Although this isn’t exactly what Dan Pink said at the SHRM conference, this presentation touches on many of the key points of what he talked about theis morning in Chicago.

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Diversity and conference speakers

You can also get the same information from Pink’s latest book, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others. And, I’ve written about Dan Pink before here at TLNT, particularly about motivating employees.

I don’t mean this to be an anti-Dan Pink rant. I genuinely like him and think he has a good message. I just get tired of seeing him pop up as a speaker at so many different conferences in the HR and talent management space given how many other great speakers there are out there that might have had an equally compelling (or better) message to give to such a large crowd.

Some speakers simply get overexposed. Malcolm Gladwell had this problem a few years ago, as did Marcus Buckingham, Ann Rhodes and a few others who seemed to have a ubiquitous presence on the HR speaker circuit. It happens to successful speakers, because if they get too successful and have lots of gigs, they run the risk of having their message get overdone.

Diversity is a great thing, but it extends to conference speakers, too. I wish the people scheduling speakers for a big event like the SHRM annual conference would take that message to heart, too.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.