The Last Word: A Chance Meeting in Vegas

Photo by Christopher Mann McKay courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I love the randomness of a conference.

Amid all the planning, particulars and minutiae that goes into the preparation of a conference like the HR Technology Conference & Exposition, which kicks off today at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, is the totally unplanned randomness of bumping into someone you never expected to meet.

I arrived a day early, since I headed out West a few days before the confab to visit family and friends in San Diego. I decided to make the five-hour drive on Interstate 15, stopping along the way to meet up with a former colleague who just wrote an amazing book about his days in the newspaper business. I ventured through the Mojave Desert, past the giant Bun Boy thermometer in Baker, California (102 degrees; mild, but then again, it is early October), into Nevada at Stateline and then to Las Vegas and the Luxor hotel just before traffic got nasty.

Other than an In-N-Out Burger Double-Double in Barstow, California, I hadn’t eaten all day. So, time to forage. Not at the Luxor. I had to hit the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. The night before I left, my kids in Chicago introduced me to Melanie Pierce, a former co-worker of theirs who is now a tireless advocate of breast cancer awareness for the Keep a Breast Foundation. She told me about Holstein's, a restaurant in the Cosmopolitan with a killer beer list. Yep, had to check that out.

A 20-minute walk down the Strip and I was quaffing a Firestone Walker Oaktoberfest and munching on a plate of street tacos. I had my choice on TV: Seahawks-Redskins or Dodgers-Cardinals. Any time there’s a chance for the Dodgers to get beat, I’m there.

The woman next to me was obviously a Cardinals fan, which I appreciated. I mentioned, "It’s a great day any time the Dodgers are getting beat." She tells me she’s from St. Louis, so I pull out my business card, and a big smile comes across her face.

Pam Stevens is the senior director of public relations for Equifax. And, she knew exactly who I was. Her external PR person, Jeanne Achille, had been trying to arrange a chat between Equifax and me. I tell Pam that I like Jeanne and her company, but I probably got invites from every vendor at the conference, and then some, and I am really selective with my appointments. I’m combing sessions and the hall for potential stories, I tell her, and vendor meetings rarely produce them.

“Oh, I completely understand,” Pam says. And we start talking about health care reform — an area where Equifax has recently started working in — and about several other topics as both of us occasionally glanced up at the TV to watch the Cards close out a crucial Game 3 win.

Is there a moral to this story? If anything, it’s that the best meetings for me, at least seldom happen at a booth. A completely random meeting with the director of PR for Equifax took place a couple of miles from the exhibit hall and sessions, not even in the restaurants and bars of the host hotels.

And here’s the best part there could be a story there, too.

The conference revs up in a few hours with a keynote by author Rahaf Harfoush. The hall opens shortly after, which is where you’ll find me. Vendor meetings, you know. Hopefully they’re as productive as my random meeting with Pam.

Rick Bell is Talent Management’s managing editor. Comment below or email Follow Bell on Twitter at @RickBell123. You can also follow him on  Google Plus.