Sekou Andrews: Grammy Nominated Pioneer Of Poetic Voice Talks Business (Includes Moving Performance)
Sekou Andrews is one of the hottest and most unique speakers in the business today. A Grammy-Nominated Spoken Word Artist for his album Sekou Andrews and The String Theory. He is Forbes’ Defacto Poet Lauriet of Corporate America. You can find him presenting on the biggest corporate event stages in the world, or delivering a tear-jerking standing ovation performance in Oprah’s backyard for Barack Obama or Maya Angelou. Quincy Jones is quoted saying, “Sekou is my secret weapon when I want my events to have that extra spark of distinction…my staff knows my mantra – ‘If I could have anyone perform at this event, I WANT MY POETIC VOICE!’”
A schoolteacher turned actor, musician, two-time National Poetry Slam Champion, entrepreneur, and the award-winning pioneer of the cutting edge new speaking category, Poetic Voice Speaking. A new type of speaker and artist who seamlessly blends inspirational speaking with spoken word poetry, like a perfect mix of Hamilton meets TED.
Sekou talks about the story of his craft, what audiences want, how he does it, and how storytelling can be lifted up into a new kind of art form that advocates for our organizations and touches our minds and our hearts even more deeply.
At 18:26 Sekou performs his incredibly moving Grammy-nominated piece, “Love Says”.
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Sekou Andrews: Grammy Nominated Pioneer Of Poetic Voice Talks Business (Includes Moving Performance)
Joining me is Sekou Andrews, one of the hottest and most unique speakers in the business. A Grammy-nominated spoken word artist for his album, Sekou Andrews and The String Theory, he is Forbes’ De facto Poet Laureate of Corporate America. You can find him on the biggest corporate events stages in the world or delivering a tear-jerking standing ovation performance in Oprah’s backyard for Maya Angelou and Barack Obama. Sekou is a schoolteacher turned actor, a musician, a two-time National Poetry Slam Champion, and an entrepreneur. He is the award-winning pioneer of the cutting-edge new speaking category, Poetic Voice, a new type of speaker, an artist who seamlessly blends inspirational speaking with spoken word poetry like an entertaining combo of Hamilton meets TED. Please join me with the entertaining and compelling, Sekou Andrews.
Sekou, thank you for joining me. How are you doing?
I’m doing great. How are you?
I’m good. Thank you. Even though we’re in a pandemic, you can still feel good about life and the world that we live in.
If there has ever been a silver lining era of our lives, this is like mining, digging and excavating for the silver lining these days.
If you can find it and it’s out there, there are a lot of things that we’re going to learn about ourselves as businesses and as a society and as people, who we are, how we’re relating to other people, how we relate to ourselves and the environment and our health. A lot of growth is going to come out of this period. That’s how I’m looking at it.
You have to have that mindset that knows that and seeks out those opportunities because it is there.
You’re a guy who, more than maybe anyone or more than most, is able to look inside an organization or a community or a group and understand where they’re coming from. Your job is to connect with the client or the customer or the person and see where they’re coming from so you can bring that back out to them. You’re telling the organization’s story to them. You’re redefining it. You’re a storyteller, but you’re also an advocate for your customers and for your clients. That’s what’s so amazing about you. You talk about customization. People love speakers who can customize, “Can you customize? Can he collaborate with us?” Nobody does it better than Sekou, because what you do is you talk to them about what they’re looking at and what their problems are, what their new mantras are, what their new goals are and their new products or their new focus for the next year is going to be. You give that back to the audience. You reflect it back. How do you put it? You put it a lot better than me.
The style of speaking that you’re talking about is called Poetic Voice. Poetic Voice is the seamless integration of inspirational speaking and spoken word poetry. It is performance meets presentation. It is TED meets Hamilton. If you think about the power of performance and artistry, there’s a high level of customization in my work. However, the experience of customization is much higher than the actual customized writing. The reason is because Poetic Voice is anchored in art. There are a lot of speakers that say they customize, and it’s ends up being more a mad lib version. I know my clients all the time, they feel that it’s like, “They just inserted our client’s name here. They inserted that industry there.” We felt that. We could tell this was the canned speech. With Poetic Voice, if you think about art, we all have a song that feels like it’s our personal anthem, like Beyonce or Ed Sheeran or whoever wrote that song for me. We internalize it personally. That’s the power of art. If you applied that power to thought leadership, to business content, even if I don’t write a single new word, the way that I’m expressing these thoughts on healthcare workers or CyberCheck or apparel salespeople, it feels like, “This is spoken in a language that feels it’s speaking to me as the human being and it’s so personal.”
That’s the first level of personalization that exists regardless of what I write, but then I’ll also do the poet in me. I’m a spoken word poet. The poet in me loves writing. I love going and adding in content what I call the client bling. It’s the shiny moments throughout a presentation that go, “This is you. This is about you.” Instead of doing it just in Section A or doing in the last five minutes, I weave it throughout the presentation so they can continue to feel art and presentation. They continue to hear content that is speaking to them as a human being and speaking to their particular industry.We all have a song that’s like our personal anthem and we internalize it. Click To Tweet
It’s awesome to have a keynote speaker come on stage and entertain, but also deliver the content or advocate for the company and give them what it is that they’re hoping the audience is going to get from it. You’re able to do that but in such an entertaining way. You also have said, it’s not like it’s just a comedian coming up and doing comedy. It’s not just a musician coming up and doing music or a mentalist, hypnotist, a magician coming up and doing their art. It’s more integrated. It’s seamless. It’s almost like it’s just a speech, but it’s an entertaining speech. It’s cool how you choose the words. You’re a wordsmith. I’ve been talking to a lot of people lately about the words we choose are everything, and they can change everything, how you’re perceived, how you’re loved, how you’re received, how you’re connecting with people authentically, emotionally and empathetically. It’s cool to see you do it because you’re the master.
The age-old battle of what you say versus how you say it. When I’m doing speaker training, I’m always telling people it’s both. There are people that are like, “The way that you speak, I could listen to you read the phonebook.” There is that. You want to be able to rock a phonebook and I want to teach you the techniques that help you to rock a phonebook. I’m a poet also. The poet in me is saying, “No, I want to also focus on the content.” I always say, good oration should live strong on the page and come to life on the stage. The way I look at it is if you have something that I’m listening to, if I’d go back and look at that script, I should go, “This is amazing.”
When I’m watching it, I should receive enough of the experience of the content to go, “That was amazing.” I should also hear enough to make me go, “I want to go back and read that. I want to go back and hear that again.” It should come to life in a way that feels real time. It feels in the moment. It feels like it’s so connected in this room, but I want to go back and reconnect to it. Going back to the power of art, there was a musician, or there was a comedian, but with Poetic Voice, it’s designed to be seamless so that one moment you feel like you’re listening to a speaker, then the next minute you’re like, “Is he rhyming? I didn’t even catch that.”
The next minute you’re like, “This feels like standup.” Before you can lean back and check out, you’re like, “I’ve got what this is. Now this feels like theater.” It keeps you leaning in. Every time you want to check out, it prevents you as an audience member from getting ahead of me. That’s what happens with a lot of speakers. They get up there and it’s like, “Here are my five steps to this or my PowerPoint to this. These are my three steps.” You go as an audience member, “I’ve got it. I can check out and check Facebook.” What I’m trying to do is every time you think you can check out, it’s like, “Something new is happening. There’s a new way this is being delivered. I thought that this was affecting me on a business level, but now suddenly this is making me think about my mom or this is making me think about my daughter and now I’m having this human experience. Where are we now?” That’s what I’m trying to create, whether it’s a 60-minute and a 90-minute keynote, or it’s a 15-minute TED-style talk, it’s always the human aspect around the business content that I’m trying to create.
The Poetic Voice style of yours is something that is becoming more popular, more part of our zeitgeists, our world that we live in. It was Kendrick Lamar who did the Kobe Bryant commercial for Nike. I thought of you when I saw that, I said, “Sekou should have done this.” It’s great. It’s rhyming but it’s telling a story. It’s making a point. It’s giving you things to take home with you and think about. There’s the guy on America’s Got Talent who is a finalist, again, I thought of you, I’m like, “This is Sekou.” He was even a teacher like you were. You were a teacher, he’s a teacher. Telling a story in this entertaining way that might have some rhyming but has some timing. When you do, it’s amazing. It must be fun for the audience to realize that this is what’s happening now when you start getting into it.
A big part of my mission that has driven the past many years of my career, I’ve been a full-time poet for many years. My last job was as an elementary school teacher. I taught fifth grade before I quit to become the anomaly Loch Ness monster, mermaid out there and known as the full-time poet, and successful full-time poet at that. A big part of my mission that is driven these several years of my career is to help create a more commercially viable industry for the art form of spoken word so that when you think poet, you don’t think broke. When you think poet, you don’t think, but what’s your job? When a kid says, “I want to be a spoken word poet,” to their parent, they understand that there is a possible trajectory for that now.
Brandon Leake’s on America’s Got Talent and Kendrick’s commercial continue to be great ways of kicking down those doors. That’s what my career has been about, is seeing the new target. That’s what made me create Poetic Voice. I was dismissed in the business world. Everyone was saying spoken word belongs at a holiday party, at the coffee shop, that’s the only place they could conceive it, but when they thought, “How could this be involved in our business? It was only at the Christmas party. It was never on the senior leadership mainstage.” I was the one that kept telling the industry you’re wrong. This deserves to be in your biggest stages, and it can have the biggest impact for your actual business objectives. That’s what my career as a Poetic Voice has proven. That’s why I’m doing the biggest stages in the world now for the larger companies. I also do a lot of media stuff. Nike was my first client. I have tons of Kobe Bryant pieces and LeBron James pieces.
Where do you live? Is it in LA?
I’m in LA. As a matter of fact, I was in this powerful dichotomy at the beginning of 2020 because I have an album that I released.
It’s a Grammy-nominated album.
We did it with the symphony orchestra out of Europe called The String Theory, an amazing neoclassical orchestra. I’m all about setting targets. Where is spoken word not shining where it should? Spoken word poets have not won the best-spoken word Grammy category in 30 years, it always goes to audiobooks. Meaning we’re always competing against giant publishers, celebrities and presidents. Poets can never compare. I felt like that’s a shame, poets deserve a place at the table. I released this album, I submitted it for the Grammys, I campaign my butt off and I got the nomination. I was beat by a small local latch. You might’ve heard of her name, Michelle Obama. I don’t know if you’re familiar with her. I got beat by Becoming. Michelle Obama was a great competitor.
It’s only number one in the world for a year straight.
I got beat by the big Gilligan’s best autobiography in the galaxy deal so I was fine with that. On the beginning of 2020, right before the pandemic hit in January, I was both in that elated place of celebrating this nomination being at the Grammys. As you remember, that was the day that Kobe Bryant died. We were in the Staples Center, surrounded with Kobe jerseys, all of us trying to figure out how do we celebrate this accomplishment for ourselves and get mourning for this incredible loss. It was this powerful place to be. That’s the juxtaposition that I try to bring to every presentation, which is why I can end up leaving people going, “How the hell am I crying at 8:00 AM at a tech conference? This never happens.” It’s because I’m always trying to bring those experiences to my presentations.
Would you possibly be willing to do a little something from that album or from your speech show for us?
This album, we have three singles that we released. One is called Good Vibes. That was a documentary style video that was the actual recording of the first song that we did altogether with the orchestra here in LA. The second was called The Music Movement, and it’s a celebration of the power of music, which is also a cool story because when I wrote this piece celebrating the power of music a few years ago, I had a new manager, and I remember telling my manager, “I wrote a piece about the power of music. I have this vision of me performing this piece on the Grammy stage. I want you to see if we can have the first spoken word poet to perform with all these musicians.” That was a few years ago, that vision. As the universe has it, it wasn’t quite the Grammy stage, but it was the Grammy nomination, which was connected to that piece.
Which could lead to you coming back in the future and performing as well.
We shot that video in Berlin, which is where the orchestra is from. The third piece, we shot here in LA and it’s called Love Says, it’s a social justice piece. It was an interesting, powerful story because we shot it with a production team, a studio here in LA, and they were like, “We want to shoot this video. We want to have it to be just about you and the power of your words and this powerful message that you’re giving.” Everyone was behind it. They felt like the world needed to hear it. The week of the video shoot, we were going to shoot it on a Friday, they hit me up and they were like, “We’re over budget. We’re having budget problems. We think we should postpone.” After talking, we said, “This piece is so powerful. It talks about all the issues that we’re dealing with today.” It was inspired by the Eric Garner case and West Side story and the power of love reaching across different boundaries. It culminates in the words I can’t breathe. We were like, “We’ve got to get this out. Let’s go ahead. We’ll figure the money stuff out and we’ll shoot the video.”
We shot it that Friday. Thank God we did. That Monday, the world shut down. We would not have been able to shoot that video. That would not have been as big of a deal, except for a month later, George Floyd gets murdered to the words I can’t breathe, and suddenly, I can’t breathe is echoing and haunting America again. We have this poem that speaks to exactly that topic. It’s blowing our mind that it was like, “What if we had not shot this?” We rushed and we released it and we got it out. We partnered with Color of Change, which is a social activist organization for racial injustice. We got it on Fox News and ABC. We did interviews. It was this powerful statement for the power of love. As it relates to the meeting planning industry, Poetic Voice is seamlessly weaving the poetry throughout presentations. I did a virtual keynote for an organization about diversity and inclusion. In that 35, 40-minute keynote that was done virtually, I wove this poem, Love Says, into it. I’ll give you the standalone piece.
Please. Thank you.
Love says some stupid stuffs sometimes, don’t it? Love says, love will set you free. You’re going to free everybody. Love says, love makes the world go round, and you’re like, “You’re not going to give that to physics. You can go and claim that.” Love says, love conquers all. Can you believe the ego on this emotion? All these attacks, all this malice, so much injustice in the world while love was barely helpful during the breakup with my last girl. Love says hateful stuff like, “If you love something, let it go. If it doesn’t return, it was never yours.” That’s cold. You’re going to do your boy like that? Love says harmful stuff like, “No, you’re not too drunk. Go ahead and text her.” All of this has brought me to the uncanny conclusion that love is a hater. Think about it. Many of the same neurocircuits in our brains that light up from feelings of romantic love also activate from intense hatred. It is a scientific fact that love is a hater. To that, love says you are right. Love says the greatest trick hate ever pulled was convincing the world it exists.” Love says there is no such thing as a hate crime. No, there are only love crimes mangled into hate crimes.
The cop who hates crime suffocates an unarmed man for the love of safety. The Crip who hates Bloods splatters it across the playground for the love of gang. The soldier who hates terrorists slaughters them surgeons for the love of country. The terrorist hates blacks bomb a church for the love of race. The school bully who hates an abusive mother smashes the classmate’s skull against the bathroom mirror to earn the love of that abusive mother and grows up seeking that reflection of love from abusive lovers and perpetuates the spread of this abuse to others until it almost seems that possible for two people to discover love across their otherness and find one another. The thought of it all leaves my hope all but smothered. It makes my blood rage and my pulse race, the voice just as the voice of vengeance begins to leave the voice of love replaced suddenly.
I feel two lips press the electricity into the back of my neck. I turned to see her standing there. I find refuge in the eyes of my love. Eyes that always seemed to speak directly to my heart. I am reminded of the duality of love. I am reminded of a study I read once that found that if two people gaze into each other’s eyes for long enough, their heart rates will start to synchronize. This is why love says it has always been both the cause of every war and the reason for every truce. Love says it is both the screams from the lover’s fight and the screams from their makeup sex.There is going to be a moment in society where something happens and you need to be ready with the piece that people need to hear. Click To Tweet
Love says the trick to humanity’s job is to cut down on the fights but keep up the makeup sex. Love says do not run from the fight, run to the fight to stop it. You must stop this fight because any fight is no good for us unless it is a fight for us, love says, because sometimes the what to fight for can be the why to not fight, and the how to stop fighting like the childless mother. Hard-carrying member of mend who invites the drunk driver that killed her child several years ago over for dinner so that she can look into his eyes and fight off the rage, look into his eyes and rip off her tears, look into his eyes and unclench her heart, and look into his eyes until it’s long enough for her to find forgiveness.
Maybe that is all love is saying, “Come find me. Even when you have everything to lose, come find me in the open palm of your enemy until you discover an unfathomable friend in that sacred ceasefire of space between black and white, between white and Puerto Rican, between patriots and immigrant, Muslim and Montague, patriots and liberals, conservatives and coagulates, Crips and jets, and queers and vets. Maybe what we have to do to prevent, “Fight the power,” and “We shall overcome and seize.” “Hell no, we won’t go,” and “I can’t breathe.” Maybe what we have to do to prevent I can’t breathe is to let love be the first act that takes our breath away. Stare into each other’s eyes long enough to recognize our humanity and allow our heartbeats to sink, to silence the fight in us long enough to fight the silence in us, until we, each of us, can finally hear what love says. Thank you.
Thank you so much. I wish there was an audience here to clap.
I miss audiences. I miss that connection.
The ups and downs, the elation and tribulation, the pain and love, and the laughing and crying that goes through somebody who watches. How long was that, about five minutes?
It’s five and some change. When you hear it with the music, it’s so powerful. I suggest everybody to do a YouTube search for Sekou Andrews’ Love Says. Check it out. That same level of performance, it’s hard for clients to understand how that can be achieved with blood transfusions or cybersecurity. A lot of times, clients are like, “That’ll be our opening performance and then we’ll get the content.” I go, “No. The biggest challenge in my career with Poetic Voice has been trying to break that paradigm and get people to go.” You no longer have to choose. I will deliver that level of performance and content and yet it will be relevant to diversity and inclusion or to innovation, disruption, or to culture. That’s the biggest challenge that I have with people. The ones that do, the ones that get it, it’s so gratifying. There’s always the innovative risk-taker in the company that’s going to their leadership and saying, “This is what we need to be doing.” That person, they’re telling their leadership, “Don’t worry. He’s going to be great.” They turned to me and it’s like, “Please be great.”
All of your stuff is that deep and has the amount of darkness that might’ve had in it.
That’s particular to social justice. The way I would dissect your statement is to say all of my pieces are that deep in the sense that I will find a way to bring those emotions out of you with innovation. I will find a way to bring those emotions. This particular case, this was about social justice, but this effect happens with every topic.
You couldn’t have done a better job on the topic of social justice. If I ever have anybody ask me for somebody who can talk on that topic, or diversity or inclusion, what am I going to think of before that?
What’s funny about the story I told you about us releasing this is that when The String Theory and Optimist Studios came to me and said, “Let’s hold off on releasing this piece because of the pandemic. Everybody’s attention is focused on the pandemic.” I said, “I agree. Let’s do that, but let’s finish the editing because there’s going to be a moment in society where something happens and this piece is going to be what people need to hear, and we need to be ready.” We had no idea it was going to be George Floyd. We thought it was going to be something related to the divisiveness of the elections. People are booking speakers now to talk about the elections. Sometimes we want the person who used to be the campaign adviser. They want somebody that’s overtly political. That’s not me, but if there is a particular thing that people are looking for in terms of how to bring people together, how to have civic engagement, how to make sure that you’re using your voice to impact change, that’s where I live and thrive.
When you have the topic of innovation or you have the topic of leadership, you can weave elements of that into it, but you also go in these incredible other directions that are coming from the clients. You’re interviewing the clients, not the client interviewing you, it’s you are interviewing the client.
I have a lot of clients that tell me that they were not prepared for my creative call. They were used to that fifteen-minute call that they have with a speaker that’s like, “Here’s what I’m going to talk about. Nice to meet you.” I ended up asking all these probing questions that makes them go, “We never thought about that. We need to figure that out.” I’ve had one client that said, “It was your creative call with me that sold me that you were the right person because you made me learn so much about myself in your questions that I knew you were going to learn a lot about us that we hadn’t thought about.”
I’m sure you also have shown a lot of companies and organizations, something about themselves that they didn’t even think about, that they weren’t even focused on, wasn’t even their theme. I bet you’ve even changed the theme of conferences based on what you came up with in that phone call. They said, “We need to bring this to the forefront.
I’ve had situations where people have been like, “We should’ve made t-shirts for Sekou’s tagline because everybody in the whole conference has been walking around saying that for the whole theme.”
What’s an example of that tagline?
I did something for HPE, Hewlett-Packard when they were splitting to have the HP, and then they were having Hewlett Packard Enterprise, which was HPE. I did an opening video that was shown on this huge screen. I did that to open the conference. At the end of the conference, we started with the closing video, but then I surprised them and came out live. I said, “The whole point of this is to go somewhere that we haven’t been. We can’t do the same thing over.” I kicked it open and ran out and everybody was cheering. In between the opening and closing, the first piece was all about how sometimes you can add one thing to something that helps catalyze this process, like an enzyme. You can sprinkle enzymes on your food and it catalyzes the digestion, it catalyzes the fertilizing. I said with HP, “You’re adding that enzyme E and sometimes all you have to do is add E and that catalyzes where you want to go.” The whole rest of the conference, everyone was saying, “Just add E.”
Talking to you makes me so excited about you all over again to remember not to forget. The Sekou effect is strong, alive and real.
It’s virtual also. There are a lot of people that have a lot of preconceived notion. We’re getting a lot of clients that are like, “We don’t want to waste Sekou on virtual because virtual was not going to be engaging. He’s better at the live conference.” We started sending our clients the Twitter feed during virtual conferences where people are like, “This guy must be better virtually than live because this was amazing.” People are going like, “This is the first time I’ve ever done a HIIT workout to a keynote speech. It got me so motivated.” That’s financial services. That’s not entrepreneurs and salespeople. That’s cardiologists and financial services and the stuffiest of the most conservative audiences.
The reason is because I’m always speaking to the human being. I’m always trying to create a human experience out of the business content then I go back, and I talk their talk. I don’t pride myself on inspiration. I’m an inspirational speaker. To me, I better be inspirational. That’s the base level of my litmus test. For me, where I’m popping my color is authenticity. When I speak to cardiologists and afterwards, they come up to me and go, “You’re not a doctor?” That’s where I’m patting myself on the shoulder. I never got up there and said, “I’m Dr. Sekou Andrews.” I spoke in a way that blurred the line between me and them so much that they started to see themselves in me and see me in them. That’s the power of storytelling and the power of Poetic Voice. That’s why I’m always trying to achieve that human experience, 60-minute keynote, 90-minute keynote, training session, speaker training, whatever it is, virtually live, I hold myself to the same standard.
You have touched me pretty strongly. I had to hold back the tears.
I never lower the standard. I always say the goal is I don’t care who you are, you are going to be engaged, touched, and moved and you’re going to be surprised at what you see in yourself that you didn’t know was there.
I’m speechless. You said it all. I don’t know what to say. I was going to ask you what your favorite gig was that you ever had. That one you talked about was fun, HPE, but I know there’s a lot that you have to draw from. I know that you, in 2019, had a good year and you spoke a ton. My question to you is, do you have one that sticks out? Maybe you’re sharing it with us can also give us the insight into what it’s like to have you. I should ask this question to every speaker. It’s the first time I ever asked it.Always speak to the human being and create a human experience out of business content. Click To Tweet
The inaugural answer is here, people. Since you are trying to steal my rhyming job, I’ll let you convert it into rhyme later. There have been so many.
I’m sure there’s one that’s like a huge stage and you pulled it off.
I’m going to give you two because I straddled the entertainment world and the speaking world. That’s the nature of Poetic Voice and I live in both. On the entertainment side, several years ago, I did a voting tour, Norman Lear, TV filmmaker, legendary filmmaker. He purchased an original print of the Declaration of Independence. He wanted it to not be the only one sitting in an archive. He wanted it to tour and inspire people to have civic engagement. I, myself and my partner, Steve Connell, initially, we toured for a year with the Declaration of Independence as our tour partner. We traveled to inspire youth to vote. About four other poets, a beatbox, and a DJ joined us, and we had this whole big show called Declare Yourself and toured that for a year. It registered a million youth to vote. It was an amazing tour. It’s also what helped me to be able to be a voice for things like these elections in a way, because that was a nonpartisan tour. Norman’s charge was, “You’ve got to get people on their feet, but you can’t tell them who to vote for which proposition.” That was part of the challenge. At the beginning of that tour, we started to become great friends with Norman and he’s becoming an amazing mentor and friend since then.
Early in the tour, when it was just Steve and I, Norman invited us to an event. Norman has two twin daughters and their godmother is Maya Angelou. Every five years or so, Oprah Winfrey would throw a birthday party for Maya Angelou. Norman brought us, Steve and I, as the surprise gift of poetry to Dr. Maya Angelou, no pressure. This was in North Carolina, where she lived. What was crazy is that we heard that Maya and her older age had become a little bit impatient. Sometimes there was the girl that performed at one of the previous parties who sang for way too long. At one point, Maya was like, “Can we get her off? Why is it taking so long? She was getting frustrated. We were like, “Make sure you stay in your time.” Norman had a fifteen-minute speech, he did a two-minute speech and then he turned it over and said, “Here’s my surprise gift to you.” We did a thirteen-minute set. That was my poem, Steve’s poem, and then a group poem. I’m three minutes into my poem, and all of a sudden, Maya who is sitting right in front of me, is stomping her cane and looking around. I’m going, “We’re going too long. Maya is going to kick us off. This is horrible.” Another minute later, I hear her going, “Yes.” I realized she’s getting into it.
She’s stomping her cane. She’s screaming, “Yes. Did you hear that?” She is loving it. At the end of this thirteen-minute set, it ends with the last word. It was the piece about poetry club. It says, “I will spit.” We said, “I will.” Maya jumps up and she jumps up without a cane and the guys go and catch her. She runs over to us and she goes, “Spit.” She gives us this huge hug. We look past her, Oprah Winfrey is sitting there clenching the hands of the two guys next to her, tears are streaming down her cheeks and she’s got this amazed look. We were like, “I can die now.” That was one of the most amazing entertainment side nights.
There are so many on the corporate side because I’m constantly surprising audiences and they don’t see me coming. One of my favorites was a presentation I did for a customer service tech company. It’s a presentation that I have called The Customer is Always Wife. It’s a customer service piece that compares the customer life cycle with the life cycle of a personal relationship like a marriage. I always believe in creating a sense of wonderment and disruption at the beginning of a presentation because it grows an audience off.
They don’t know what to do with me anyway so I indulge that. I start off in the audience, which I don’t do all the time, but I started off in the audience for this one. They introduced me, the stage is empty, the music plays. I’m not up there. Finally, I’m walking up on my phone and I’m like, “I know, baby. I’m sorry. I cannot talk about this right now. This is embarrassing to me. I’m walking on the stage right now. Can I please go? I’ve got to go. I’m sorry. I’m hanging up. I’ve got to go.” I hang up and I’m on stage, on mic and I’m going, “I’m sorry. That was so unprofessional. I have a problem with my wife. I’m sorry. Anyway, I’m here to talk about customer service and customer experience. I’m sorry, I don’t want to talk about customer experience. I want to talk about my relationship problems. This is a chance for me to talk to a thousand of my closest friends, but my relationship problems, I might not get invited back. I’m sorry if I get kicked off.” I began to talk to them about what it’s like when you get kicked in the doghouse and you start off in this relationship and you want all this stuff. Next thing you know, I’m talking about the acquisition phase, but I’m talking about it when my wife and I were first dating, and I was acquiring her, and she was acquiring me.
I’m using all of their language. I’m like, “She expected six service and I was more lip service. I gave her multi-generational contact. Omni-directional challenge.” I’m doing all this stuff and they’re listening to their language, but it’s in the context of dating my wife, courting my wife, getting married, then having problems, going to that phase when you have kids and you get distant. It ends with her in the hospital and there’s a breakdown. It’s all fictional. She has one of her parts that stops working and there’s a breakdown. You start thinking about what the next generation is. I talk about my daughter coming in and telling me how my innovation was what taught her what love is and I realized she’s next generation, the literal next generation.
I start talking about next generation customer service and their minds are blown. They’re like, “This was the best thing ever.” The guy that hired me was like, “You made me look like a hero to my leadership because we had the highest-rated presentation ever.” Initially I’m battling with the client going, “You’ve got to give me more time. I know you think spoken word is only worth blank minutes. I’m battling with them. I know this feels risky. I know this feels so different.” I love when, number one, the audience gets the reward of how did that happened, and number two, that person that was going, please be awesome, ends up looking like a hero to their leadership. That’s the win-win for me. I love those times.
I know it happens all the time. You are a fireball of energy, intellect, knowledge, understanding, reflection and love. This has been so great. All I can say to you is thank you so much for sharing all of this with me. I would love to talk to you for hours, hang out all day. We don’t ever hang out. We live in the same city. We’ve got to do that again soon. We have been here once. This has been awesome. I know everybody’s going to get to know you well and understand you as well as anybody can after this conversation. That was the purpose of it. Thank you so much.
I hope you will reach out. Please make sure you join my tribe. Follow me on social media. One of my tribe is SekouAndrews.com. I’m doing a lot of things that are relevant to this season that our industry is in. The one thing I want to leave you with is the importance of remembering that the live events are canceled, the gatherings are canceled, but the inspiration is not canceled. This is what I started off when we first pivoted. I told all of my clients, “I’m working on a book about the power of inspiration.” I always say, “No matter what business you were in, you were in the inspiration business.” For us in the medium industry, that’s true more than ever. The need for people to be inspired is powerful.
We have to start innovating the workarounds for how to keep delivering inspiration. Live events, we’re bringing people together, but for the purpose of creating togetherness, we can still create that togetherness. We can still inspire the productivity, the morale, the resilience and all those cultural elements that are needed for a company. That’s on us. I challenge and charge all of you with that, the same way I’m charging all of us to remember, inspiration is not canceled. We’re happy to help in any ways that I can with that.
You make me feel good about the business that we’re in because we are here to help people with that and remind them of that right now. “We canceled everything until next year.” Why? Don’t cancel everything until 2021 because in 2020, we need it, and early 2021, we need it to set off the year on a good foot. Thank you for all of this. You enlightened and reminded me about a lot of things. It’s always so much fun hearing you, watching you and now hanging out and talking with you. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Sekou. You are the man.
Thank you, Chris. Thanks for having me.
About Sekou Andrews
Sekou Andrews is inspiring the business world one poem at a time with The Sekou Effect. As an award-winning and internationally acclaimed Poetic Voice, Sekou creates personalized poetic presentations that give voice to the messages and missions of businesses and help them tell their most powerful stories. He is creator and leader of this cutting-edge category of speaking that combines strategic storytelling, inspirational speaking, spoken word poetry, and the power of theater and comedy to make events into experiences, and transform audiences of informed receivers into enrolled responders. Sekou does more than inspire us with his story; he inspires us with our story.
An elementary schoolteacher turned actor, musician, national poetry slam champion, entrepreneur, and now the world’s leading Poetic Voice, any given day may now find Sekou presenting an original talk for international marketing executives, giving a keynote speech at a leadership conference, or performing pieces for Barack Obama in Oprah’s backyard and Hillary Clinton in Quincy Jones’ living room. His work has been featured on such diverse national media outlets as ABC World News, MSNBC, HBO, Good Morning America, Showtime, MTV and BET, and he has performed privately for such prominent individuals as Maya Angelou, Larry King, Norman Lear, Sean “P-Diddy” Combs, and Coretta Scott King and family.
Companies and organizations that have experienced “The Sekou Effect” include Kraft, Nike, Time Warner, Global Green, Banana Republic, eBay, Microsoft, Google, LinkedIn, Express, Paypal, General Mills, TEDx, Wieden+Kennedy, NBA, NCAA, Chopra Center, Experient, Singularity University and the Million Dollar Round Table to name but a few. Sekou has also emerged as an engaging voice for healthcare, routinely evoking tears, cheers, and standing ovations at various cutting edge conferences/clients, including Johnson & Johnson, Mayo Clinic, Kaiser Permanente, TEDMED, Roche, IHI Forum, Health Media, SCHA Patient Safety Symposium, Sharp Healthcare, Big Task Weekend, Medco, and Health 2.0.
Beyond the business world, Sekou has inspired audiences from the HBO US Comedy Arts Festival to The Pasadena Pops Orchestra. He is also a successful voiceover artist and actor with several national commercials and 2 feature films on his resume; not to mention his two-man spoken word play “The Word Begins”, with creative partner Steve Connell, which received critical acclaim and garnered 3 Helen Hayes award nominations during its premiere run in Washington DC. As a recording artist and producer, Sekou’s latest album, “Poetic License,” has made him the most awarded artist in the nation’s largest independent music organization.
With all of the innovation and inspiration that is the Poetic Voice, Sekou Andrews gives voice to your most powerful story, shows you the best version of yourself, and helps you live into it.
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