Editor’s note: Sekou Andrews, a prominent poetic voice performer who blends inspirational speaking and spoken word poetry, will be the closing keynote speaker at ISACA’s 2019 North America CACS conference, to take place 13-15 May in Anaheim, California, USA. Andrews recently visited with ISACA Now, discussing why technology practitioners should also consider themselves to be storytellers and how changes on the technology landscape will lead to “a rediscovery of what it means to be human.” For more of Andrews’ insights on these and other topics, listen to his recent appearance on the ISACA Podcast.
ISACA Now: You’ve performed for a range of luminaries – Barack Obama, Quincy Jones, Maya Angelou, to name a few. What has been your favorite performance of all time, and why?
There are so many favorites for different reasons. There are my favorites because of the amazing audience energy. Favorites because of the impact I made on people. Favorites because of the sheer magnitude of the event. And favorites because of how proud I was of the work I delivered. But if we’re talking events with luminaries, then it would have to be performing for Dr. Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey. Norman Lear brought my creative partner, Steve Connell, and I to the event as his gift of poetry to Maya Angelou (no pressure.) Three minutes into my performance, Maya was shouting “Yes!” and stomping her cane in excitement. Directly behind her was Oprah, squeezing the hands of the gentlemen to her left and right, and leaning forward with tears streaming down her cheeks. At the end, Maya jumped up (without her cane) shouting our last line of the poem with us and rushed over to hug us. Oprah came over, held my face in her hands, and whispered through tears, “Thank you.” And I thought, “OK, if there is ever an ‘I can die now’ moment … this is it.”
ISACA Now: When did you first realize you had a gift when it comes to spoken word poetry?
I can’t say there was one single moment when I first realized I had a gift with spoken word, but there is definitely a notable moment, early in my career, that stands out. It was the night three days after quitting my job as a school teacher, when I did my first CD release show as a full-time poet. I stepped out onto the street after my set, surrounded by fans, and I made my rent in CD sales that night. And, standing alone in the street later that night, I thought to myself, “Wow. I can do this.” A few weeks later, I won the National Poetry Slam championship, becoming the number one slam poet in the nation, and my career has not stopped growing since.
ISACA Now: Technical practitioners sometimes struggle to translate their knowledge into effective communication with business leaders. For those with that challenge, what is the best starting point to become more comfortable sharing their expertise?
Tell stories! Tell stories! Tell stories. When you think of yourself as a technical practitioner, you assign your greatest value to the data and information you deliver, which often doesn’t move or engage listeners. But when you step out of that version of yourself, and allow yourself to do the thing you’ve been doing naturally and effortlessly since you were a child – telling stories – you engage people on a human level and you get people invested in what you have to say to them, which is the exact state you want them in when you circle back to the technical information and data. At that point, they are wide open, connected to you, and welcoming of what you have to say. So, stop telling yourself you are not a storyteller. You’re lying to yourself. Instead, start working on giving yourself permission to tell strategic stories in business settings. You’ll be amazed at how effective it is toward meeting your business goals.
ISACA Now: What are the most intriguing aspects of working with some of the big brands for which you have shared your insights?
I think the most intriguing aspect of working with big brands is discovering how similar their struggles, hopes, challenges and needs are to everyone else’s. Not only are they all grappling with the same challenges as each other, but they're grappling with the same challenges as we tiny brands. I realized a few years ago that I was going out and inspiring the world’s leading brands, but I wasn’t doing the same for my own company. So, I made the commitment to apply the inspiration to my team as well. When I did, I realized I didn’t have to change the messages much at all. I could take the same speeches and presentations, tweak them slightly and share that content with my team, and not only did it apply to us, but it inspired my little team as much as it did the audiences of 10,000 and 15,000 at the Microsofts, Intuits and Toyotas of the world. At the end of the day, when you make it a point to never speak to people like they’re business cards, then you are always talking to real people. Whether it's in marketing, sales or HR, whether it's B2B or B2C, they're customers or partners. Real people are the same beneath departments, and functions, and brand, race, gender, religion, etc. So, that’s how I approach every listener, no matter how big or small the brand. Human first.
ISACA Now: ISACA’s 50th anniversary will be celebrated at North America CACS – which aspects of technology in the next 50 years do you think will be most exciting for society?
Well, I have to say that AI is pretty high on my list. Assuming we don’t launch Skynet, society is going to be impacted by AI in some radical and exciting ways. But, I’m also excited to see how exponential technologies like AI, machine learning and robotics force us to unearth the things about us that are most human. As technology continues to disrupt industries and replace jobs, I think we’re going to go through a rediscovery of what it means to be human and how to make our humanity our greatest asset. I think this will redefine certain industries like customer service and sales, shifting the value of people power from things like speed and efficiency to things like connection and relationship. So, how the dance between high tech and high touch will play out is very exciting to me.