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Denny

Interview with Stephen Denny

Learn more about Stephen Denny as a speaker and his unique experiences in this interview conducted by A-Speakers. Read on below.

1. What is the message you hope people will take away from your presentations?

What is the message that people take away from my presentations? That doing the impossible is possible after all.

Killing Giants was written for every business person who has to get up every morning and fight a giant. It seems to be an impossible task – but some people have discovered how to not only survive but thrive in these dangerous situations and come out on top. I had the chance to interview more than 80 of these “giant killers” – from Silicon Valley to the townships of South Africa and everywhere in between – as well as others from non-traditional backgrounds, from professional gamblers and Hollywood screenwriters to police hostage negotiators and professional athletes. Their stories are remarkable – they give us a wide variety of approaches to consider when doing battle against the giants we face in business and in life.

The lesson here is that brains and speed are often more important than big budgets. It’s a story many people see themselves in on a daily basis. It resonates with a wide variety of audiences. And it’s fun to tell.

2. What is the most unique experience you have had as a result of your job?

I’ve had CEO’s of major companies come up to me after keynote speeches quoting chapters of Killing Giants back to me as the rationale for making big financial decisions for their companies. I’ve had questions from the audience from musicians musing on how various themes in Killing Giants apply to jazz. I’ve even had high school football coaches write me telling how they use lessons in Killing Giants to motivate their teams!

I’m always amazed at how this archetypal story capturing the David-versus-Goliath struggle resonates with such a wide variety of people the world over.

3. Who or what inspires you the most?

The people I’ve met through the entire Killing Giants process, from my interviewees to the audiences I’ve spoken to, inspire me. Speaking to people who have done the impossible – and who still seem like ordinary people when you sit down to talk to them – make you feel like anything is possible and that big ideas aren’t beyond the reach of us mortals after all.

Listening to the after-keynote conversations with people who are still in the struggle every day and who are committed to completing their own personal “Hero’s Journey” themselves is inspiring.

We all want to know we’re not alone in this difficult task. We want to know that we’re doing it right, too. And when we can come together to share better ways of getting where we want to go – positively, generatively – this is very empowering and inspiring.

4. How important is cultural literacy for employees in international firms?

When you work for a truly international firm employing people from a wide variety of cultures, it’s difficult to expect everyone to be completely “culturally literate” across so many boundaries. The best lesson I can share is what I call, “staying low on the ladder of inference.”

So often, we’re fully focused on being understood – we’re focused on “re-loading our next declarative statement” – that we fail to pay attention to what is being communicated to us, verbally and non-verbally. Seeking to understand before demanding to be understood is a big step forward. We need to stop assuming that we know what the other person is trying to say and just observe them. We need to drop our defenses and just listen.

When you stay low, putting your ego and your own personal cultural toolset away for the moment, you’re more likely to connect with people of different backgrounds. This is how I’ve found that truly international and multicultural teams work best together.

5. How do you prepare yourself before giving a keynote speech?

Every keynote begins with interviews. I speak to the principal members of the team to fully understand the key challenges they face in the marketplace, the themes they’ve chosen for their meeting and the big cultural hot buttons I should be aware of. This necessary backdrop informs everything that comes next.

The case studies and vignettes are carefully chosen – sometimes requiring new interviews and research be completed – so that the stories deliver the message needed to resonate with the audience. Together, with the client, we shape the keynote.

Last, I rehearse. I’ve given this talk hundreds of times now, but I still go through the entire keynote at least six times, full length, out loud – usually 2 to 3 times the day of the talk, up in my hotel room! This way, I’m ready. I’ve done my homework, I know what I’m saying and how I’m saying it, and everyone has a great time – and importantly, they all leave the room with something very tangible they can put to work right then, immediately.

I take preparation very seriously because I take my clients very seriously. Their challenges are mission critical to them and the trust they put in me to help them solve these problems – even over the course of a one hour keynote – is too important to be left to chance. It all comes down to how well you prepare! The rest is easy.

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