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Interview with Brad Szollose

Brad Szollose answers questions concerning leadership, entrepreneurship and his experiences as a professional speaker. Read more below.

What is the message you hope people takeaway from your presentations?

The biggest takeaway from my presentations can be summed up from a story I love telling onstage “Are You In The Middle of a Revolution, and Don’t Know It?” because it drives a simple point home—you just might not see what is actually happening right in front of you unless someone teaches you what to look for. Especially nowadays when we have a very different customer and workforce.

And that is what I show every audience: how to spot the revolution going on in your own company by understanding the differences between digital natives and digital immigrants; yet meet the needs of both. I show you how to create a profit-driven, people-centered, growth-smart company that is 21st Century compliant!

 

Do you have a favorite experience from your speaking career?

Back in 2007, I was the Master of Ceremonies for an international conference. At the very last minute, the event planner wanted to squeeze in an additional speaker who focused on miracles and positive thinking. This wasn’t going to be easy as there were over 6000 people in the audience at the Minneapolis Convention Center with a 2 hour lineup of speakers, panel discussions and musicians who now had to change their times in order to accommodate this change. And on top of that, we had a 10-minute segment from CNN that would accompany this new speaker’s story and we weren’t sure if CNN would allow us to use it. So we were awaiting permission during the show and this was all being translated in real-time into 6 languages! Anyone who knows how we work knows you have to be strict with time, but flexible and accommodating.

Now I know this speaker personally so we were able to spend 10 minutes backstage to figure out how to make her moment memorable. When we went live we had a quick Q&A onstage where she talked about her new book and then I dramatically removed my glasses and stated “Debbie’s amazing rescue made CNN…” to introduce her life-saving experience segment which had made CNN (approved for usage 5 minutes before we went onstage). “So, let’s roll the tape….I always wanted to do that.” It got a big laugh and went so smoothly people thought we rehearsed it for days. I breathed such a sigh of relief backstage. Talk about waiting ‘til the last minute.

 

How do you prepare for speaking engagements?

For me there is a lot of research, which the nerd in me enjoys immensely. I start with a questionnaire that addresses the 5 most disruptive problems affecting their enterprise. I take a look at my client’s market sector, the technological impact, the generational issues, the leaders, the influencers and what they are doing right as well as what they are doing wrong. On top of all that, interviewing the executive committee in tandem reveals quite a bit about the company as well. Being a former C-Suite executive myself I get it.

The final stage, and the hardest, is integrating these best practices into the company in such a way that is organic to the culture. After all, it is the culture that implements strategy. Getting an action plan from me is important so they can integrate them as habits that are acted upon consistently once I get off stage.

The work I do is collaborative and filled with discovery…Innovative and counterintuitive…and electrifying.

 

What is your best advice to young entrepreneurs?

I have owned over 8 companies in my life so I fall into the category of serial entrepreneur (Brad chuckles for a moment). Many of us became entrepreneurs simply because we have a strong need for independence. We are passionate. Excited about what we do, and involved in every aspect of our company. We can be stubborn because we have a vision in our minds that most cannot see until we manifest it. And these very traits can also be our downfall.

Let me explain: there is always a moment in an entrepreneurs life when they can take their company to the next level, but unless they start creating systems and methods that operate without them, they will be working harder than ever while getting nowhere fast. The transition from entrepreneurial start-up to viable business is a hard lesson in letting go of what made you the driving force behind everything…and then duplicating that into a system, not a person. That doesn’t mean you stop operating like a start-up—with all its innovation and chaos, it just means that now you step back and manage the model and the direction you want the company to go in instead of reacting to every single problem.

 

How much does humor factor into your keynotes and other speaking engagements?

Brad: Humor is VERY important. I deliver a high-content presentation—what that means is I have a lot of information that needs to be presented in such a way that is exciting, memorable and sticks in the minds of the attendees. I get deep, sad, joyous and intense…so humor softens the blow.

I just talk about my life…and my life is hysterical sometimes. As a teenager I broke my ankle during band camp! Who does that? I started my first business at 16 not because I was savvy but because my father made it so painful to ask for money it was easier to start a business. I attended college for advertising and design, then wind up taking a company public during the dot com era in New York City. I went to NYU for some leadership classes on management. After I resigned from the Board of Directors, I signed up for comedy classes in Manhattan. From Wall Street to stand up comedy?! LOL.  But it taught me the art of performance, to write and not be boring onstage.

Since I have a diverse background, it makes for some funny stories which I accentuate with character voices…like my stories of growing up with my father…they are Baby Boomer relatable…and when I do his voice it hits home just how serious he was all the time. Also I have some pretty dead on impersonations of Christopher Walken, Bill Clinton and Christopher Lloyd. It just makes what I do that much more fun. Imitating Christopher Walken as your CEO gets a laugh.

 

Can you give a short description of liquid leadership?

Liquid Leadership is a fluid style of leadership that unleashes the innovative power and performance of the average person within your organization—from the lowest levels to the highest, while maintaining structure and a vision that engages everyone in the organization.

Let me explain: all business sectors are going through explosive change right now, yet how many business owners, managers, human resource departments and executives (even in the C-Suite), are still using 20th Century management ideas to engage 21st Century workers and customers? There’s a huge disconnect.

So if workers are changing and customers are changing and technology is driving markets, why is management not changing their methods? Many of your competitors are adopting my Liquid Leadership model, and when the dust settles, they are positioned to be the new leaders in your marketplace. It is our jobs as leaders in this brave new world to unlock the core intelligence of your workforce…and customers

 

How are your keynote presentations unique?

Well besides humorous stories, I use toys from the 60 and 70s in order to transport Baby Boomers back to their childhood and the promise of the Space Age and a new technology driven ideology. Then, I reveal the toys moving forward from the 80s, and they immediately are impacted by the difference—most contain an interactive element, technology and complexity. Video Games have played such a part in this disruption that once I get through with your audience they’ll understand why we have 26 yr old billionaire CEOs and 40 yr olds on skateboards. This is only part of what created a new generation that is impacting everything from commerce to employment to academia. There is a new game in town and that game is being driven by anyone under 37.

But let’s not get mired in Baby Boomers versus Generation Y. This is a cultural divide. Get your culture on the same page, working together and you can implement any strategy. I give solutions that are innovative, counterintuitive and work. And remember, I am one of the few business experts out there who has actually owned a business. So you are not getting theories, but real world advice.

 

How would you define a successful entrepreneur?

Brad: A successful entrepreneur to me is someone who may not have all the answers but knows how to surround themselves with people who do. They are willing to learn, willing to understand and have an ability to see things others cannot.

In other words, a successful entrepreneur knows intuitively how to spot talent and opportunities at the same time…and adapt accordingly.

 

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