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Harris

Interview with Devon Harris

In this interview with A-Speakers, Devon Harris, former member of the Olympic bobsled team, answers our questions about preparation time, humor and teamwork. Read more below.

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

Neither their past nor current circumstances should dictate their future. If they keep on pushing with a clear vision they can always take their game to the next level and achieve the success they imagined.

 

Do you have a favorite experience from your speaking career?

The thing I enjoy most about my speaking career is feeling on purpose—feeling like this is what I was meant to do.  When someone in the audience comes up and tells me how much my remarks mean to them personally…..comments like, “ I feel like you were talking to me” or “ That’s just what I needed. Thank you” ; it absolutely makes my day.

 

How do you prepare for speaking engagements?

I really zero in on the theme of the meeting to fully understand the goals the client has set for the meeting and how best I can I can draw on my experiences-the anecdotes , the lessons, and the analogies;  to help the client achieve those goals. The pre-program questionnaire that I ask the client to fill out or a conference call with them is invaluable in helping me understand the audience, company culture, the challenges  they are facing in their company and the industry  at large and of course, the client’s expectations of me. I also spend time browsing through their website. All of this helps me to put together a presentation that is customized and relevant to my audience.

 

Can you give 3 tips for effective teamwork?

1. The team needs to have a clear vision. Everyone on the team needs to understand what the expected outcomes are. They also need to buy into the vision as this raises their level of commitment, gets them excited about the opportunity and motivated to work through the difficulties.

2. There must be good communication. This includes;

– Articulating the vision clearly—not just intellectually but emotionally and with passion.

– When people are excited about where they are going, they eliminate the obstacles that stand between them and their goals.

– Ensuring that information is passed on in an accurate and timely manner.

– Team members are listened to.

– They are treated courteously and not just as instruments of production.

3. Effective leadership. Every successful team has a good leader- a person who:

– Empathizes with those he/she leads

– Understands and appreciate the potential of the individuals on the team and does everything he/she can to develop it.

– Constantly work on improving their capacity to lead

 

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

I don’t go out my way to “crack jokes” but I think humor is very important and I always use it in my presentations.  Some of my humor is self-deprecating but I have no problem with laughing at myself. More importantly, humor helps to break down the barriers between me and the audience, allows them to relax and allows me to simply have a conversation with them as opposed to feeling like I am talking at them . Humor also helps me to bring attention to the points I am making. My best gauge that it is effective is when an audience member repeats one of my jokes to me afterwards.

 

Who inspires you the most?

I am inspired most by human stories of triumph over adversity.  So whether it is the story of a famous person I am watching on the television or the anonymous person  I am sitting next to on a plane; I really get pumped up when I hear how they were able to endure through tremendous difficulties and were still able to succeed. Those stories always remind me that I can overcome my challenges as well, no matter what they may be.

 

How are your keynote presentations unique?

I am able to take my audiences on a journey from Olympic Gardens-a tough ghetto environment in Kingston, Jamaica, to the prestige of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in England to the excitement of competing in three Olympic Winter Games. It’s a wild ride with as many twists and turns as you would find on a bobsled track but one which demonstrates to the audience that they too can make the journey from their Olympic Gardens to their Olympic Games.

 

How do you relate your experience in sports to the business world?

The principles are the same.  You begin by being clear about what you are working to achieve. In sports we devise a training program which we follow diligently. In business we also need to create and follow a plan of action.

In sports I am able to constantly evaluate my progress based on my times in training, how much weight I can lift in a particular exercise or my performance in a competition. The results dictate the corrective actions I need to take. In business , I am always involved in this process of self-evaluation as well as this helps me to identify which actions I need to take in order to reach my goals. This includes finding ways to persist through the challenging times and even recreating some of those intense passions and emotions I would feel when I was preparing for and actually taking part in a competition.

 

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