One thing I’ve been doing recently following presentations is a #shareyourstory challenge. After my presentation, I’ll create a hashtag for the group and ask everyone to share some aspect of their personal story online, usually on LinkedIn. Here’s the catch: I ask everyone in the group to visit the hashtag to ‘show love’ online to everyone’s story but their own. Show love means hitting the like button, commenting, and giving praise to everyone else. If everyone partakes, It’s a win-win strategy.
I had the pleasure of interviewing best-selling author and TEDx speaker Isaac Serwanga. Isaac is the founder of Inform & Inspire, a Sacramento-based organization that delivers motivational workshops and keynote presentations for high school, college, and corporate audiences across the country.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
Sure thing. Back in 2013, I graduated unemployed from Princeton University and soon realized I wasn’t the only one. Around the same time, a former teammate of mine gifted me the book Never Eat Alone and I had the time & motivation to read the entire thing (something we didn’t usually do in college). I followed the networking strategies Keith Ferrazzi had outlined in the book and they worked. I landed more jobs opportunities than I needed. The amazing results from the process inspired me to follow my gut and create my own networking strategies to share with college students. This led me to public speaking along with the writing of my first book How to Network in College. Following my gut has always worked out well for me in the long run.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
Early on, I was asked to give a presentation at a local high school in Sacramento and had the opportunity to present alongside my older brother. It fit perfectly because he had attended the school as a child and has gone on to become a successful working man, husband and father. The part the students loved of course is that he played in the NFL for some time. The questions were hilarious.
“Who’s faster? Did you play with Jerry Rice? How far can you throw me??”
The moment was memorable for me because here I was doing the motivational work I loved while also sharing the moment with family. The word that comes to mind is alignment — when you enjoy what you’re doing and enjoy who you’re doing it with all at the same time, you’re bound to create unforgettable moments.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
So many good stories to choose from. One event that comes to mind was my first live radio interview with iHeart radio. As you could expect, I was nervous but excited. I had decided to memorize and recite a motivational poem and wow the audience. All was going well until I forgot the entire second half of the poem midway through. The most amazing part of it all was that I knew this poem forwards and backwards. The idea of not seeing a live audience but instead talking into a microphone was new to me, and was just enough to knock me off my game that day.
Luckily, the interviewer was keen to the situation and saved me from drowning on air. We made a laughing moment of it all and pivoted to a great conversation about risk and failure. I’ll never forget the moment because I learned 1) I wasn’t as seasoned as I thought I was and 2) if you stay fluid and present in the moment, your mistakes can often turn into your highlights.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Currently, I am 6 episodes into the Inform & Inspire Podcast which I’m really excited about. The greatest part about the podcast platform is that it gives you the time and the bandwidth to dive deep into people’s stories with less structure than usual. The podcast platform allows me to ask more questions and do more listening, which I really enjoy. So far, I’ve interviewed my old college football coach, a Shark Tank-featured entrepreneur, a Netflix comedian — but my favorite episode by far was a Mother’s Day special with my mama. Each episode is unique, but the show holds to the ideal of Informing and Inspiring the listener with personal stories to learn from and life lessons that apply to us all.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
One of the fundamental pieces of networking is creating and protecting your personal brand. One story that I often recount is the story of Laremy Tunsil, offensive tackle from Ole Miss. Laremy was projected as a top-10 draft pick in the 2016 NFL draft. He was ready to get paid big time.
In heartbreaking fashion, on Draft day — just 13 minutes before the draft — a video surfaced on Laremy’s twitter account of a man wearing a gas mask smoking a bong. The video was deleted immediately, but immediately was too late. The video was shared among NFL team officials and resulted in Laremy dropping out of the golden top-10 draftee club. It was reported that the drop in draft position cost Tunsil approximately $13 million in guaranteed money.
Laremy’s story reminds us all that 1) we’re 100% responsible for our personal brand and 2) there is no such thing as ‘delete’ on the internet.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
There’s a quote that says, “our lives change in two ways: through the people we meet and the books we read.” I agree, wholeheartedly. When networking, remember these 3 bones: wishbone, jawbone, and backbone.
1) Wishbone: Know what you want! Grow more comfortable in telling others what it is you’re after. A closed mouth doesn’t get fed.
2) Jawbone: Learn how to ask with competency and humility. Make sure you do your homework on a situation and be likeable (easier said than done — that’s what the book is for!).
3) Backbone: Persist! Persist! Persist! Step outside your social comfort zone and fail more often. Keep swinging.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
There’s another powerful quote that says, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” The words belong to Howard Thurman, a man who influenced both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi. Thurman work inspires me — he speaks from the spirit, the gut, which is what I’d like for someone to say of me in far, far future. It can’t be wrong when it’s from the gut.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
As a motivational speaker, I look for inspiring material literally all the time. Biographies recently have been my go-to. Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog was an incredible story of persistence and building something from the ground up. The book Mastery by Robert Greene compiled stories of famous individuals from history who “mastered” their craft. On the other end, a thoughtful social media post from a friend can be great inspiration. People’s thoughts and stories in real time can easily be the most inspiring stuff I read all day.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
I believe books that make an impact are often written not for the world but for a very specific individual dealing with a very specific situation. I wrote How to Network in College specifically for the confused, undecided young millennial who’s trying to figure life out and ask the right questions. I knew what I wanted to say because I was writing for my younger self. My intent with the book was to influence young people to catch on to the power of networking early on, and use the unlimited resources around them to set inspiring goals and go after them.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
Find a handful of successful authors you admire and read each of their books. Reach out to them and express your gratitude for their work. Ask for the opportunity to give them praise over phone and ask a question or two as you begin your journey as an author. Most will say no, but one will say yes. That’s networking.
Nothing can replace the motivation and inspiration you get from speaking directly to someone who has done the thing you want to do.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I love this question. One thing I’ve been doing recently following presentations is a #shareyourstory challenge. After my presentation, I’ll create a hashtag for the group and ask everyone to share some aspect of their personal story online, usually on LinkedIn. Here’s the catch: I ask everyone in the group to visit the hashtag to ‘show love’ online to everyone’s story but their own. Show love means hitting the like button, commenting, and giving praise to everyone else. If everyone partakes, It’s a win-win strategy.
The origin of the idea came from Gary Vaynerchuk’s “$1.80 strategy,” where he asks people to leave their “2 cents” 90 times per day in order to organically build an online community. I’ve done it. It works!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1- I wish someone told me that entrepreneurship means “fail far more often than you win, but the wins are well worth the wait.”
For the first Inform & Inspire presentation, I naively expected everyone who said they would attend to attend. Of the 100 people I expected, 12 showed up. Of the 12, 8 of these people were friends and relatives. Even still, I gave those 12 attendees everything I had and more because we are our reputation. It was a harsh reality blow but a great learning lesson.
Funny enough, I delivered the same presentation for an audience that was 30x larger a little over a year later. I strongly believe the first time around prepared me for the second. Fail your way to your destination.
2- I wish someone told me that human relationships are the foundation to literally everything business-related.
“I’m reaching out because I spoke to our mutual friend _____ who spoke very highly of you and your work.”
Being referred as a speaker or consultant is the best thing that can possibly happen for your business. Speaking well on behalf of yourself is great, but when others speak well about you, it’s 10x as powerful. Starting out in any industry, you will be heavily reliant on the quality of your relationships. In order for people to take a chance on you, it’s important that the relationships you have are in good standing. What people say about you when you’re not in the room is far more important that what they say when you’re present.
3- I wish someone told me that 5 years is really not that long of a time period.
I wrote my first book in December 2016. I delivered my first TEDx talk in November 2017. I secured my biggest contract as a speaker almost a year later in October of 2018. Initially, I thought these 3 things would all happen in the same year! Lol
Building anything worth anything takes time. Patience and consistency is a part of the game. There are no microwave results in business!
4- I wish someone told me that a college education cannot replace self-education.
I wasn’t an avid reader in college, but I’ve learned over time that self-education is an essential part of personal and professional growth. Something that no one will tell recent college grads is that if you don’t put an education plan together for yourself post-college, no one will do it for you. College makes us pick classes; real life doesn’t. So here’s my advice: adopt a plan that forces you to read great material more consistently and attend informative events that helps you meet new people and grow. Over time, this plan will be a game changer.
5- I wish someone told me that the purpose of your first book is to gain awareness for the launch of your second book.
Very seldom do authors write just one book! I personally thought I was done after one, but I’m now working on an inspirational book that provides practical strategies for ambitious millennials who want to balance chasing success and self-care.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them :-)
Gary Vaynerchuk. I’ve watched Gary’s DailyVee YouTube show almost daily for the last year. Much of Inform & Inspire’s success thus far is due to absorbing and applying his content. I’d use the quality time just to say thank you!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
LinkedIn: Isaac Serwanga
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!