Inspirational, impactful, and innovative. These are just some of the words that have been used to describe Sekou Andrews and his uniquely creative speaking style known as Poetic Voice. Andrews, who Forbes Magazine dubbed “the de facto poet laureate of corporate America,” will bring his cutting-edge Poetic Voice to the APA and GPMI’s 40th Annual Payroll Congress, which is being held May 10-13 at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas.
Andrews is making his first appearance at Payroll Congress and will be the first of three keynote speakers. He plans to speak during the Opening General Session on “The Audacity of What If?,” which challenges the audience to ask themselves those “what if” questions that pertain to their business, profession, and who they are or want to ultimately become.
“All of my presentations always incorporate elements of mindset, inspiration, social impact, and humanizing yourself, your business, and your content,” he said. “For me, it’s never the same type of presentation. I am always looking to get to the heart of their industry and their topic.”
Entertainment has always been a big part of who Andrews is. From an early age, he found that he loved performing plays and singing. He began acting in middle school plays and soon found his niche performing hip-hop. This carried Andrews through his high school and college years.
Andrews found himself performing at open-mic hip-hop venues and even tried to promote his work to music promoters hoping to score a recording contract. But his style wasn’t what the record labels wanted. It was something entirely different.
“My writing was always very poetic,” he said. “Even my hip-hop and songwriting was very poetic. It just wasn’t the formula hip-hop was looking for at the time.”
Andrews, who was working as an elementary school teacher, launched his own record label and continued performing at clubs to build his brand. It was at these events that he found himself falling in love with spoken-word poetry.
“This was a real pivot point,” he said. “Artistically, I found myself drawn to this art form. Entrepreneurially, I didn’t know what to do with it. Spoken-word poetry doesn’t have an industry, and I didn’t have any models on how to be a successful poet full time. It was a wild test for me, but it was also where I found my purpose.”
In June 2002, Andrews left his job as a teacher and devoted himself to becoming a full-time poet and entrepreneur. This was also when he began creating Poetic Voice, which blends spoken-word poetry with inspirational speaking.
Within a few short years, Andrews was working with dozens of businesses and corporations, such as Google, Viacom, LinkedIn, Nike, PayPal, and Global Green. He had found a way to use Poetic Voice to provide inspiration to leaders and professionals in nearly every business category.
The most common topics—prior to the COVID-19 pandemic—were innovation and disruption, which ironically were byproducts that occurred because of the pandemic. Since then, his most requested topics have centered on resilience and growth, as well as leadership, wellness, community, and more.
Andrews said his message to members at the Payroll Congress will be an inspirational mixture of speaking and performance that’s sort of like “where ‘Hamilton’ meets TED Talk” and includes poetry, comedy, and inspiration.
“I love the conversion factor of what I do … those folks who at first are leaned back in their chairs, arms crossed. Then, one by one, you see them leaning forward, their eyes and mouths getting wider, and the energy lifts,” Andrews said. “The whole aura of the room lifts as if they are experiencing something that is unexpected,” he said. “That is always exciting to me, and it will be no less so at the Payroll Congress.”
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Bryan Kirk is the Senior Writer and Editor of Membership Publications for the APA.