Welcome to the first installment of Climb Journal’s interview series. We all have a story to tell. Here, I talk to leaders, executives, and business professionals about their story and journey to becoming great communicators.
- Can you recall the first time you needed to speak publicly in front of multiple people? How did that experience make you feel – and has it impacted how you feel about speaking today?
I can never forget my first public speaking experience. I was twelve years old. My uncle ran a juvenile detention center for adolescent girls and he asked me to speak to them. A major stress factor for me was that he gave me just a few minutes notice. I remember opening my mouth and having an out of body experience. My voice came out in a squeaky, shrilled pitch. The only thing I remembered telling the young girls listening to me was my name. In order to be as composed as possible in front of audiences, I prepare, rehearse and refine my presentations over a period of at least a few weeks.
- When it comes to the 10 Commandments of Public Speaking, which areas are most challenging for you? Why? Which areas do you feel come easier? Why? As a reminder, the commandments are attached separately.
The most challenging for me is commandment #8 –incorporate the power of the pause. As a speaker, I can be so focused on the content of the message and delivering the next point that I forget to pause. In my opinion, it is the most basic and simplest commandment, yet the most powerful one. Pausing allows your audience the time to digest a key point while giving you, the speaker, a moment to catch your breath and collect your thoughts.
Mozart stated it best when he declared that the most powerful effect of the symphony was not the music but a skillfully placed rest, which he called a “grand pause.”
The areas that come easier for me are the rule of three and use of visuals. In our age of information overflow, distilling the message into three key points makes it easier for the audience to digest and remember the presentation. In addition, we hear words but think in images. Therefore, using appropriate pictures and slides can be a very impactful way of delivering the message.
- How important is public speaking in your particular industry? How often do your peers, or those in leadership positions speak to a group of multiple people in your field? Do the opportunities increase as someone rises through management/leadership positions?
Public speaking is essential for leaders in the financial services industry. My peers and I speak in groups of multiple people on a daily basis. This is the normal form of communicating to our peers, employees and clients. The opportunity to speak publicly rises exponentially as one climbs the corporate ladder. Therefore, the ability to stand and deliver a message to an audience in a profound and impactful manner is a key competitive advantage for leaders.
- How often are you asked to speak publicly now? Do you welcome or dread the opportunity?
Public speaking is one of the most effective mediums for communicating your message and advertising your brand. I speak publicly about two to five times a week. When I began my career, I underestimated the amount of work and commitment needed to improve my public speaking skills. It did not come naturally. Having the content and the essence of my message rarely translated into effectively communicating that message to the audience. I believe that it is important to focus on the audience and the message. Look directly at them, speak from the heart and deliver with the level of conviction that connects with them. It is amazing to me that the audience wants the speaker to do well and they welcome a delivery that they can feel excited about. In essence, public speaking is an opportunity to expand your connection with an audience that is receptive to your message.
- You and I share a passion for climbing mountains. How do you relate the mountaineering experience to your career growth?
There are many parallels between our business environment and mountaineering. It is a fast-paced, uncontrollable environment that requires extensive planning, teamwork, collaboration and adaptability to ever changing conditions. Mountain climbing requires tremendous courage and an ability to take and manage risks. After achieving the level of managing director at a major financial services firm, I decided to take an entrepreneurial approach and start my advisory firm, Grace Global Capital, LLC. Prior to starting my firm I summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, plus several mountain ranges in Bhutan, with a team of fellow alumni of the Wharton Business School. Our treks challenged us to expand our decision-making and leadership skills at high altitudes, which involved managing risk. In addition, the death of a team member in Bhutan was a defining moment for us. Although this tragedy left us emotional drained, it served to increase our bond of friendship, empathy and trust under extremely stressful and difficult situations. As a result, I have gained an appreciation for effective risk management and careful collaboration with a trusted network of team members both at my firm and on the mountain.
Another aspect of mountaineering is the personal strength, tenacity, and resilience to face each obstacle along the journey. My biggest surprise is the level of mental stamina required to effectively battle the elements at high altitude. I believe these characteristics have served me well during my career growth and ascendancy to my leadership role.
- Are there other areas in your life – outside of work – that ask you to speak or sharing publicly on a consistent basis? If you have those outlets, has this helped you in your professional life? Also, do you feel more comfortable speaking in these settings outside of work?
Yes, I was recently asked to speak at a panel discussion which included feminist icon Gloria Steinem, Power 105.1 FM Breakfast Club host Angela Yee, financial journalist and award-winning author Stacey Tisdale, and award-winning journalist Carol Jenkins. The topic was Black Women, Feminism & Empowerment. The audience consisted largely of young people and students. In addition, the content from the event was shown on theGrio, reaching over 10 million people. I shared my story of personal triumph including my journey of immigrating to the U.S. at the age of 14, as the second oldest of seven children. While I was a student at Pace University, we survived a fire, which destroyed our apartment. As a result, I completed my degree while living in a homeless shelter in NYC. My main message to the young students is that, if I can overcome my circumstances to be a successful investment banker, there is nothing you cannot achieve. I believe that my audience was moved and inspired by my story. I plan to continue sharing my story at speaking opportunities outside of work.
- In relation to your professional life – what are you passionate about as it relates to your job? (e.g. Are you solving a problem important to you? Do you get to provide service and answers to others? Is your company’s mission/vision significant to you? Do you simply enjoy the physical work you do – regardless of the industry/cause/etc.?)
The vision of Grace Global Capital is to bridge strategy and execution for the financial services industry globally. Similar to my experience in mountain climbing, our team collaborates with clients to create a plan to successfully execute their growth strategies. Those tasks include an assessment of the competitive landscape, creating a M&A playbook or masterplan, identifying potential targets and synergies, facilitating due diligence of those targets and negotiating successful transactions. Implementing strategic initiatives can be difficult, grueling, and plagued with uncertainties, but the successful navigation of challenges and reaching the summits are exceedingly rewarding for my clients and me.
I am committed to serving the needs of our clients, which requires me to be an excellent listener, to promptly and accurately respond to questions, to anticipate their needs, and to care beyond the numbers. I am proud of the relationships that I have built over the course of my career. It gives me tremendous joy and satisfaction to be a trusted advisor to my clients.
About Grace Vandecruze
Grace Vandecruze is the Founder and Managing Director of Grace Global Capital LLC, a consulting firm providing financial advisory, restructuring, valuation and capital-raising services to insurance regulators and companies since 2007. She advised the Attorney General in Delaware on the Highmark affiliation with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware. In addition, she has served as financial advisor to Insurance Commissioners in several states including New Jersey, Indiana, Maryland and North Carolina. She was a Managing Director at Swiss Re and was responsible for the firm’s regulatory advisory practice in the insurance and financial services industries. She has extensive expertise in mergers and acquisitions and capital raisings, and most notably she provided expert testimony on the valuation of Conseco during the largest bankruptcy in the insurance industry. Prior to joining Swiss Re, she was a Vice President at a private equity firm specializing in the insurance industry and an Associate in the Financial Institutions Group at Merrill Lynch.
She earned an MBA in Finance from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and a BBA in Accounting from Pace University. Before attending The Wharton School, she was an auditor for six years at EY and Grant Thornton. She is a Certified Public Accountant. Grace serves as a director on SBLI USA, M Financial and Resolution Holdings. She is also a licensed sailor and has participated in several mountain treks and summited several peaks in Bhutan, Annapurna, Kilimanjaro and Everest Base Camp.