ep. 39 - Greg Bennick: Change Management Expert, Juggler, & Humorist


Greg Bennick, a humorous speaking champion that makes people laugh while inviting them to think about important ideas relevant to them His favorite topic is "managing the unexpected" which he combines with comedic juggling to create an unforgettable interactive display of ideas and interaction. Greg believes that his keynote presentation should be ENTERTAINING so he uses laughter as a vehicle for ideas. He researches his audiences to ensure that every performance is perfect. He's a presenter that will entertain, educate, and delivers on promises.


ep. 39 - Greg Bennick: Change Management Expert, Juggler, & Humorist

Gail Davis: Ready. Today as guest on GDA podcast, we welcome Greg Bennick. His life is entirely up in the air. The Seattle Times called him a juggler of both objects and concepts. He has presented in over 25 [00:01:00] countries for thousands of people interested in hearing about how to best live our lives and how to grow with personal development. His presentation won Best Presentation at a national conference of presenters in Florida, where presenters were judged against one another for content, impact, entertainment, and delivery. Greg's ideas have been shared on all 7 continents, a claim few other speakers have. Please get ready to laugh and have a great time as [00:01:30] we dish on today's episode of GDA podcast with Greg Bennick. Welcome Greg.

Kyle Davis: Welcome.

Greg Bennick: Hi, yeah, welcome to you too. Thanks for having me, I really appreciate it. This is great to have this opportunity.

Gail Davis: So traveling and speaking on all 7 continents. Maybe you should just get us grounded in how you got into speaking and how you-

Kyle Davis: Lets ask the big question, what was Antarctica like?

Gail Davis: Okay (laughs).

Greg Bennick: Okay, so here's (laughs)-

Kyle Davis: I mean like all 7 continents, we're skipping over the part where ... What about Antarctica?

Gail Davis: [00:02:00] Okay, what about Antarctica?

Greg Bennick: So we'll start off with a bit of honesty and clarity. If you listen to the way the bio was worded, my ideas have been heard on all 7 continents. I've been to most of them, but not Antarctica. What happened in Antarctica was that a friend of mine was working for a year at the [inaudible 00:02:19] Admundsen Station in Antarctica. I sent him a copy of a film that I co-produced that had some really intensive ideas about life, how to live it, human violence and the causes of it. [00:02:30] And he scheduled an event in Antarctica. Film screening of the film and a Q and A session where I sent him down answers to audience questions. So my ideas were most definitely heard there, but I didn't freeze myself down there in Antarctica.

But I worded that that way because it's true. The ideas have been heard on all 7 continents even if Greg hasn't been seen on exactly all 7. But, maybe-

Kyle Davis: I'll take it.

Greg Bennick: Yeah, I'll change that at some point just to satisfy the next go around of the podcast. I'll make a trip there [00:03:00] one of these years.

Gail Davis: (laughs) There you go. That's awesome, that's awesome. So how did you get into speaking?

Greg Bennick: So it's kind of a convoluted backstory that could be explained really quickly. But I grew up in a family where my mother is just an infusive speaker, and she is so clear and so expressive all the time. And I grew up very communicative. And around parents who were communicative. And when I was a kid I had signed up for a mini course in school. [00:03:30] Oddly enough in coin collecting. Just another aspect of my endlessly nerd life that we could get in-

Kyle Davis: Don't worry. Numismatics is huge in Dallas. You're surprised I even knew the word aren't ya? (laughs)

Greg Bennick: No yeah, you've got a ... I know the major company that's there that you're referring to.

Kyle Davis: Heritage Auctions everybody. There you go.

Greg Bennick: Heritage Auctions everybody. Yeah, in fact I was looking on their website at coins earlier today so ... Yeah so, this is great. Now everybody knows that #nerdlife that's me basically. But I wanted to be the world's [00:04:00] greatest coin collector. That's all I wanted was to be the world's greatest coin collector when I was in 6th grade. And I petitioned my school to have a coin collecting mini course. And they said that they would sign me up for a coin collecting mini course if I found someone to teach the course. So I found a coin dealer in a local, nearby town. And offered him $5 a week to have him teach my friends and me about coins. And he agreed.

I was 12 years old at the time. And the school agreed to [00:04:30] add this class to the roster of classes. And I signed up for ... We were given a slip of paper and we had to sign up for our choice of choice 1, choice 2, and choice 3 of all the possible available classes. From knitting to ultimate Frisbee to gymnastics. I chose choice 1: coin collecting. Choice 2: coin collecting. If that wasn't available, choice 3: coin collecting.

And I submitted this permission slip, and for whatever reason. Somewhere, [00:05:00] I hope she's still with us, the school secretary accidentally signed another kid up for coin collecting. And when I opened my permission slip the next week at the line at the bottom of the slip that told us what class we were going to take. Mine said juggling. And I was devastated. Like my entire life, age 12 in that instant was over. All my dreams of being a coin collector just dashed. And I walked home slowly with my head down like Charlie Brown or Linus or whomever [00:05:30] in the old cartoons.

Gail Davis: Sure.

Greg Bennick: And my parents, both of whom have lived pretty full lives and have advanced degrees and all this. Said, why don't you just try this juggling thing? Maybe it will be fun.

So I went in the next week. And I walked into this class and the first kid I see was juggling 3 white baseballs. And I looked up at him and it was like a light went off in a dark room. And in my head I said, that's what I want to do for the rest of my life. And [00:06:00] every word of this is true. I ran home, and I said to my parents, Guess what? I'm gonna be the greatest juggler and performer of all time. And now they walked out of the room heads down like Charlie Brown sad right?

But I started performing. And very quickly I learned that people responded really powerfully to juggling. Not just as a trick, but as a metaphor. And they really connected to it on a level other than just a circus trick. If you present it like that, it's one thing. But if you present it as something bigger and [00:06:30] deeper then people really connect.

And the transition moment came. I was ... After I learned how to juggle in this class, I was performing. I might have been 13 or 14 years old. And I was asked to perform, just juggle, at a company party. And the company was Remington. And the owner of Remington at the time, a man named Victor Kiam was known in Connecticut where I grew up for a tag line in his TV commercials. He would hold a razor in his hand, and he would look right at the camera and he said, Remington, [00:07:00] I liked the razor so much, I bought the company.

So I'm walking around this party. I'm juggling these 3 juggling balls. And low and behold here's Victor Kiam with his entourage around him. And he calls over to me. He says, Hey juggler, come on over here. And I'm thinking, oh my goodness. Like Victor Kiam is calling to me. I walk over to him. And he says, Let me see those juggling balls. And he starts stumbling through trying to juggle them, and all of his entourage just starts laughing and cheering and [00:07:30] pumping him up. And he hands me the juggling balls back and he says, Hey kid, those are nice juggling balls. And I said, I know, I liked them so much I bought the company.

Okay, so his entourage. There was a moment of dead silence as his entourage stared at the smart aleck kid right? And all of a sudden Victor Kiam gets this bright like shine in his eyes. He starts laughing. His entourage starts laughing. I start laughing. And that was a moment I said juggling can be more than just a trick. Like this is a way to reach people. So that's how [00:08:00] it all started and speaking just generated from that desire to entertain with ideas that I found in that moment.

Gail Davis: That's awesome.

Kyle Davis: So out of curiosity, you started at 12 or 13 juggling. What's the most ... I've met a few jugglers I guess in my time. What's the craziest thing you've juggled?

Greg Bennick: Wow you know it's interesting right? Because as I'm stumbling through this answer because I have all ideas coming up in my mind right? Because [00:08:30] the things that I think are-

Kyle Davis: Top five.

Greg Bennick: Yeah there you go, right? There's a moment in my presentation currently where I have the audience offer to me things that they might have brought with them to the show. And they don't know that in advance. Meaning, lets say I'm at a banquet. Lets say I'm at an annual meeting. Lets say I'm at a regional conference of some kind. I'll be in front of the audience and I'll say, I'm going to juggle. And usually I set it up as a metaphor for different objects working together [00:09:00] in the same way that different people can work together regardless of their backgrounds.

But I juggle a machete. Like a blade. And then an apple. And then I add a third object that's from the audience. Something that I've not practiced with. Something that's just spontaneous. So I never know what I'm going to get. And I started doing this because it makes a perfect metaphor for just different objects working together. But, it's different every single time I perform and speak. So that [00:09:30] every keynote is different.

And there was once where I was doing a keynote in Bellingham, Washington. And I'll never forget this. A room full of people sitting there in suites. And I said, okay I need a third object. And a guy, out of his suite, pulls out a small shovel. It was about 3 feet long. And it was like a shovel. Like in what reality? Like I wasn't at a gardening expo. I was at a banquet. Like why did he have the shovel? Maybe [00:10:00] he won it, I have no idea.

Okay, so the shovel was wild. There was once where I was doing an after dinner performance, more on the comedic side. For a banquet around the Holiday time. And somebody, just as a joke, as I asked for an object grabbed a 2 1/2 foot tall poinsettia in a pot and held that over their head. And I ended up having to juggle that, which was an unmitigated thing of beauty and disaster all in one with flowers and dirt flying all over the place.

[00:10:30] But the ultimate. Hands down the ultimate. This is a crazy story. We're going deep right off the bat here. I was doing a keynote presentation in Montana. There was a mixed audience in terms of adults from the organization at which I was speaking and their families. And at one point I said, I need this object from the audience. And there was a commotion to my right and I look over and somebody just had like some sort of like a pinwheel of some kind. I don't know how to describe it. Like this kind of [00:11:00] thing that blows in the wind and you hold it on a stick.

Gail Davis: Yeah, Yeah.

Greg Bennick: So I pulled it on stage. And as I was pulling that onto the stage, there was an absolute chaotic commotion of laughter and cheering to my left. And I looked over, and there was a young man. Maybe 17 years old. Surrounded by all of his friends. And this young man had the biggest smile on his face that I've ever seen on a human being. Like not just ear to ear. His smile went beyond his face.

Okay, [00:11:30] this is gonna sound bizarre, but stay with me. He was leaning on his friend's shoulder. And this young man with the huge smile on his face, had removed his own, prepare for this please, removed his own prosthetic leg and was holding it in the air above his head. The biggest smile I have ever seen on a human being. And his friends were cheering and they're all screaming, Pick the leg! And I'm like, oh my gosh.

So I pick this leg. [00:12:00] And one of his friends brings it up to the stage. And this kid is just beside himself laughing. And the audience every time I do a keynote gets to choose from multiple objects I've drawn on stage. And so I said, Who wants the pinwheel? The poor person with the pinwheel got like one person clapping like yay off clap. But when I said the leg the audience just went ballistic. And I ended up juggling this kid's leg, a blade, and an apple. And I've never [00:12:30] had a more enthusiastic audience response ever ever in my life. And I think I've got like a tin postage stamp size video of it from somebody's phone from years ago.

But, yeah, the beauty of it is I imagine this kid age 90 with his then grandkids saying, Grandpa tell us how you lost your leg. And him saying, Forget that, let me tell you about the time a guy juggled my leg.

Kyle Davis: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So-

Gail Davis: (laughs) That's awesome.

Kyle Davis: What I like about it. Well one of the things you kept hinting on before you ... Before you ask [00:13:00] the obvious question, which was what was the craziest thing that you juggled. But you kept mentioning that you use this as a metaphor for how different things work together. And I'm just wondering if you could segway into that and speak to kind of what you speak to as you juggle stuff around?

Greg Bennick: Absolutely. So, not every presentation I do always has to have juggling. But the ones that do, and I love doing it cause like we've been talking about it. It's fun and it's a great way to communicate. The message and the theme is often managing the unexpected. And talking about change management in a way [00:13:30] that's really fun. Because juggling creates an opportunity for people to see a bunch of initiatives in the air at one time. Lets say we've got five juggling balls in the air at once, and I'm speaking on the way that people interact at work. Maybe one juggling ball represents communication. One represents leadership. One represents teamwork. One represents human resource. Whatever it might be. People see all of those things in the air at once. And I can explain to people, Hey, do you feel like this yourself sometimes? Inevitably [00:14:00] people are like, Oh yeah I feel like that. I feel like I'm juggling 17 balls at once between my kids and my work and my ... All this.

So having all the juggling balls in the air at once sets us up perfectly for what happens when something goes wrong? What happens when something changes? Life is largely unpredictable and human beings don't necessarily do well with that. We like when things are in order. But as somebody whose played with juggling my entire life, it's essential for me to be okay [00:14:30] when things drop, when they fall, when they don't go quite right. Because gravity is [inaudible 00:14:36] working [inaudible 00:14:36] against me. So it just creates a really great visual metaphor. And that's a main topic that I speak on.

Another that I've been doing recently in the past six months has been increasingly popular is the topic is: Changing the world without having a clue. And I talk about life and transformation and how people want to be involved with changing the world. And that can take a number of different forms. But again, it's another [00:15:00] great example of juggling ... Being integrated there. Because every throw, when you're juggling, is a bad throw essentially. And it's up to the other hand to correct it. And it's up to the other hand to deal with the little tiny things that can cause a drop. So changing the world or changing your circumstances without having a clue as to what's coming next. Again, metaphorically juggling is perfect conveyor of that idea.

Gail Davis: I love it. I know that you have made the distinction with [00:15:30] us before that it's so important to speak with an audience rather than at an audience. Can you elaborate a little bit on that?

Greg Bennick: Absolutely. The great irony of being a speaker is that any great leader is a listener first and foremost right? And any great teammate is somebody, working together in a team with other people, is somebody who listens to the needs of other people first and foremost. So the great irony of me coming up on stage for 60 [00:16:00] or 90 minutes is that people hear my voice. So what I always focus on, when I'm on stage doing a keynote, is making sure that I am listening to the subtlety and the responses of the audience, and sharing ideas not as the end all be all, but with a degree of fluidity.

And what I mean is that when you are on stage, regardless of what your topic is, it's important to be present in the moment with your audience. And to read your audience. And to listen to your audience. Even [00:16:30] if they're not speaking. And I tend to do a lot of research before I interact with keynote audiences and with keynote clients. I learn about the group that I'm performing and speaking for. And I learn about what their initiatives are, and their values. So in the midst of my sharing my ideas. In the back of my mind, and in the forefront of my mind are their ideas and their values and what they think is important.

So as I share an idea, I can almost respond to myself by way of what I know about [00:17:00] them as audience members. So it creates more of a dynamic feel. More of a conversational feel in the moment when I'm in front of audiences doing keynotes. I would say I pride myself on it, but I think it's essential. I think it's essential for any speaker so that your audience doesn't end up at the end going, Okay, I get what they said. Rather than, Wow I felt what they said. That's a huge difference.

Gail Davis: How important is humor in achieving that goal?

Greg Bennick: The great irony about [00:17:30] talking about humor is that it often sounds so serious when I say it's really important. Yeah right exactly. But it's really important because people are gonna respond better when they're laughing. They're gonna learn more when they're laughing. I know there's science behind that. I'm not as adept on my stats and statistics as I should be to be able to tell you what the percentage is that people learn more when they're laughing. But I know the science is out there.

And I know that when an audience is laughing, and they're with me, and they're enjoying [00:18:00] whatever it is that I'm presenting. However I'm presenting it in terms of a comedic approach. People will come up to me afterwards and they say something different than if I'm just speaking to them right? They will always say, Wow that was really fun, and I loved what you said about and then they fill in the blank. With, I love what you said about teamwork. I loved what you said about leadership. I love what you said about managing the unexpected. But the first thing they say is, Hey, that was really fun. That's the entrée to an ongoing conversation. That's the first step [00:18:30] to an ongoing conversation both in their minds, and with one another after I'm gone.

People will be more apt to talk about the ideas, which hopefully are transformative for the group, if they are saying to one another, Wow did you have a good time? Yeah, it was great! Did you have a good time? Oh yeah, it was really fun. And then they start talking about the ideas from there.

Ultimately the goal for any keynote is to communicate a message. To share a message, and in my case help transform audiences and organizations. So if people are talking about it after I'm gone, great! [00:19:00] And I think that humor is a way to make that happen.

Kyle Davis: That's awesome. Do you want to take it? Okay.

Gail Davis: (laughs) This happens sometimes. We both start with a question then we just sort of look at each other. You can go Kyle, I've been asking a lot of questions. Go ahead. (laughs)

Kyle Davis: Thanks mom. Humor. So anyways-

Greg Bennick: You know what's funny about this moment?

Kyle Davis: Yes.

Greg Bennick: What's funny about this moment is that my mom, as I mentioned is a great speaker. But she [00:19:30] has not been a professional speaker. And now as she's in her 70's, she does very few presentations. But she did presentations for many years at small events or organizations, retirement homes, and things like that. Around where she lives on the east coast. And for years I took that for granted right? And I though, oh yeah, it's cool, my mom's a speaker too. How neat. Okay.

About 5 years ago she was giving a presentation in Virginia to a room full of about 80 people. And I was gonna be on the east coast, and I said, Hey mom, can I stop [00:20:00] in and watch you give your speech? And she said, Sure. She said, I'm only going to do about 90 minutes. I'm like, You're only going to do about 90 minutes? Like what?

So I show up at this event. And my mom gets in front of the audience. And her topic was exercising as we age and the importance of ... Okay, exercising. She started in on this audience. And she was funny, and direct, and powerful, and like really communicating solid messages. And I got schooled by my mom. I mean, I sat [00:20:30] in the audience and I was taking notes. I was like, oh my goodness, she is unbelievable. And afterwards I had this moment, like Kyle, like your "Thanks mom" moment. Exactly the same. She's like, Now Gregory, what did you think? And she just goes right back into mom mode. What did you think? And I was like, Uh, thanks mom. That was really great. Uh, you're awesome.

So yeah, the apple I hope doesn't fall far from the tree. But yeah, I love mom and child dynamics. Always amazing.

Gail Davis: We have a lot of fun doing this. Okay, so I'm taking over now.

Kyle Davis: [00:21:00] Okay.

Gail Davis: In this business, we talk a lot about providing value. Because lets face it, with the internet anybody can go online. They can Google keynote speaker. What value does the Speaker's Bureau provide? And so, I always try to talk about our partnership and how we recommend speakers that we know. That we trust. That deliver. And you have an amazing recent, [00:21:30] very recent story of providing value. And so I'd love for you to tell the listeners about the great lengths that you went through recently to get to your gig. And please don't leave out any details because this is a value ad extraordinaire. Greg Bennick: (laughs). Okay. And I'd love to tell the story, and I will. And I'll speak also to the idea that you brought up about what does a bureau add to the equation?

I was booked to speak at Rochester Institute of Technology for a keynote [00:22:00] ... For their faculty and staff. And I had been on tour speaking throughout western Canada. And I jumped off the tour I was speaking ... On which I was speaking. In order to fly from Calgary to Rochester.

Okay, so on the way, I realized that there was a storm of epic, arctic, apocalyptic proportions happening in Rochester and in the area around upstate New York. 40 inches of snow were falling and whatnot. [00:22:30] And I thought to myself, you know what? I'm feeling fortunate and I always always always fly out to events a full day early. And I know that sounds completely crazy, but it does two things: One, it gives me peace of mind. But two, it gives clients the opportunity to meet with me the day before the event onsite, or in their town. It's just a great value add.

So I flew out a day early. I get to ... From Calgary to Minneapolis. I learn that my flight to Rochester is canceled. And the airport said, or the airline says, Okay, we [00:23:00] can't put you up in a hotel because it's just a snow storm. It's just the rules. But we have a potential flight out tomorrow. We have a few of them. And I said I want your earliest flight out tomorrow. Because tomorrow is the day before the event.

Gail Davis: Right.

Greg Bennick: And I got myself a hotel, and then the next morning I was at the airport at 4:00 in the morning. And for a 6:00 flight. And I got on the flight at 6:00 AM. And they had to route me to Detroit first. So I landed in Detroit. And I checked the [00:23:30] screen as I landed in Detroit, and it said whatever Gate B5 is the flight to Rochester. As I was walking through the airport. Literally a five minute walk to the gate. The flight cancels. And I know that because when I got to the gate I saw that the Detroit to Rochester flight was canceled.

Now here's where the value add of the Bureau comes in. A bureau provides many things. But they provide always coordination, care, and creativity. Like you said, you're gonna pick the right [00:24:00] speaker, but they're gonna take care of their clients and they're gonna coordinate every detail.

In the five minutes it took me to walk from gate to gate and learn that my flight was canceled, Julie, from GDA, calls me. And says, I've been monitoring your flight and it seems to have been canceled. And I'm like, what are you psychic? Like I just literally am standing under the sign. Like I just watched it change and you're calling me from Atlanta and telling me that my flight is canceled. I see that. That's incredible. And she said to me, I'll be in touch with the client. [00:24:30] And if you need to, if you can't get to Rochester, we can postpone or cancel this event. And I thought okay, I'm gonna let you know. And I talked to the airline. They wanted to route me through 3 different cities. Each of which was potentially snow affected. And I thought, this is a recipe for disaster.

So I called my favorite car rental company and I said, Listen, I don't even know how many miles it is from here to Rochester cause I would gps it, but I'm talking to you folks. And I rent a [00:25:00] car now. Like do you have anything in like the 3 minutes it will take me to walk through the terminal and get to wherever you're standing? Do you have a car that I can rent and drive to Rochester, New York? And they said, Absolutely.

I literally walked downstairs while calling Julie saying, Hey, I'm gonna rent a car. I'm gonna drive it. And rented a car and drove 425 miles through the fringes of this arctic blizzard to Rochester, New York. And arrived, and the [00:25:30] entire hotel where I was staying ... When I finally arrived in New York. And keep in mind, I had been up at 4:00. So what would have been a 425 mile drive worth of hours turned into about 3 hours more because I had to keep pulling over to take naps on the side of the road. And to call Julie and reassure her that I was alive and okay.

But when I got to Rochester, the entire hotel at which I was staying was not only empty, but also unavailable. Because the snowstorm had been so intense that none of their staff could make it in to clean the [00:26:00] rooms from the previous night. So I had to then look around in the middle of the night for a new hotel. And then wake up the next morning and go to Rochester Institute of technology to do this really fun and exciting keynote on teamwork, connectedness, and communication.

Gail Davis: That is awesome, and I appreciate you giving out props to Julie. As you know she has been with us 12 years and she's so committed to her clients and has such great relationships with speakers. But that is a legendary above and beyond. So thank you very much, [00:26:30] I love it. (laughs)

Greg Bennick: (laughs). Oh, you're so welcome. It was so fun. What was great about it too was that when I handed the client ... Of course they had my introduction, and I said I got another copy here if you need it. They said no, no, no we've got it. And as they started to introduce me, they went off script from my introduction and said ... The woman said, I just have to tell you everybody what he did to get here today. And they told the story. And the whole audience was like WHOA! They couldn't believe it. So everyone immediately felt so special. It was really great.

Gail Davis: That's awesome. That's awesome. Well this has been a ton of fun. Do you [00:27:00] have ... I think I interrupted you earlier Kyle, so what was your-

Kyle Davis: No, I'm good.

Gail Davis: You're good? (laughs).

Kyle Davis: I'm just blown away. I hate driving. I mean I love driving, but 450 miles in a day. No, not during a blizzard. Not doing it.

Greg Bennick: It was (laughs)-

Kyle Davis: You can't pay me enough for a speaking engagement for me.

Greg Bennick: (laughs) The whole way there I was just thinking-

Gail Davis: He was just looking for new material come on.

Greg Bennick: Yep (laughs)

Kyle Davis: I'm just, I'm not gonna do it.

Greg Bennick: And it's funny right? I had this moment where I though, I could just call Julie and say I don't want to do it. But [00:27:30] the whole way I was like, what if I make it? What if I'm on time for this thing? And when I was, it was just such a great feeling. I was just so happy about it, so it was quite an experience.

Gail Davis: That's so awesome. That's so awesome.

Kyle Davis: Detroit to

Gail Davis: Rochester.

Kyle Davis: Rochester, New York.

Gail Davis: In a blizzard. Yep we got it.

Well this has been loads of fun. I'm really glad you were able to share a lot of stories with us and I think it just gives people a glimpse into your great fun, warm personality. [crosstalk 00:27:58]

Greg Bennick: Oh, I'm so glad. Thank [00:28:00] you both.

Kyle Davis: Well hey look, if you all are interested in booking Greg you can do so by contacting GDA Speakers at 214-420-1999. Or go to gdaspeakers.com. If you want to read today's transcript or this episode's transcript, you can do so by going to gdapodcast.com. Other than that, Greg, thank you.

Gail Davis: Thank you.

Greg Bennick: Thank you.