They call him the rock star of public speaking. But the fellow who chatted with us at Innovation Village last week didn’t seem very rock-star-like. Why would they call him that?
Rock Stars are glamorous, angelic beings from another world, one far removed from the dry dirt, the sweltering sun, the hard earth mere mortals strive through every day. Rock Stars are stars. They inhabit heavens.
You don’t expect Beyonce to sit on chairs chatting with mere mortals. She probably levitates over a throne.
Vusi perched on his seat, bantering and chatting away, is as unBeyonce as can be.
Like the way he looks at his audience, making eye contact with one person at a time. He speaks with a keen and earnest tone and rhythm, as if he honestly wants to talk to you, as if he has something important to tell you, something he wants to share with you. He is not performing while you watch, he is talking to you.
This is not a rock concert, this is a chat.
Vusi Thembekwayo is a renowned speaker and entrepreneur who has crossed the globe several times and gathered massive fame and fans since he started speaking about business at the very light age of seventeen.
Now 33, he is one of the best-loved speakers on the continent. His masterclasses attract droves. His YouTube videos draw multitudes. His talks bring in hordes.
His sessions at Innovation Village drew so many fans that the room was packed. We had to set up another array of seats outside the room.
Sounds like a rock star, right? But rock stars are slick and shiny and spectacular, like Beyonce with her battalions of dancers and her astronomical stage extravaganzas. You leave her rock show feeling like you have witnessed something impossible.
Vusi wasn’t that. Everyone in the room left feeling like they had been having a chat with a buddy.
Albeit a very wise one.
Of course he is not just the talk; he has, in gigantic strides, walked the walk, too. He is a bold and experienced venture capitalist and entrepreneur already, one of the rangers who have conquered the wild frontiers of Rising Africa to the tune of a reported net Worth of $550 million.
Plus, having made his first score at 20, he has only been in the game for twelve years. He is already one of the baddest at the business in Africa and he is only just getting started.
Those twelve years have not just been about accumulating money: he has been gathering hard lessons and hard truths.
He didn’t just learn how to make money, he learned how to teach, reach out and share what he has learned.
There is a much-liked youtube video where he speaks of failure. He is freshly clean-shaven and clad in a white office shirt. Apart from an ornate purple tie with baroque embroidery, this is a simple and straight-forward scene. Just like meeting your workmate in the lobby.
Vusi talks about his own bad days, bad months, hard times.
He talks about neuroscience and the psychological imposter tricks that the brain falls for that dampen the drive to get back up and fight on. He quotes Rudyard Kipling.
At the end of it, though you thought he was talking about failure, you realise he was actually talking about the nature of success, how and where to find it.
Vusi talks are like that. He weaves these stories, threading personal experiences and anecdotes into references to great thinkers like Deepak Chopra and Mandela, which he intertwines with everyday life examples drawn from sports, romance and cooking and then, adding a cunningly knitted string of humour, finally presents a warm, secure garment of wisdom.
He is really good at this. The audience sways to his beat, they vibe along to his song, they are right there with him.
It is kind of like a really good musician. One of those singers you admire because they make it look easy.
Except you do more than just admire their style; what makes you a fan is not just how good they sound, it is what they say with that sound. They speak to you. You relate. Their words help you understand your struggle and their stories illuminate your path.
Like Paulo Kafeero, or John Lenon, or Lucky Dube, or Tracy Chapman: that kind of musician. That kind of star. That kind of Rock star is what Vusi Thembekwayo really is.