July 5, 2019

Vulnerable, Courageous: Speaking to Defy the Odds


Alumni , Public Speaking , Tips

Defy helps incarcerated men and women tap into their entrepreneurial talents and prepare for success on the outside. A major component: Executives volunteer to go inside prisons to work with program participants one-on-one. Photo courtesy of Defy Ventures.

"Be vulnerable and courageous, and share from your own experiences and challenges."

– Quan Huynh's advice for speakers

Can you transform the hustle?

That's the question that inspired the founding of Defy Ventures, a non-profit organization helping incarcerated men and women redirect and develop their entrepreneurial talents.

As a Defy Entrepreneur-In-Training (EIT), each participant gets rigorous training while in prison and help post-release with job placement, executive mentorship, startup incubation, and pitch competitions. 

Shark Tank-style pitch competitions are one way Defy helps EITs hone their presentation skills. Photo courtesy of Defy Ventures.

Public speaking and presentation skills are highly valued by Defy EITs, as Buckley director Jenny Maxwell discovered recently. Thanks to the generosity of Buckley School alumnus Weaver Hickerson, she was able to travel to Los Angeles, where she volunteered to work with a group of talented graduates.

Her workshop was coordinated by Quan Huynh, the post-release program manager for Defy's Southern California chapter.

EITs who graduate from Defy's program are far more likely to succeed on the outside and far less likely to return to prison. Photo courtesy of Defy Ventures.

Quan is also a Defy program graduate and knows first-hand how life-changing it can be.

He created his own company, Jade Janitors, just six months after he was paroled from a life sentence in late 2015--using the skills he learned in prison as an EIT.

Today, Quan still runs that company, while finishing his college degree and working for Defy's Southern California chapter to help others find similar success after prison.

Telling Defy’s story and how it gave him a second chance is also critical to helping him achieve even larger goals: to reform the criminal justice system and change the way society views people who've served time.

Weaver Hickerson says he was inspired to get involved with Defy, in part because of a presentation he saw Quan make.

We asked Quan to give us some insights based on his public speaking experiences with Defy.

Quan (far right) participating in a panel discussion on criminal justice reform. Public speaking is a key part of his work to change the odds for formerly incarcerated people. Photo courtesy of Defy Ventures.

How does public speaking fit into the work you do?

Quan: I need it for presentations, for workshops, on panels, public discussions, and events. Public speaking is a HUGE part of my work.

What's been your toughest speaking challenge and how did you overcome it? 

Quan: My toughest challenge is speaking slower and tailoring my talk to be concise and relevant to the audience. I would not say I have overcome it, but I have become more mindful and consciously prepare my thoughts before each speaking engagement.

How have public speaking skills helped you reach your goals?

Quan: Speaking has helped me connect with an audience on a much larger scale than just getting to know a person one on one.

What speaking tips do you have for others?

Quan: Be vulnerable and courageous, and share from your own experiences and challenges. When I do that, it always seems the audience connects with me more.

What can the rest of us do to support the mission of Defy?

Quan: Volunteer to come into prison with us, join us for post release events, agree to interview our grads for employment, change the narrative of how we describe incarceration and the stigma attached to it. Open your heart to the possibility of redemption and second chances.

In this interview, Quan tells his story and talks about the work Defy is doing:

Share this article