As a part of the Morning Lazziness series about strong women leaders who attained success with their incredible ideas, I had the pleasure of interviewing Diana Venckunaite.
“ Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”- Nora Ephron
Diana V is the founder & managing partner of AMP Learning and Development, a communication and presentation skills training start-up in Denver, CO. She is an immigrant who came to the United States at the age of twelve with the hope of fulfilling her American Dream.
In the beginning, she has to struggle through her poverty and language barrier. However, she took it as a challenge. She mastered the English Language and new country’s culture by the age of fourteen later, graduating high school a year early and completing a dual degree program offered by the University of Colorado in Boulder. Diana also received a BS in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and a BS in Integrated Physiology.
Over her business career, Diana has led teams to success in the tech, government, and communications sectors. She is also an accomplished award-winning keynote speaker.
Many thanks for doing this for us; please let our users know about yourself and your company- AMP Learning and Development?
As an immigrant to this country, I only knew about three sentences in English, so at twelve, I had to teach myself the language through reading picture books, each night memorizing a list of new words, and watching movies with subtitles. About a month after I arrived, I joined an all-American middle school, and while it was quite difficult, especially for a foreign girl who did not speak the language, through hard work and commitment, I was fluent in English in a year and a half. After graduating HIgh School a year early, I went to Colorado University at Boulder and earned two degrees.
When I founded AMP Learning and Development, after working as a speaker, business leader, sales professional, and start-up entrepreneur, it just made sense. I have worked in corporate and start-up environments and saw that great communication skills are critical in the current hyper-competitive business world. I have personally seen ideas die on the vine because someone couldn’t communicate a phenomenal business idea to an investor, distinguish themselves and their product from their competition, and watch project teams have blow-outs due to misunderstanding. All of those people had one thing in common: poor and un-intentional communication skills. It drove me crazy to see intelligent and capable people have so many struggles while trying to get a message out. That’s when I decided to create a company that helps people present, sell, and communicate like a pro. I wanted to be a part of the solution because I want to see others change the world with their brilliant ideas and though messages that make people want to listen to them.
What thoughts make you realize the importance of AMP Learning and Development for today’s world?
With the changing world and technology influencing and managing many of our business decisions and processes, there is more miscommunication and failed messaging than ever in history. The massive amount of misunderstandings in our day-to-day communication, in turn, creates disorganization within a company. Our clients also see this within their organizations, and AMP helps them strengthen their teams as well as time and money saved when a team is communicating like a well-oiled machine.
People are so incredibly unique in ways that they communicate with one another, work together in cohesive teams, and sell services and goods. Where I have seen AMP become a massive distinguisher in the crowd is two areas. The first is Presentation training. In our training, people learn how to communicate and deliver messages effectively to make people want to listen to what they have to say and follow them. The second area is sales. Due to the overwhelming number of products and services that salespeople offer, AMP helps them stand out and understand how they can offer a product in a way that differentiates them from their competition. In short, AMP elevates the human aspect in a world full of technology and tasks through communication. And yes, that is all done by starting to communicate more effectively.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
As I mentioned, I was 12 years old when I came to the United States, and I had no idea what to expect. The experience was overwhelming in every sense of the word and every aspect of my life. I grew up very poor and was raised by my grandmother, who was in her late 70s. My childhood was more of a circumstance of turmoil that ensued after Lithuania decided to liberate itself in 1989 from USSR oppression. Of course, after such a drastic change in government, Russian soldier occupation of our cities and towns, and absolute oppression in every area of existence, massive corruption was the interim state between what was and the country that was about to thrive a few decades later. It didn’t help that I grew up in one of the worst parts of the country where I was surrounded by the mafia and learned how to read people’s behaviors, tone of voice and become a child with whom the secrets had to die. Having only known that kind of life, arriving in America was like coming to a place that resembled heaven. As I stepped off the plane wearing the only set of clothes that I brought with me, clutching a few of my favorite books and a teddy bear in my scrawny twelve-year-old hands, I was also about to see and re-meet my mom, whom I hadn’t seen in 7 years. You see after Lithuania succeeded from USSR, many people were fleeing the country to seek better life and opportunities; one of them was my mom. It was the government’s insurance policy that she comes back. It may sound crude and brutal, but that was the unfortunate hand that I was dealt, and it was just the circumstances of the changing world. However, I was fortunate to have such a positively life-altering opportunity to come to the United States.
You have the first-hand experience with the US immigration system. Would you like to give any suggestions to improve the system?
Immigration is a very complex topic, mainly because my story is not everyone’s story. I had more issues with leaving my own country than becoming a citizen of the United States. I would encourage the United States government to open more communication with other countries and figure out the best and specific immigration policies that fit their individual needs. I know that there can be a balance between every country. However, I also understand that this is a massive and perhaps too optimistic task, but people will never stop moving and traveling the globe; we might as well make it better and easier for everyone.
What are your plans for the future? How do you plan to grow this company?
The plan is to grow this company and expand at a slower pace so our courses can reach as many people as possible. I see everyone being able to benefit from learning how to communicate in a better way, not just in business but also in their personal lives. Communication is such a transferable skill that it can benefit everyone in every area of their personal improvement. Of course, as with any company on the expansion track, I have to make sure that I don’t lose sight of what makes AMP so unique. We have, with remarkable consistency, delivered quality and value to all of our clients by putting immense effort into our courses and hiring and training the right people; that’s why I want to focus on slow growth with the right people and the right clients. We are actually about to launch our first on-demand course for Presentation Training in hopes of reaching even more people with busy schedules that can’t make time for an extended workshop.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I am multilingual and multicultural, and I am fluent in Lithuanian and English. Even though these two cultures are very different, the communication aspects we teach at AMP are inclusive and bust through cultural and language barriers. I have always believed in diversity, inclusion, and acceptance in business. There is no better way to drive these things into an organization’s culture than through teaching employees and leaders how to understand and get understanding from others. At AMP, we are using neuroscience to teach the building blocks of why we communicate the way that we do and how to establish rapport with people that are different from us. While all of us came from different backgrounds, look different, have different preferences and beliefs, those things should not hinder our communication with one another.
What helps you stay driven and motivated to keep going in your business?
It helps when you realize that you have one life and there are no do-overs; because of this, I want to make sure that I do something that betters the world. I would rather spend my one life helping others better their careers and personal lives through better communication, confidence, and landing messages that are remembered. We spend so much time talking, so why not help everyone speak with a purpose in mind.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Yes, don’t wait for that perfect moment to start. When you come up with an idea or a goal, make sure that you clarify what you want, why you want it, and jump in the water. If you keep testing the water with your toe, you will miss the opportunities in business and your own personal growth. Also, have a positive attitude, and don’t let the circumstances of life that are out of your control break you down. Along the way, I have learned that when you “give up,” it doesn’t leave you standing where you are but instead pushes you back at least a hundred steps. Make sure you are always pushing forwards no matter how slow.
How do you keep yourself motivated and humble throughout the day? Do you practice meditation and yoga?
I love being in nature, and as often as I can, I take walks or go hiking. There is just something about being outside that grounds me and helps me process everything that happens throughout the day, get clear on business decisions, and generate new ideas. I try to make some sort of “outside time” happen every day.
What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- There is no such thing as one kind of Work-Life Balance. I am an entrepreneur, mom of three amazing kids, a wife to an amazing husband, and two pampered dogs. My life is full, which means that my Work-Life balance will be drastically different from most people. I had to create my Work-Life balance that fits my needs rather than try to squeeze into someone else’s crated “balance.” For a while, I tried to find a Work-Life Balance routine that would make me more productive and give me space to do everything I needed to get done. I would try some “guru’s” balance after another, and instead of feeling better about myself and how much I have done in a day, week, or month I would feel worse and that I missed important things. Nothing seemed to be working for me, so I thought I was the oddball out until I realized that I couldn’t take someone else’s routine and adapt it as my own with a few changes. I had to sit down and list my priorities and how much time I wanted to spend on family, work, friends, and taking care of myself. Then I had to decide what that looked like and finally come up with a routine from scratch. I had to look for my own Work-Life Balance and be ok with it even when it was so different from everyone around me.
- Failure is how we learn, so we fail a lot. I don’t mean to be careless or make huge decisions without first thinking about them. However, try things, break things, and see what happens; most of the time, that’s how you will get new ideas, start asking the right questions, and perhaps change the world. I always knew that I wanted to “help people,” and to me, that meant that I wanted to be an ER surgeon. After getting my bachelor’s in pre-med, working in a research lab, and getting my Emergency Medical Technician license, I finally started applying to Medical Schools. As soon as I sent my applications, it hit me like a bus; I didn’t want to be a surgeon; well, actually, I didn’t even want to be a doctor! To say the least, that made my head spin and feel like I wasted years preparing for something that I wasn’t going to do. I felt as if I failed at life at 22, and my next step without skipping a beat was a career change. I pivoted to business and started my career in a totally different direction. At the time to my 22-year-old self, it felt like this was a big failure as if there was no coming back from it, but in the process, I learned to ask the right questions, to break paradigms and old ways of doing things. To tell you the truth, if I didn’t “fail,” I would not be succeeding right now.
- Be yourself. We are all so unique and have so many wonderful qualities to offer to others if we become brave enough to be ourselves. It can feel vulnerable and scary to be yourself, or very uncomfortable to let people see you as your whole you because someone will judge you or won’t like you. But here is a fact: no human is qualified to judge you. Don’t ever be afraid of being and showing others who you are because of fear that they will judge you. Of course, this was a tough one for me, especially when I was just learning English. In middle school, I was really quiet and would rarely speak up because, well, I didn’t speak the language, and as I was starting to grasp it, I would be afraid to say much because I didn’t want to mispronounce something. As my English got better and better, I started to make more friends, and in High School, I became friends with this one girl, and she said, “I didn’t know you could speak!” so I looked at her with some confusion, but then I realized oh she means I couldn’t speak English a few years back. As I was about to reply and tell her that, she said, “You never said a word, so I thought you were mute!” Needless to say, this was a bit surprising to hear, but then again, everyone will think something about you. Now, I wish I would have spoken up more, made more mistakes in pronouncing words, and perhaps even looking stupid because maybe I would have learned the language even faster.
You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Don’t build dreams with exit doors. If you have an idea or a goal, commit to it 1000%, and don’t stop until you reach it. You may have to take some detours and jump some hurdles, but in the end, you’ll thank yourself for not running for the exit when it got tough. I would love to see a movement where we start to believe in ourselves more because we are the only ones that can change our lives.
Sometimes, this may require us to become the only ones that believe in ourselves for a while. I was always a believer that you don’t need to explain your dreams to people who don’t understand them because they are YOUR dreams. We can all reach our goals and dreams with consistency and time, don’t let someone else’s doubt install that exit door.