Why your most powerful advertising may be a speech.

Technology has enabled us to craft incredibly powerful advertising, microtargeted to individuals yet engaging the world.

But will public speaking supplant advertising as the go to form of communication for brands? I asked Hugh Culver, a speech industry veteran who has witnessed the evolution of public speaking in business.  Culver runs a great speaker training company in addition to delivering upwards of 40 speeches a year himself. (He also has a thriving social media business, runs ultramarathons and climbs mountains, but that’s another story).

You can hear our conversation by clicking the podcast below, or read on for highlights. Either way, Culver’s thoughts are worth considering if you want to futureproof your brand.

Orators, educators, entertainers

Culver has seen public speaking go through a number of transitions over the past 24 years.

“We used to think of public speakers more as orators. People like Zig Ziglar. Folks who could captivate an audience for an hour.

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Then the public speaking mood moved to educators. Speakers like Jim Collins and Steven Covey took the podium to teach, as well as inspire. Although motivating, this movement ran into the retention hurdle. Audiences only had enough bandwidth to recall a small sliver of what was said.

As event planners clamoured for speakers who could entertain and still leave the audience with something ‘real’ to act on, education began to be simplified, and the entertainment quotient was boosted.

Which brings us to today.

The personal brand speaker

As Culver points out, many of the biggest brands in speaking today are personal brands. Thought leaders and motivators like Tony Robbins, Tim Ferriss and Robert Kiyosaki have their own name on the letterhead, despite running sophisticated organizations (and in the case of Kiyosaki, sharing the spotlight with the Rich Dad brand).

The companies behind these speakers offer everything from life coaching to education, books to retreats.  But the speaker is the first touchpoint, and the glow that attracts us to the franchise.

What we’ve seen on a parallel path is the rise of the personal corporate brand. Virgin is Richard Branson. Apple is / was Steve Jobs. And Trump is Trump (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Although these very public personalities aren’t usually the first touchpoint to the brand, their public persona is very much on the front lines. You like the exuberance, environmental awareness, brashness and bad boy character of Branson, chances are you’re going to like Virgin.

“When Steve Jobs got onstage and talked about cool stuff, we believed him” says Culver. “We knew he meant it. He wasn’t getting paid to do it. It just wasn’t the same when Tim Cook started doing the ‘cool stuff’ speech.

Mike, the CEO of Dollar Shave Club is a brilliantly bizarre indicator of where the personal brand trend might go. Mike is the star of Dollar Shave Club’s hilarious viral video. Although everyone knows the brand Dollar Shave Club, it’s his face they remember. And he personifies the guy who is the target – someone ticked off by the insane prices of name brand razors.

The point is, as Scott Stratten of ‘Unmarketing’ fame points out, relationships are the best ways to build trust. And relationships with humans trump relationships with brands.

To create powerful advertising in a speech, pick a topic and industry

Today, communication has been demonetized and democratized. What that means is that the founder of the most cash-strapped startup can put out a tremendously powerful piece of communication – with him/herself as the personification of the brand.

Culver offers a final piece of advice as you set out. Focus on a topic you want to hammer, or focus on a specific industry.

For Richard Branson, it was the topic – flipping the finger to stodgy traditional brands. With Mike of Dollar Shave Club, it’s all about the men’s grooming industry.

“The worst thing you can do is take on all topics – being a generalist isn’t scalable. Someone who meets you needs to be able to recite what you talk about easily” says Culver.

If you’re struggling with direction, Culver underlines that talking to customers is extremely enlightening. They feed back things about what makes you unique that you probably wouldn’t be able to recite. They see what your brand really is.

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