Thursday, September 29, 2011

Speaking of Chris Brogan Speaking...

Last week, Chris Brogan posted a video of his speech to the Inbound Marketing Summit in Boston. For those of you who don't know Chris, he's one of the most well-known social media personalities in the world, runs several companies with various focuses on internet marketing, and is the author of Trust Agents and the upcoming Google+ for Business. Chris is a classic example of 'an expert who speaks', a label that describes the vast majority of speakers in today's market. He has also become a 'niche celebrity' - if you're on the web at all for business, his brand is fast becoming the Ben & Jerry's of internet marketing delicacies.

'An expert who speaks' is hired for the promise of content, not necessarily the quality of content delivery.

A 'niche celebrity' is hired first for their name value within an industry, second for promise of content, with delivery quality far down on the list of priorities. The difference between a 'niche celebrity' and a 'celebrity' in this case would look like this: Chris Brogan vs. Al Gore. Chris is an internet expert, Al is famous for inventing it - and a few other things.

Being a combination of these two statuses is close to a perfect storm. I'm willing to bet Chris is rapidly approaching more opportunities to speak than he can or wants to fulfill, and he's likely closing in on a quarter million dollars a year as a speaker alone. These are 'outside observer guesstimates' - if he's making less, he shouldn't be, if he's making more, I wouldn't be surprised.

The question for the day is this: Is Chris Brogan a Good Speaker?

If I could embed the video, I would. To view it before reading my comments - click here.

A. Familiarity - his introducer makes it clear to us that the audience knows Chris Brogan. Throughout the speech, Brogan acts and speaks like he is talking to a group of friends. On one level, this works for him as he breaks through the facade created by knowing people only online. On another level, it becomes so much a part of his speech (inside jokes and derailing commentary) that it detracts from the major reason he's there - to provide insightful content.

Honestly, I would have approved of this outfit more
- authentic and character-revealing.
B. Appearance - no, he doesn't need a suit. He can wear whatever he wants, and in this case he's reflecting his audience. He's also a self-declared geek. Still, his stage presence would have improved if he'd either worn a lighter shirt or darker slacks. Nobody cares, you think. But oddly enough, there are always people who care, even if only on a subconscious level.

B.2 Language - normally this isn't even an issue with speakers, but Brogan drops a couple bombs here. For some, that's a credibility crusher, not in terms of 'do you know your stuff', but in terms of 'do I care to listen'.

As an expert/celebrity, perhaps appearance and language is a moot issue. But as a speaker, we should always care enough about our audience to do nothing that distracts them from our message or tears down our credibility, if it is within our control, as these items are to a large degree.

C. Opening - epic fail here: an apology to open the speech, combined with a swear euphemism. Nothing gets an audience fired up like warning them your slides might not work. This is followed up with a credibility statement, as he tells the audience who he is and what he does. It's interesting, but a waste of time. You're onstage, you've been given an introduction giving you credibility. Your audience wants to be immediately involved in the story of your content, not sitting there tapping their pencils waiting for you to get to it.

D. Questions - Brogan uses the question device well in spots to interact with the audience while at the same time gauging their level of knowledge about his topic. His qualifying question asking who felt like they didn't want another social network when they heard about Google+ was perfect, with some wonderful followup comparisons to MySpace, AOL and Plurk.

In other spots, his questions seem to be more looking for approval than agreement about what he's saying, particularly his comments about 'inside humor'. Its a fine line between the two, and is the difference between a confident, engaging speaker, and one still learning to be comfortable in front of an audience.

E. Stories - Brogan uses fewer stories than he does short asides that illustrate his points. Some work, like his recount of Dolly Parton's stream, some don't, such as his comment about people complaining about his smoothie postings. The sub-opening story about meeting people in-person for the first time after only knowing them online works very well, and could easily be moved up as a true opening to break the ice, build familiarity, and be interesting all at the same time.

F. Power Point - the slides themselves were well done - mostly simple screen shots to show people what to do within Google+. As a training device, that's exactly what you need to do. He doesn't overwhelm us with slides, or over-complicate them. They are all branded with his logo, which is unnecessary, but at least in-obtrusive in the small overhead bar. Where Brogan can improve is his interaction with the slides. He's clearly uncomfortable with the process, which is fine but for his repeated comments about how uncomfortable he is with slides.

G. Content - this is why he's speaking, and he brings great information to new adopters of Google+, hitting the basics, while also pushing into the more advanced areas of the network. If only there were more of it. He goes off on so many bunny trails, it takes us away from the focus of his presentation, and robs us of the education he can provide. I'm all for humorous asides to keep people energized, but this speech can lose about half of them, keep and even increase its energy, and provide more expert content, which is why we're watching in the first place.

H. Closing - he comments a few times about the time he has left, and his close seems a bit rushed. Still, he hits an important main point before checking out with a book plug, and then a nice closing comment that refers to his speech goal - "Join Google+ (and buy my book to make it easier)" and ends with a nice jab at Friendster, going off stage with a laugh.

So again, is Chris Brogan a good speaker? Yes. And No.


He delivers the goods - strong content from a recognized expert. He keeps the topic interesting by mixing in both popular media and industry-related illustrations. He's occasionally funny, and doesn't come off as a stuffed shirt, condescending celebrity. At the end, he feels like a good guy - authentic to his brand, and his web presence, and worthy of spending time with both professionally and personally.


He wastes a lot of time that could be put to better use for his audience. He still seems uncomfortable with his own celebrity, which has its charm, but also detracts from his power. In responses to a couple of critics in the comments section, he talks about being ragged as a speaker because he's always changing his speeches. That's an easy problem to fix, and he implies that he will be fixing it soon.

As I said to open the post, Brogan is an excellent example of 'an expert who speaks' and a 'niche celebrity'. Overall, he does the job he's hired to do. But of course, the coach in me believes he can do more. (can YOU do more?) He's THIS close to adding 'great speaker' to the mix, which will put him in the middle of a perfect storm as a hireable speaker. He'll not only be known, not only be credible, not only be in-demand...he'll be able to Speak & Deliver, leaving his audiences with more than they ever bargained for.
Two quick disclaimers here. First, this is an unasked for critique. Of course, President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey didn't ask for my advice either. These are just my thoughts. Apply them to your own speaking. Are you succeeding in the areas Brogan is? 

Second, yes, I'm hoping reviewing Chris Brogan, and using his name throughout the post will attract the attention of both him and boatlaods of traffic. Hopefully he'd be proud of that fairly blatant marketing tactic. But it's still my job to Write & Deliver so you can Read & Receive. 


  1. This was the best critique ever. I need to process it all, but I agree with all of your insights. Very helpful. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for stopping by Chris :) - thanks for sharing your speech with the rest of us!

  3. Hi Rich,
    I stopped by here because Chris tweeted about your post. I didn't see the speech live, but I did watch the video when Chris posted it. I learned a lot about Google+.

    I have seen Chris speak live, as part of a panel. I took away a lot that day, too. For example, he really wants people to learn from all of his experiences, including being critiqued. I agree with most of what you had to say...ok, I agreed with all of it.

    But here is my take. I think a lot of speakers forget that they are "performers". One thing that most people loved about Ronald Reagan was his ability to deliver a line. He knew where to pause, when to look you in the eye. And until he became ill, he was always ready. He came to office not as an A1 actor, but someone who had been on film and TV and practiced his craft.

    We take high school speech, college speech if required, but most of us never spend time in an acting class. We are not taught how to breathe, practice our lines, know our mark and take time to rehearse. We just can't always wing it.

    Great post. Again, I am learning from Chris, through you.




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