Roger Ebert at TED: losing and finding your voice

Roger Ebert Jaw Cancer Survivor

Roger Ebert delivered a jaw-dropping speech at TED

This is a great TED talk. In some regards, it is a great TED talks.  A group of people talking with a unified voice.  And it spoke to me in many different ways.  I absolutely encourage you to take the time to watch it.  It will give you pause to think.  And, as I will argue below, I believe this talk can provide several interesting insights for digital media marketers.  At its heart, it is a deeply personal story — which is what moves me and moves me to write about it.

Imagine speaking your last words well before you die? This is what happened to Roger Ebert, a man who made his living voicing his opinion — as he had all his vocal instruments removed after suffering from jaw bone cancer.   “All my life I was a motor-mouth. Now I’ve spoken my last words, and I don’t even remember, for sure, what they were.”  It is a marvellously brave and inspiring speech; as he ‘says‘, “I have not come here to complain…”  With all the little hassles and aggravations of our daily life, we can take stock of Roger’s fighting courage and the wonderful support of his wife and friends.

From a technological point of view, I was quite impressed by the computerized voice of Alex (for its intonations) and of the Roger Junior experiment made by a Scottish company which specializes in creating personalized computer voices.

The [lack of] punch in the written word

Roger made two other quips that got my attention:

(1) One of the big challenges in the synthesized voice technology is to make emotion come through.  Outside of capital letters and exclamation marks, syntactically there is no way to nuance your words with ‘unspoken’ sentiment (the famous 93% of messaging that comes from nonverbal communication).  Roger said, about his frustration not to be able to type out quickly his anger, that “my anger rarely lasts long enough to write it down.”  The takeaway I wanted to bring to you is that life is too short to stay angry. (For more, you should read the great Esquire magazine article “The Essential Man,” by Chris Jones).

(2) “Online everyone speaks at the same speed.” On this point, I disagree with Roger.  Being able to navigate online and, more pratically speaking, to type fast are two skills that can make your online experience very different.  Having learned to speed type with a high degree of accuracy makes the world of difference when you are creating content or transcribing your thoughts — this is true whether you are writing a term paper, publishing an article, partcipating in a forum or instant chatting.

Lessons for a brand marketer

There are three indelible lessons that brand marketers and, especially those considering their digital marketing strategy:

  1. Turn to the brand’s history to understand your authentic voice — but don’t forget to let the best technology win.  By digging through the thousands of hours of past recordings, the Scottish company was able to find a plausible voice.  However, ultimately, Roger prefered the techology that felt the closest, rather than a picture-perfect copy that was a replica of his former voice.  The emotional timbre is more important than the superficial perfection.  [As an aside, when I was running Redken 5th Ave NYC, we made a conscientious effort to keep our history “alive,” and to make sure the founder’s voice was thriving, but in an updated way.]
  2. Think of your brand’s voice such that other members of your team can contribute to your community management — community management is management of the community BY the community (not just a solo community manager).  I loved how the four people on stage provided a single speech, each with their own touch.  Brand marketers should aspire for the same in their online conversation!
  3. Great messages include personality and resonate at a deeper level.  Of course, humor is good too in doses.  It’s the personal in personality that makes this speech so vibrant.  As I like to say, make sure that the Branding Gets Personal.

Please enjoy the video!

To read more from Roger Ebert:  Roger Ebert’s blog and Roger Ebert on Twitter.

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