“I had a keynote I had prepared that I was gonna give. Some of y’all know what’s about to happen…”
With that, Ta-Nehisi Coates began one of the most powerful keynotes I’ve ever heard. On November 9, at Inbound 2016, he spoke for 30 minutes, offering his take on the previous night’s election results, almost entirely unscripted. The audience was mesmerized.
Inbound, a yearly marketing event hosted by Hubspot, brings together smart people from across the world. Its three-plus days of sessions cover new tactics and tools in marketing, ways to generate more traffic and to grow email lists, and other hacks from marketing experts all around. Yet, the most powerful marketing lesson I took from my days there came from Mr. Coates — an author, not a marketer.
It was this: Despite best-laid plans, the most powerful content can come in the moment. Being nimble can create the most impact.
There is no doubt Coates’ original speech would have been informative and inspiring to the crowd. He planned to talk about the value of self-education, which would have resonated with an audience that came to learn. But it wouldn’t have carried with it the same emotion, timeliness or poignancy of what he delivered instead.
I’m a huge fan of process. I could speak for days on the virtues of planning your content, setting strategic goals and using systems to make your work as efficient as possible. Yet, at the end of the day, our job is to reach the people we’re talking to in a human way. That’s done with content or campaigns that actually move people.
For Coates, it was a speech on an historic election from his perspective.
For Oreo, it was a funny tweet during a Super Bowl blackout.
Three stories, each making an impact on people for different reasons — raw emotion, humor, hunger pangs. And each created outside of a bigger content plan or strategy.
I’m not saying you should ditch your strategy sessions or planning meetings. We could all probably continue to hone in on them even more. I’m saying that the more we’re able to keep our eyes open to what’s around us, the more we can make a difference with our content. And sometimes that means throwing away the script and letting something fly.