Thursday November 23, 2017

Inside the secret world of viral celebrity commencement speeches

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Listen 6:28

Celebrity commencement speeches are some of the most viral videos on the internet. But many people don't know that one person is behind the international phenomenon.

This is That's very own Pat Kelly sat down with digital media consultant and commencement speech producer, Howie Turtle, for a look behind the scenes. 

Turtle, who has built a career around bringing top-tier talent to universities in the United States and Canada, started out as a humble political speech writer.

"I had an 'aha' moment when I saw Ellen DeGeneres give a commencement speech," Turtle said.

He instantly recognized the untapped potential of combining the cultural cache of celebrities with the routine subject matter of commencement speeches. And just like that, a new viral sensation was born.

"I felt like my head had been ripped off right there and then," said Turtle. "This is what I want to dedicate the rest of my life to."

Since then, Turtle has worked with some of North America's biggest stars, including Tom Cruise, Céline Dion, and Brad Pitt. "Who had heard of Thompson University prior to Brad Pitt's commencement speech in 2012?" he said.

Turtle admits that the subject matter of commencement speeches isn't very important. The message is always the same: "Go out there, follow your dreams, you've been in school for a long time now go pursue whatever you're interested in," he said.

But whether a commencement speech is going to be a viral hit, Turtle says, is all about "how it's delivered and who is delivering it."

For example, when he encouraged Céline Dion to swear profusely during her commencement speech at Notre Dame in 2012, it was viewed 42 million times in one week.

To find out more about more about Turtle's strategy, and how he's revolutionizing the marketing strategy for universities everywhere, listen to the full story.