“To write a great love song, be in love,” says the man, the myth, the John Legend, as he mixes words of wisdom with unaccompanied brilliance behind a 9-foot grand piano on stage at Interact 14.

The event? It was hardly a concert, in fact, it wasn’t a concert at all; rather a room full of marketers, “Modern Marketers” to be more specific.

So when 1500 marketers from across the globe came to San Francisco for this event, you would have to wonder what they would expect from a keynote delivered by a multi Grammy award-winning artist with more talent in his hands than in most peoples’ beings and a voice that can melt chocolate on a cold winter day.

He Does What Great Performers Do: He Tells Stories

I still remember when I went to hear Kevin Spacey speak at a tech event, all I could think was what is this guy going to say about IT or Cloud that would interest this group?

Perhaps it was my inability to see beyond the walls of the event, but it was that day that I realized that great speakers are entertainers, and they perform. When their performance is to speak, they don’t “talk” about anything, well not technically.

The best speakers, the best performers, the best entertainers, they tell stories. They rope you in unknowingly and they slowly grab at places in your heart and your mind that captivate you. Legend being no stranger to the big stage did just that.


John Legend speaks at the Oracle Marketing Cloud event, Interact 14 in San Francisco.

One of the highlights was when talked about a little detour in his “music” career. Who would have known that after he graduated from Penn, passing up a chance to go to Harvard, that he would head straight into a music career? After all, we don’t know him for anything else, but he was studious, committed and he became a…

Management Consultant”

In his words, “wonderful company, lots of exciting things (pause). Powerpoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets (laughter), truly inspiring work.”

But without saying it, and without having to, Legend immediately was more relatable for he wasn’t just a famous musician anymore, he was a guy, who went to college and became a consultant, a story that a few others in the room could probably share with him.

Within his stories he shared so much more, he gave insights, inspiration and advice.

Aspiring To Aspire: He Gives Advice

On perseverance: Having done instrumental work with leading Hip Hop artists like Lauryn Hill, Legend thought his time was coming for music stardom. In 1999 he expected to be signed to a major label. He wasn’t, in fact he was turned down by every label you could imagine in ‘99 and then again in 2000, and ‘01, and ‘02, and ‘03. It wasn’t until ’04 that Legend’s dream was realized, but he stayed with it and never gave up.

On the creative process: Some creative people may say it just comes to them, and that may be the case, but for John Legend it takes more. He treats the creative process like the job that it is. “On my last album I scrapped far more songs than I put out. I must have had 80 songs of which 19 went onto the album.” He also discussed how he schedules time in the studio to create and he more or less locks himself down during those hours to focus on the work that needs to be done.


On collaboration: Legend attributes much of his career success to collaboration. He believes that so much more can come from the finished product when people work together. He mentions that although he is known as a solo artist, he has yielded far more interesting music when he worked with others as opposed t on his own. A great example he gives is his hit song “Ordinary People,” which was originally designated to be a collaboration project with the Black Eyed Peas.  Legend also shared the importance of open-mindedness when it comes to collaboration, “be a good listener, be open,” he said are the keys to making collaboration work.

On being prolific: “If you want to be great, you have to study the greats,” Legend touted. He shared his childhood and his influences in his church, his grandmother, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and so many others.  Extending on his ideas above about scrapping ideas, Legend urges the audience “to be a prolific creator.” He made reference to further his case with ideas such as not accepting sub-par work, understanding the greats, and knowing that sometimes to inspire, you truly have to be inspired.

The Legend Has Left The Building

Humble, brilliant and prolific he was. He marketed his music, ideas, and inspiration without once putting us on notice that he was selling.

Stories through music, through spoken word, it was content at its best.

Not even sure of what he was selling, I was sold. I guess his love, his passion and inspiration is real, or I’m just star struck, but when John Legend speaks to a room full of marketers, what he has to say, is truly prolific.

This post was first featured on Forbes and can be found here.