Street-Performance Inspiration For Branding And Boardroom Success

Many turn to a career coach or consultant to brush up on personal-branding skills, but there are quite a few lessons you can learn just by stumbling upon a truly engaging street performer. Branding lessons from London’s “The Tom Show.”



After leading a global innovation summit a few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to venture out into London for a morning, doing what I love to do in big cities: be a cultural voyeur. Walking through the markets, the squares and arcades, I stopped in Covent Garden and joined a crowd watching a young street performer.

The show had just started and about 40 people had gathered around this young lad. He was wearing shorts and a white hooded sweatshirt with “The Tom Show” written in red letters on the front. Very well spoken, Tom had the crowd engaged. He loved his job, and told us that he had no doubt he was going to put on a great show. I watched as he read his audience, knowing who to flirt with, and who to nudge and ask for help. Self-deprecating and awkward in a very courageous way, whether it was dropping five juggling balls or nearly falling off a unicycle with his hands and wrists padlocked together, Tom was putting on an entertaining and memorable show. He was engaging his audience with fast wit, a dash of irony, and memorable content. 

Watching the Tom Show, I started thinking about my show, where it needs help, where it needs new material, and that you and I are not so different from Tom. We’re all putting on a show, each in our own way every day. People who deliver theirs with conviction and energy always capture the crowd’s imagination and, like a brand, we have an audience that either pays attention and is engaged by our content, or they tune us out and move on. Like the Tom Show, where character, content, courage, personality, purpose, and values are all put on display, the crowd votes with their wallets.

Inspired by the brilliance of an artist and performer whose stage happens to be the street, I put together these five uncommon sense tips for creating your own personal brand:

  1. Identify the type of performer you are and perfect that personality. Are you serious, entertaining or overly dramatic? Are people engaged in your show, do they pay attention when you’re on stage or do they tune you out? Southwest Airlines co-founder Herb Kelleher is known for his colorful personality and for cultivating the company’s distinct gung-ho culture. He knew many employees by name, held weekly parties at corporate headquarters, and many knew him as “Uncle Herb.” His emphasis on a fun, yet professional, work environment generated a sense of loyalty to the company from employees.
  2. Develop a commanding presence. Put energy and effort into your show so people know you’re there and they connect with your content. Gary Vaynerchuck, popular wine and social media expert, speaks to his audience with vigor and personality. He is known for his unabashed and energetic persona and commands attention with the confidence that comes from his passion and ability to engage with people.
  3. Prepare your content and your story in advance. By doing so, you can avoid distractions in front of large groups. Avoid powerpoint, use relevant props, personal animation and well-organized notes to engage your audience. Take some tips from the funny guy Conan O’Brien. He is the master of thinking on his feet and being able to improvise when things go awry. Know every counter-argument and criticism to your content so you are able to steer back on track, and don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself.
  4. Be unforgettable. Make an impression each time you put on your show in your own distinct and unique way. Whether you are a fan of Lady Gaga or not, it is difficult to forget her over-the-top performances and statement-making fashion choices. She creates an element of mystery and surprise after every public appearance and gets people talking about her bold presence.
  5. Craft the right look. Your appearance makes a statement about who you are. Tom Ford is the master of appearance and detail for men and women. Ellen DeGeneres solidifies her comfortable style with signature staples: sneakers and pants. They both make a statement, but they do it in different ways at different ends of the spectrum. 

About the author

Shawn Parr is the Guvner & CEO of Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design consultancy headquartered in San Diego whose clients and partners have included Starbucks, Diageo, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, American Eagle Outfitters, Ideo, Sony, Virgin, Disney, Nike, Mattel, Heineken, Annie’s Homegrown, Kashi, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, The Honest Kitchen, and World Vision