Ashton shares his creation story, a value and a vision idea.

What made Ashton’s speech go viral?

Analyzing his speech from my personal story perspective, Ashton starts with his creation story — the most important of all stories for business leaders.  He speaks of opportunity and the menial ways he has worked for every opportunity he has made for himself.  He even makes himself vulnerable by telling the audience his real name is “Chris.”  Ashton connects with us emotionally by using a story setting of his home of Iowa, characters including his dad, a recognizable conflict, and of course, his story finale, where he is today.  I give him an A on this story.

The next message in his speech, Ashton speaks of values — sexy means being smart, thoughtful and generous.  He tells the audience these are the values he subscribes, but does not use a story to portray these values.  An enormous body of research confirms stories not only activate the language processing parts of our brains, but other areas in our brain that we would use when experiencing actual events. Since Ashton uses no story to connect us emotionally, visually, kinetically to these values, we probably won’t remember them in the future.  While Ashton’s values are admirable, the story is not.
The final message in Ashton’s speech is a vision idea – a story of future.  Build a life for yourself rather than live a life.  He quotes Steve Jobs in this section of his message, but again fails to use seductive story elements that make this vision stand on it’s two feet, sway it’s hips, and sashay it’s way straight into our hearts.  I believe his vision idea has soul, however, the story does not.

Ashton’s creation story carries his speech by instantly endearing us and is the one story that made this speech go viral.  Overall, I give Ashton high marks for making himself vulnerable and using the three most important leadership messages — creation, value, and vision.  While I would flush out his value and vision stories into repeatable dramas, I’m pleased to see he chose to speak with a heartfelt and authentic leadership style.