The Boardroom was the U.S. Senate Committee Hearing in 1969 as Chairman John Pastore was investigating whether to pass a $20 million funding bill to PBS. And he was losing his patience as PBS was losing the verbal battle—until Mr. Rogers stepped in. You know him—Fred Rogers, PBS star and now the mild-mannered hero of the excellent documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
It’s worth the time to watch the 6’ drama unfold here.
Speakers who got up before Mr. Rogers read scripts and shared what was on a piece of paper. The decision-maker, Senator Pastore, showed his disdain and was sick of hearing written words. Mr. Rogers adapted and spoke from the heart. Incredible impact—his eye communication, his passion, his voice, pauses and his overall authenticity were so powerful. As he ended, Senator Pastore immediately replied, “I’m supposed to be a pretty tough guy, and this is the first time I’ve had goosebumps for the last two days,” he said. “Looks like you just earned the $20 million.”
In our coaching and consulting at Decker, we find that so many leaders and executives that we work with are tied to words, reading, teleprompters and scripts. They think, “If I say the words, people will get them.” It doesn’t really work that way. Our challenge as coaches is to encourage them to speak from their ideas and from their hearts, as long as the point comes through. Certain media or investor regulation opportunities make that seem unrealistic, but for the most part, it’s not only doable but more effective.
How often at a conference, a QBR or a team meeting where there are multiple speakers, do you get sick of the formality of the prepared speech? If we were all like Senator Pastore in 1969, I think more of us would call it out and push back to demand a change in how others present to us. The key question is, are you willing to be more like Mr. Rogers and let go of the prepared words and speak from the heart to get the influence you want? People buy on emotion and justify with fact!
You can see many examples of that from this year’s highest grossing biographical documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Quick disclaimer: I’m a child of the 70s and a big fan, so Mr. Rogers was a big part of my childhood. But for everyone, the film is definitely worth seeing—entertaining, dramatic and historical. You will come to know a Fred Rogers you have never seen before.
And we have a hunch that he will move your heart and help you move the hearts of your audiences.