Fred Rogers was neither a typically dynamic speaker like Tony Robbins, nor was he typically admired for his soaring rhetoric like JFK, FDR and Ronald Reagan. What he did have, as evidenced by this video recording of his testimony in front of the Senate in May of 1969 to defend Nixon’s proposed cuts to the public broadcasting budget, is excellent skill at persuasive speaking.
The chair was John Pastore, who was known to be gruff and impatient with speakers, so Rogers had his work cut out for him.
(yeah, that’s the guy)
He does three things that are all amazing in their simplicity and their courage.
1. “I trust you.”
This may seem like a small thing, but it was a big assumption on his part. The pressure was on to cut the budget and Nixon was using the war as a reason to cut it. When he says this, I can feel him struggling to let go of his desire to read his prepared statement since he knows that he doesn’t really have the time. The letting go of reading the statement and the voicing of trust are both impactful to the Chair.
2. “I care deeply about children” and “I’m concerned about what is being delivered to them.”
Two statements that communicate his passion for kids and his reason for speaking up. Notice how calm he is while speaking. I love that he does not cloak his passion and emotion in statements of ideology or complicated jargon. He speaks completely from the heart in a matter of fact tone, as though that should be enough.
3. “I give an expression of care to every child.”
He goes on to explain in detail how he does this in every show, telling children that they are loved, special and that their feelings matter. This statement is clear and concrete, despite the abstract quality of the subject. He is still speaking in “I” statements and owning exactly what he does. At no point does he get defensive or question whether the panel will accept this as important or helpful.
“I’m supposed to be a pretty tough guy, and this is the first time I have had goosebumps in the last few days.”
“Looks like you just earned the twenty-million dollars.”
Here’s what you can do to be as persuasive as him.
1. Be brave enough to share your personal connection and trust the audience.
2. Communicate your emotion and passion while remaining calm both vocally and physically.
3. Be clear and concrete in your examples.
Do these three things and trust the audience’s ability to receive it and you will not be disappointed. You may even be able to inspire and motivate entire groups of people to change how they look at something.
Trust and be trusted.