Sunday, September 23, 2012

What Mr. Rogers Can Teach Us About Presenting

I recently watched Mister Rogers & Me, a wonderful documentary about a wonderful man. Fred Rogers has always had a special place in my heart – and I suspect many people feel the same way – and it got me thinking about the lessons we can learn from the humble and wise master of children’s television.

1. Respect the audience. Though most of us knew Mister Rodgers from speaking to children, he always respected the ability of his audience to understand what he was talking about. He used simple language, but was never simplistic.

2. Tell the truth. Even for difficult subjects, Fred Rogers spoke honestly about whatever the subject was. He didn’t try to “dumb it down” or speak in euphemisms – he spoke honestly and directly.

3. Be authentic. I never met Fred Rodgers, but everything I have ever seen, read, or heard makes me believe that the public person we knew was the real person he was – and that his authentic character came through in all his work. There is a deep power in being that genuine.

4. A great presenter doesn’t have to be a big personality. When writing or discussing great presenters, many people (including me) often cite larger-than-life personalities like Steve Jobs, or masterful storytellers like Aimee Mullens, or great orators like Barack Obama; but Mister Rodgers shows us that you can also be a simple, deep, and humble presenter and still make a heck of a dent in the universe.

To paraphrase a line from the documentary, Mister Rogers was completely present, absolutely authentic, and made even the most difficult subjects seems safe. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of better praise for any presenter.

Thank you Mister Rodgers (and Benjamin and Christofer Wagner) for reminding me that great doesn’t have to be grand.

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