The Social Network Came to Testify at the Hill: 8 Things Zuck Did Well

Mark Zuckerberg came willingly to Capitol Hill to testify before the Senate and Congressional members. There is always a short term and long term evaluation of any speech or presentation. Short term observable, measurable evidence of a home run is the higher stock price at end of day and anecdotal comments of both legislators and citizens.

From my communication perspective, Zuckerberg did better than I would have imagined. Let’s put this in context: Zuckerberg is a 33 year old IT savant (I mean that in a good way), who volunteered to come to DC and face a Congress and Senate that for the most part don’t understand what he does or how he does it, yet could shut him down.

What Mark did Right:

  1. He came to DC early and met privately with many individual congress people and senators. This is just a more formal way of “breaking through the invisible fence”: a technique to personalize audience members before one speaks.
  2. He wore a suit. Before Mark Cuban was better known for being a Shark, he was known as the owner of the Mavericks. When his team won the NBA championship, people were betting whether he would wear his trademark black T-shirt to the WHITE house or a suit. He wore a suit. The rule is to dress one notch above your audience, even if you are a billionaire.
  3. He prepared. Some people of high net worth and/or high ego think they don’t have to prepare. “I got it”, they say. “I got this speech, testimony,” or whatever. The rules of communication apply to everyone. Mark benefitted and he protected the value of his company through preparation.
  4. He was respectful. Every single time he answered a congress person or senator, he started out “congressman”, “senator”. Every time. Even when their questions were silly or annoying. He was a guest in their home and he was respectful.
  5. He was succinct. This is where his personal style was probably an advantage. On the day he testified in front of Congress, each congressperson had a total of four minutes for both their questions and his answers. He rarely had to be told time was up. Congress people were told that much more often. It’s as if he had been in my office participating in my “walk across the room” exercise.
  6. He was consistent. He did not show frustration, exasperation, or impatience.
  7. The water grab. Silly as it may sound, it is challenging to drink water in front of a big group of people, in front of 100 cameras, in front of the world. Adrenaline can come across as nerves which can come across as guilty nerves. So reaching for a glass and drinking from it can be a challenge. Mark reached for his glass and sipped from the glass in such a methodical way. Really took his time, Suffice to say that there was no shaking involved.
  8. He controlled what he could control. All speakers control 3 and only 3 things: themselves, what they say, and their environment to a degree. Several times when he could not answer to did not want to answer in the short time allotted, he said he would think about and get back to the congress person. FYI he has 10 days to get back about any answers promised. One pundit said it was corporate speak; I liked the fact that he controlled what he wanted to control by answering at his pace not theirs.

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