By general consensus, Mark Zuckerberg did an OK job testifying in front of the US Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees on Tuesday. In cricketing parlance, he played a dead bat, looking to absorb the difficult questions and give answers that gave no openings for further Facebook pain. The social giant’s communications and legal advisors did well.
But briefly the Zuck came unstuck – when Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois asked him which hotel he stayed at, and who he’d sent messages to this week. The Facebook founder said he didn’t want to say. And Senator Durbin, looking like Walther Matthau at the end of The Taking of Pelham 123 when Martin Balsam sneezes, pointed out that privacy is what this is all about.
This is a classic example of what catches senior business people out - the emotional connection.
As a journalist you learn about the human interest story – how an appeal about a sick child can trump endless stories about health funding. Yet when business people communicate, they often are scared to show emotion.
For example, recently SEE and Innogy released a video of the CEO designate for their new business. It was a good idea, but slightly ruined by her use of management speak and lack of personal information.
Parliamentary and Congressional committees are difficult environments for business leaders. The questioning is often hostile and subjects are not used to extended sessions on camera. That’s why they often go through extensive training before they appear – a process Americans call the Murder Room.
My experience of these sessions is they deal with factual questions well, but inhouse teams in particular are quite nervous of pushing their senior executives on personal issues. This is where external advisers can help the corporate suits connect with the rest of humanity.
As Smokey Robinson sang: “I second that emotion”.