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5 Smart Lessons From Seth Rogen's Senate Speech

The unlikely advocate for Alzheimer's disease research struck a chord because he knew how to tell a story and give a speech. Here's why it worked.
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This has to be a joke, right? Seth Rogen, an actor best known for movies like Knocked Up and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, testified in a U.S. Senate hearing this week about Alzheimer's disease.

In fact, it's quite serious, and he did a pretty amazing job.

Recently, I wrote about how to unpack the best speeches ever given, and how to imitate those techniques to get your message across. Rogen proved to be a surprising but perfect example. He kept his true audience in mind, and he ensured his words would resonate far beyond the halls of Congress.

Quick backstory: Rogen, 32, became involved in advocacy for Alzheimer's research after his mother-in-law was diagnosed with the disease. He and his wife cofounded Hilarity for Charity, which raises money and especially tries to get younger people involved with the issue. If you haven't seen his speech, you can watch it here, or read a transcript here.

 

Here's what you can learn from it.

Be authentic.

A good speech isn't just a litany of ideas. It's about connecting with the audience. Rogen did this by starting out with light humor, acknowledging that it was kind of weird that he was there. Yet, he effectively transitioned to his real message in a natural way.

"Thank you for the opportunity to testify today and for the opportunity for me to be called an expert in something, 'cause that's cool," he began, adding, "I should answer the question I assume many of you are asking--yes, I'm aware this has nothing to do with the legalization of marijuana. In fact, if you can believe it, this concerns something that I find even more important."

Tell a story.

From there, Rogen didn't dive straight into the facts and figures he wanted to share on Alzheimer's disease. Instead, he made a deeper connection by telling a personal story.

"I started dating my wife Lauren nine years ago, when her mother was almost 54 years old," he explained, and described how his future mother-in-law was already exhibiting early symptoms. At first, Rogen acknowledged that he didn't know much about the disease, and thought its symptoms included innocuous things like "forgotten keys, wearing mismatched shoes, and being asked the same question over and over."

Continuing the story, however, and deepening the personal connection, he described the true effects of the disease, and the dire current prognosis:

After forgetting who she and her loved ones were, my mother-in-law, a teacher for 35 years, then forgot how to speak, feed herself, dress herself, and go to the bathroom herself--all by the age of 60. Lauren's father and a team of caregivers dedicate their lives to letting my mother-in-law be as comfortable as she can be. They would love to do more but can't because, as you've heard, unlike any of the other top 10 causes of death in America, there's no way to prevent, cure, or even slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

Keep it organized.

One of the easiest ways to lose an audience is to get lost yourself. Once he had set the stage with his story, Rogen did a great job of telegraphing how the rest of his speech would roll out, and then sticking to it: 1, 2, and 3.

"I came here today for a few reasons. One, I'm a huge House of Cards fan," he began. (By the way--humor works for Rogen. It might work for you as well, but being authentic is more important than being funny.)

He continued: "Two, is to say people need more help.... Studies show that Alzheimer's and related dementia is the most costly condition in the United States.... The third reason I'm here, simply, is to show people that they're not alone."

Choose words carefully.

This wasn't exactly Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, but Rogen included some smartly chosen phrases. Let's take a look at how one of them worked.

Rogen didn't just say that Americans don't like to talk about Alzheimer's and that the government doesn't make its research a priority. Instead, he repeated words and phrases, and created an image:

Americans whisper the word Alzheimer's' because their government whispers the word Alzheimer's, and although a whisper is better than [the] silence that the Alzheimer's community has been facing for decades, it's still not enough. It needs to be yelled and screamed to the point that it finally gets the attention and the funding that it deserves and needs.

Keep it short.

Rogen clocked out at about six minutes. I don't know if that was by design or because that's all the time he was allotted, but it worked very well. It also added credence to his later complaint that only two senators actually stayed in the room to listen to him.

Side note: I watched as my grandmother went through a very similar, tragic experience with Alzheimer's over many years. I saw the effect it had on both her and my family. On a professional level, I think Rogen did great work; on a personal level, I'm glad he's speaking out.

For further reading, check this out: 9 Habits of Highly Effective Speakers.

Want to read more, make suggestions, or even be featured in a future column? Contact me and sign up for my weekly email.

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Feb 28, 2014

BILL MURPHY JR. | Columnist

Bill Murphy Jr. is a journalist, ghostwriter, and entrepreneur. He is the author of Breakthrough Entrepreneurship (with Jon Burgstone) and is a former reporter for The Washington Post.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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