The founder and CEO of Facebook, only the biggest and most successful worldwide tech breakout of our era, is finding his voice as the voice of a generation. He's never been terrible at this. But, in his early years in front of the podium, it just seemed early. It's like he was someone's little brother up there testing the sound system prior to the real speaker's turn.
This sounds way too critical. Whether you're the college-aged founder of a tech behemoth or just college aged, speaking is hard. It's just like everything else in life. The more you do it the better you become. The more you do it, the more natural it becomes. The more you speak, the more you're able to shed the nerves, the stage, the crowd, and your delivery and get closer to nailing your message.
I've watched some of Zuckerberg's talks before. But, it was never really appointment TV for me. It wasn't like Seinfeld or the World Series or the State of the Union. So, when I caught his recent commencement address to the newly capped graduates at Harvard, I watched with just a passing interest.
He immediately struck me as just better. Really good. Connecting with the audience. Working up towards something memorable.
And then, he simply delivered the best talk on purpose and vision I have witnessed. He did so by invoking the words of another transcendent figure in American history. A president who's been dead for 54 years. One of the great orators this country has seen.
"One of my favorite stories is when John F. Kennedy visited the NASA space center, he saw a janitor carrying a broom and walked over and asked what he was doing. The janitor responded: 'Mr. President, I'm helping put a man on the moon.'"
"Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for."
Told this way, you can almost feel the pride ooze from this janitor. Presumably, he's the low man on any org chart that tells the story of America's space exploration. But there he is, beaming at the mention of the common purpose he shares with the very men who would eventually walk on the moon.
Zuckerberg went on to speak of the birth of Facesmash, an early incarnation of Facebook. And after taking a jab at "that movie" (referring to the 2010 bio pic, Social Network), artfully crafted the early vision for Facebook. He recalls banging big ideas out with his then friend and now colleague, KX, whose initialed name seems to have been chosen at random. Still naive to the weight of their idea, they talked about connecting the world.
"This idea was so clear to us -- that all people want to be connected."
His parting shot to the newly graduated Crimson was an inspirational nudge; reminding them all of his origins on the very grounds they stood on.
"I know a lot of you will have your own stories just like this. A change in the world that seems so clear you're sure someone else will do it. But they won't. You will."
From the dorm rooms of Harvard to the executive suites of Silicon Valley. Around the world and back again. Mark Zuckerberg's time has come. I don't mean as a visionary or a technologist. We all knew that.
His purpose seems to have shifted. He looks to be settling into his role as the orator of a generation. One who can deftly navigate among numerous groups.
Central to his coming out party is this commencement address on the import of a unified purpose as a driving force. JFK's story set the table for Zuckerberg's own fly-me-to-the-moon tale of connecting the world through Facebook. It also served as a bridge to former generations. As if to say, "you've been down this road before, and look at the heights to where it led."
He still looks like someone's little brother up there at times. But, make no mistake, this man has found his voice.