Regardless of whether you are a fan of religion, Robert Schuller’s brand of religion, or none of the above, Schuller was a fascinating case in the power of public speaking. Schuller brilliantly fused together four distinct elements in his TV presentations:
- Mid-century Power of Positive Thinking. Schuller’s ‘sermons’ were devoid of hell, fire and damnation.
- Mainstream non-conservative protestant Christianity.
- The showmanship, wardrobe and architectural grandiosity of the Catholic church.
- A secular TV talk show’s pre-occupation with celebrities.
He put it all together and turned it into a gig that generated hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars, over a multi-decade career.
By Schuller’s own account, he was a poor student, overweight, and unpopular. According to a biographer in the Los Angeles Times, Schuller started his preaching career by practicing his sermons at age five to a pasture full of cows!
Another interesting tidbit that detractors of Schuller will enjoy: as a young man, Schuller developed rhinophyma, a disease where his nose kept growing longer and longer, requiring plastic surgeries.
Schuller also became a well-known and highly paid professional speaker on the secular, motivational speaking circuit. His 45 minute presentations always left his audiences feeling upbeat and laughing.
Schuller and his “Hour of Power” TV program are now gone, but they clearly had an influence on the direction and success of Joel Osteen, who is remarkably similar in presentation content.
While some of my clients view all TV preachers as charlatans, I always recommend that people who aspire to be world class communicators spend at least 5 minutes every Sunday watching snippets of TV preachers. Because TV preachers, as a class of people, are world class communicators. You simply cannot raise enough money to get on the air and stay on the air for years unless you are off-the-charts great at speaking, selling, and communicating.
TJ Walker is President of Media Training Worldwide. You can reach him at 212.764.4955