John F. Kennedy: 8 Tips to Become a Great Communicator

Matthew MacLachlan

18 May 2016

On September 26, 1960, a young and relatively unknown senator from Massachusetts created history. The first-of-its-kind televised debate propelled John F. Kennedy overnight to stardom and he went on to become President of the United States. What happened that night? He demonstrated he was a great communicator and the impact was felt around the world.

Become a great communicator – connect with your audience

Speech writers are aware that successful speeches have a lot in common with theatrical performances

It was not what Nixon said but it was how Kennedy spoke that won him the viewers’ votes. According to Larry Sabato, political analyst at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, the way you present yourself, how you sound and the ability to connect directly with audiences makes the difference.

Today, speech writers are aware that successful speeches have a lot in common with theatrical performances. Like the latter, speeches are not just about the content but equally, or even more so, about the delivery.

The three V’s of communication

Just as the greatest actors succeed due to their ability to genuinely empathise, emote and express, so does a great speaker, be they Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy or, more recently, Barack Obama

The three Vs of communication are:

  • Verbal
  • Visual
  • Vocal

The last two are of paramount importance. The oft-repeated adage that it is not what you say but how you say it is most true here. However, it is not just about faking it as a performer.

Just as the greatest actors succeed due to their ability to genuinely empathise, emote and express, so does a great speaker, be they Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy or Barack Obama.

The ability to engage your audience, to motivate them, to rouse them to action or to arouse emotions as well as make them think is the mark of a successful speaker. This is something Shakespeare well knew as evident in Julius Caesar where Mark Anthony triumphs while Brutus fails in spite of having the better content.

Here are 8 tips to make our speeches dramatic without going overboard or striking a false note

1. Push emotional buttons. The difference between Mark Anthony and Brutus is that Brutus, unlike his nemesis, depended solely on dry logic failing to connect with the feelings of the audience. One spoke to the mind whereas the other to the heart.

2. Tell a story. Make sure your talk has a structure. Start with a hook or something that grabs attention, and have a clear start, a middle and an end. Finish with impact so the audience takes away something at the end. Tell an anecdote, a story or an experience that the audience can relate to.

3. Use sensory language. Just as in a dramatic performance, enable the audience to visualise or to feel by bringing your talk to life with the use of multi-sensory language. Appeal to their imagination and not just to their intellect.

4. Use body language. The famous actress Mae West once said she uses two languages, English and body language. So use your eyes, your smile, the right gestures, movement etc if you want to be a great communicator who interacts with his audience.

5. Mind your back. Posture is everything. Stand tall and don’t slouch. Place your feet slightly apart, square your shoulders, straighten your back and own the floor. If your mind can influence your body, the reverse is true too. Appearing confident can make you feel confident.

6. Modulate and articulate. Train your voice to have the right pitch, intonation and volume suitable for the size and type of audience. Put expression in your voice as well as your face because a monotone is monotonous.

7. Remember the power of the pause. Silence can sound thunderous. Think of it as the MAT effect. Pauses are necessary to give time for the audience to digest the Meaning, effective in getting their Attention, and useful in creating the right Tempo.

Therefore, don’t rush through your speech but pause a bit after every important point you make or when you make a transition from one point to the next. Actors instinctively know or are trained to pause at the right places to allow the audience to react or simply for dramatic effect.

8. Learn the three Ps of making a speech. These are planning, practice and presence. The last is not something you are necessarily born with or a gift that is inherited. You can learn and train to develop presence. Just as actors do, train or practise until it becomes natural – or as is said, fake it till you make it.

Whenever you write or deliver a speech, ask yourself how dramatic is it

Without a doubt, one of the key elements of a successful speech is the ability to connect with the audience by making them relate to what you say. One of the best ways of doing this is to appeal to their emotions, and the dramatic element in your speech makes this happen.

Therefore in order to become a great communicator, whenever you write or deliver a speech, ask yourself how dramatic is it.



[if lte IE 8]
[if lte IE 8]
[if lte IE 8]
[if lte IE 8]
[if lte IE 8]
[if lte IE 8]
[if lte IE 8]
[if lte IE 8]