Channel Your Inner JFK

President John F Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy photo courtesy of the U.S. Government

President Kennedy’s call-to-action speeches inspired, persuaded, and provoked change.

 

Most successful politicians find themselves in the position they are in due to their ability to masterfully deliver a message and persuade others to believe in their cause.

That is their job – to speak and inspire action on behalf of the people they represent. This is why so many of the greatest speeches of our time have been delivered by politicians – many of them presidents. 

President John F. Kennedy was undoubtedly one of the most impactful speakers and politicians in the history of our country. One of his most famous speeches – his Inaugural Address of 1961 – expertly showcases the strength of a successful close when he stated, “My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” 

His ability to inspire only continued. On September 12, 1962, in the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, President John F. Kennedy gave a speech on the campus of Rice University in Houston, Texas. On that day, using a rhetorical technique called the Rule of Three – which you can read more about here - Kennedy emphatically stated: 

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the moon?

Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain?

Why, thirty-five years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? 

We choose to go to the moon.

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, and because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win. 

Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked. 

President Kennedy’s call-to-action inspired, persuaded, and provoked change.

His words galvanized a nation to accomplish the impossible. Through effective use of the Recency Effect, President Kennedy left his listeners with a bold and memorable action plan. To amplify the speech’s impact, he spoke with passion and purpose, instinctually moving Americans closer to his cause.

Given the advent of the Cold War against the Soviet Union, he aroused the American people by infusing a strong sense of emotion into his address, which resonated long after his assassination. 

The recency effect and science behind it

We all have the ability to employ some of the same speaking strategies as the greatest speakers of our time.

The common thread between all of JFK’s most famous speeches was this: end with a call-to-action. No matter what closing strategy you employ, it’s imperative you leave the audience with a desire to act—and provide them with something to do when they leave.

How do you do this? 

Keep it simple. 

This is the importance of “The Recency Effect,” the need to close your speech just as strong as how you started it. Everything in-between may be forgotten to a certain degree, but you have the ability to capture the attention and memories of audience members particularly in the beginning and end of your presentation.

Some of the strongest evidence to appreciate the importance of this phenomenon comes from a German psychologist named Herbert Ebbinghaus. He pioneered the experimental study of memory.

One conclusion, known as the serial position effect, demonstrates that when participants are presented with a list of words, they tend to remember the first few and last few. They are more likely to forget those in the middle of the list.

The Recency Effect applies to what is likely to be remembered at the end of a list of words. 

The end of your speech is an opportunity to affect change— your chance to plant a seed and make it grow. Begin your speeches with the end in mind. Everything that you have said up to that point leads to your close. Tie your powerful, attention- grabbing opening together with a compelling and memorable call to action. Your goal is not only to compel your audience to listen.

Your goal is to answer the questions “What do I want my audience to think, feel, or do, when this speech is over?”

Inspire them. Help them see their own potential and nd remind them of what you are asking them to do while it is still fresh in their minds – just like JFK. Learn more about this principle and the remaining 10 Commandments of Great Communicators by visiting, www.chuckgarcia.com 

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About the author

Chuck Garcia

Chuck is an author, executive coach, keynote speaker, and CEO of Climb Leadership International. He coaches executives on public speaking and leadership communication. A 25-year veteran of Wall Street, he spent several of those in leadership positions at Bloomberg, BlackRock, and Citadel. He is also adjunct associate professor at Columbia University where he teaches leadership communication in The Fu Foundation Graduate School of Engineering and Applied Science. He leverages his business leadership experience, as well as his hobby of mountain climbing, to provide an effective teaching narrative for professionals applying his tools and techniques. In his book A Climb to the Top, an Amazon best seller, draws on years of coaching and consulting experience to explain how you can become a powerful and persuasive communicator. Chuck is a graduate of Syracuse University and has a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership. 

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