Seven Steps to Speak Like Jack

During the October 5, 1988 vice-presidential debate, Democratic candidate Lloyd Bentsen famously told Republican candidate Dan Quayle: “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” Most of us aren’t, especially when it comes to giving presentations. Kennedy was such a master of public speaking that his rhetoric “echoes down the decades to us, serving for many Americans as the single most memorable facet of his public career,” observes John Barnes, author of John F. Kennedy on Leadership: The Lessons and Legacy of a President (AMACOM, 2005). While most of us are unlikely to attain Kennedy’s mastery of speech, you can get a little closer to it by working on these seven principles from Kennedy’s speeches.

1. Live your speech. Adopt a style that feels natural to you. Use words you normally would use and work on appearing at ease when addressing others. Believe in what you are saying and convey that belief with sincerity and feeling.

2. Get input from your staff. Okay, so most sales reps don’t have a staff to consult, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get input. Round up some colleagues and tell them the message you’d like to get across. Then brainstorm with them about the best way to convey that message. Come up with key phrases that encapsulate what you are trying to say. It might be worth hiring a presentation coach to help you craft your message, but always remember that the final speech must be your own. It must be one you feel comfortable delivering, says Barnes.

3. Be brief. Ideally your speech should be no more than 20 minutes. Even if you have an hour to present, stick with a 20-minute presentation. That should give you more than enough time to convey your key message as well as allow time for audience members to ask questions and interact with you. Use the rule of brevity in your language as well. Use short, everyday words that are easily understood.

4. Use examples, statistics and facts to make your points. Punctuating your message with facts and figures makes your presentation more memorable and credible, though only to a certain point. If you overwhelm listeners with numbers you’ll lose them, so it’s important that you zero in on the specific examples or statistics that will make your case.

5. Use PowerPoint sparingly. Barnes says no more than two or three slides at most. Remember, it’s only a 20-minute presentation, no matter how much time you have. “If audience members are busy reading slides they are not paying attention to you,” he cautions.

6. Tell a story when appropriate. If you can find a story that makes your message personal for audience members, you can make the issue resonate for them. A powerful, relevant story will do more to sell your product and service than all the facts and PowerPoint slides in the world.

7. Remember that your speech reflects you. No matter how many people collaborate on your presentation, keep in mind that in the end it’s your message. What you say and how you say it communicates volumes about who you are. When you get right down to it that often is a big factor in whether a prospect decides to do business with you.