Elected in 1960 as the 35th president of the United States, 43-year-old John F. Kennedy became the youngest man and the first Roman Catholic to hold that office. He was born into one of America's wealthiest families and parlayed an elite education and a reputation as a military hero into a successful run for Congress in 1946 and for the Senate in 1952. As president, Kennedy confronted mounting Cold War tensions in Cuba, Vietnam and elsewhere. He also led a renewed drive for public service and eventually provided federal support for the growing civil rights movement. His assassination on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, sent shockwaves around the world and turned the all-too-human Kennedy into a larger-than-life heroic figure. To this day, historians continue to rank him among the best-loved presidents in American history. Like other great communicators - including Winston Churchill before him and Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama since then - he was someone who took word-craft very seriously indeed.
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Recipe for Success
2. Three-part lists
3. Contrasts combined with lists
5. Bold imagery
6. Audience analysis
He had delegated his aide Ted Sorensen to read all the previous presidential inaugurals, with the additional brief of trying to crack the code that had made Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address such a hit.
Fifty years on, the debate about whether he or Sorensen played the greater part in composing the speech matters less than the fact that it was a model example of how to make the most of the main rhetorical techniques and figures of speech that have been at the heart of all great speaking for more than 2,000 years. Most important among these are:
Contrasts: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" Three-part lists: "Where the strong are just, and the weak secure and the peace preserved" Combinations of contrasts and lists (by contrasting a third item with the first two): "Not because the communists are doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right" If the rhetorical structure of sentences is one set of building blocks in the language of public speaking, another involves simple "poetic" devices such as:
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Watch JFK's speech
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Alliteration: "Let us go forth to lead the land we love"
Imagery: "The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans" In general, the more use of these a speaker makes, the more applause they will get and the more likely it is that they will be recognised as a brilliant orator.
But great communicators differ as to which of these techniques they use most.
Presidents Reagan and Obama, for example, stand out as masters of anecdote and story-telling, which didn't feature at all in JFK's inaugural. Mr Obama also favours three-part lists, of which there were 29 in his 10-minute election victory speech in Chicago.
Kennedy, however, used very few in his inaugural address. For him, contrasts were the preferred weapon, coming as they did at a rate of about one every 39 seconds in this particular speech. Some were applauded and some have survived among the best-remembered lines.
He began with three consecutive contrasts:
"We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom" "Symbolizing an end as well as a beginning"
"Signifying renewal as well as change"
From the 20 or so he used, other widely quoted contrasts, all of which were applauded, include:
"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate" "My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man" The speech also bristled with imagery, starting with a stark warning about the way the...
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