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Caroline Kennedy Speaks January 22, 2009

Posted by lyndastucky in Communication.
Tags: , ,

Caroline Kennedy’s recent announcement to withdraw her name for consideration at a Senate seat  was analyzed with the normal media scrutiny one sees after any political change.  One of the reasons for her decisions (among many) was the criticism she received nationwide for her frequent use of  “you know” and “ums” in multiple interviews.  The clip that I saw  was unfair in some respects as it sounds like several interviews pasted together but it does give the perception of inexperience.  Whether we believe in someone being able to get the job done (or not), we expect a  certain degree of capability in terms of verbal expression.

Of course, this is not the first time that a public figure has been criticized for lacking speaking skills that inspire.  Looking back at our most recent, long presidential campaign, the candidates were scrutinized and we were constantly reminded of speaking styles, flubs, faux pas, and word choices.  It was almost as if the media was waiting for the next person to make a mistake. 

 A public figure like a politician (or the spouse of a politician), company spokespersons, movie stars, TV journalists and many others have a tough job!  Speaking coherently and dynamically are requirements of the job because the audience wants to hear public officials deliver a dynamic presentation.  Speaking well “sells.”  Even more so, we are expecting speakers who speak spontaneously (as in an interview) to be free of any speech distractions and to be articulate. 


There are so many examples of individuals who do this well.  During the Olympics, I was struck by how well  so many young athletes responded articulately in interviews.  I am also amazed how well some journalists speak when there are no cue cards in front of them.  Frequently, we hear ordinary people get interviewed who seem to thrive orally with a clear focus, a sense of humor and sincerity in their voice.


We’ve all heard many examples of excellent speakers and ones that fail to capture and then become the butt of many jokes on late night comedy TV.  What has been your experience as a listener to speakers around you?  Why do you think we (the audience) have such high expectations and place so much pressure on speakers in the public eye? 




1. Jay Speyerer - January 25, 2009


It’s all about the script. Or lack thereof.

Off-the-cuff eloquence is hard to pull off. It’s much easier if you have prepared remarks at the ready. I think many people expect anyone they see on a TV screen to be glib, funny, and moving every time they open their mouths simply because they’re accustomed to seeing actors do it all the time.

But being a good actor doesn’t make you eloquent; it makes you a good interpreter of someone else’s words. I heard somebody say once that they liked Cary Grant because he always had a smart, witty comback. No he didn’t. A screenwriter wrote those comebacks for him. Rock Hudson admitted that he could barely order a sandwich without a script.

Caroline Kennedy would have been better off using a few Nixonisms, such as “Let me make this perfectly clear” or “Let me just say this about that.” Those were his ums and y’knows. The more blathering filler you spout, the more time you have to think about what you want to say.


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