JFK's inaugural speech: Six secrets of his success
President John F Kennedy would have been delighted to know that his inaugural address is still remembered and admired 50 years later.
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.
Recipe for Success
- 1. Contrasts
- 2. Three-part lists
- 3. Contrasts combined with lists
- 4. Alliteration
- 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"
comments powered by Disqus
- King Tut had overbite, club foot because his parents were brother and sister
- Prehistoric humans were far smarter than previously assumed
- Priests race to save manuscripts from jihadists in Iraq
- Where Mud Is Archaeological Gold, Russian History Grew on Trees
- Conflict Uncovers a Ukrainian Identity Crisis Over Deep Russian Roots
- Highlights of the recent Oral History Association Meeting
- Rick Perlstein response to Sam Tanenhaus's complaint that he's an aggregator
- Thai historian faces charges for daring to challenge a story about a royal king
- It's Rick Perlstein vs. Judith Stein in a Three Round Fight
- Park Honan, a Biographer of Authors, Is Dead at 86