Why Caroline Kennedy Needs Speaking Game

Caroline Kennedy wants a Senate seat, after years as a behind the scenes celebrity. But to succeed she must undergo a major change in her communication style if she is to become credible.

This is not an election. Gov. Paterson of New York makes the sole appointment when Hillary Clinton likely gives up her seat in about a month. But the Governor of New York will rely on polls, popular opinion and credibility. So it might as well be an election since Caroline has claimed she WANTS the seat, and the media is all over the story. And right now Caroline does not have the “chops”.

Years ago I worked in Bobby Kennedy’s Presidential campaign, and got to know something of how the Kennedy family worked. Caroline took after her beautiful and elegant mother Jackie Kennedy. John Jr. took more after his father and the rest of the Kennedy clan. Now Caroline wants to switch roles. I don’t think she can do it without a communication face lift.

Here she is announcing her interest in the Senate seat last week, and doing so in an affable and attractive way. But with hesitation and uncertainty – not in the forceful way she needs right now. After all, we know she’s affable and attractive. But is she strong? Is she a leader? Can she take the heat? And can she inspire and motivate people to accomplish things? Make a judgment here in an interview, and here in a platform speech

Specifically, Caroline Kennedy needs to show confidence, strength and leadership in her speaking:

  • Eye Communication. Look at people. As individuals. She glances down and her eyes flit about.
  • Pause. Give emphasis on certain words and phrases. Get rid of non-words – the ums and uhs of uncertainty. Replace fillers with a pause.
  • Stand Tall. She doesn’t exactly slouch, but she doesn’t fill a room. She needs some forward lean.
  • Forceful voice. Lose the monotone. Bring in the enthusiasm. She should project more, breathing from the diaphragm.

We also know for the last 40-plus years she has shied away from publicity and the camera. She can’t continue to do this as she did last week – make a statement and run. She has to show grit and answer reporters directly. She has to make news, not shun newsmedia. And she has to be eager to talk, not appear reluctant.

Perception is reality in the eye of the perceiver. How the public, and Governor Paterson, view her as she communicates is how they will judge her ability. Look at Sarah Palin – written off and mocked in the early days, before she spoke at the Republican Convention. Then she was viewed as the savior of the Republican party. Sarah Palin was compelling because of her speaking, Caroline Kennedy is not. Caroline Kennedy needs a similar signature moment – and perhaps she would be well served to create one.

Credentials? Not so important. Look at Barack Obama – President not because of accomplishments, but because of communication ability. Caroline can overcome the lack of experience in government by making a forceful case for the experience she does have, on Boards, in organizations, and her family experience in politics. Forceful is the key word, because the resume is thin. But Barack did it. She can – if she gets a communications face lift.

2 comments on “Why Caroline Kennedy Needs Speaking Game

  1. Yes, “Princess Caroline” badly needs a speech coach. It is a mystery to me why no one in the Kennedy camp ever thought to get her some coaching this past fall, when there was already speculation that an Obama win would put her in line for the UN Ambassadorship and other posts.
    She should have been better prepared. One gets the sense that this whole thing was cooked up over Thanksgiving dinner at a Kennedy family gathering.
    If Caroline gets picked — and decides to defend the seat in the 2010 elections — she might face a serious primary challenger and a nasty fight. Think of all the Democratic office holders in New York who deeply resent the idea of her being picked over them for the Senate seat. And if she survives a primary challenge, she’ll have the GOP and either Long Island Congressman Pete King or former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani to contend with. She’ll need all the luck of the Irish to survive 2010.

  2. This is directed to Ben Decker- I would like to “partner” with you in coaching C Kennedy.I agree entirely with your assessment about her pausing , her lack of body language leadership and general laid back attitude of privilege she projects.Ben and I have emailed each other this Fall when he was planning a trip to NYC when we might have met. I hope we still can to discuss your opening a Decker NY presence. Happy New Year..Dinah Day