When in doubt, go JFK

Sometimes when I look at a sea of blank faces, I worry that these people don’t want me here. As an event emcee who has to host in front of a large group of strangers, I fear that they see me as an outsider who’s come in to tell them something they already know.

And you know what? They’re partly right. Whether I’m at a fundraiser for fighting children’s cancer or at an opulent wedding, most attendees know more about why they’re there than I do. If I try to match their knowledge and experiences, I’m going to be out of my depth and worse, they’re going to get irritated with me.

But it’s not my job to be the content matter expert for the audience, I’m here to remind them of the reason that brought them here, on a very fundamental human level. Before every event, while doing my research about the cause, the history and it’s people, I try to discover that event’s driving force, I look for it’s JFK quote.

Almost everyone is familiar with President John F Kennedy’s most memorable quote. I saw the first hand effects of employing such a pithy saying back in high school. When running for student council president against a formidable opponent, I shamelessly appropriated that quote in my rallying speech, “Ask not what this school can do for you, but what you can do for this school”. And it worked. Students immediately took to it and I found them repeating it till the day I won.

That day I realized the power of simple unifying phrases. The best ones are short, catchy and express our core aspirational values as human beings. And make sure to repeat it throughout the event and your talks. Because when we’re gathered together in a crowd, an evolutionary instinct moves in us to want to be part of something greater. And we look to the speaker to help us reach for the best in ourselves.

So the next time you find yourself preparing to talk to a group of people, find the rallying call that will press on past your fears and into their hopes and dreams.

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