The day was June 26, 1963, and the location was notable. Nearly two years after the Berlin Wall was erected by the Soviet Union to eliminate movement between East and West Germany, U.S. President John F. Kennedy traveled to West Berlin to show his support of the democratic state. The resulting speech is remembered as one of JFK’s best, and should rightfully serve as a standard of excellence in public speaking.
Always, Know Your Audience
We can’t stress it enough: the most important thing about a presentation or speech is the audience. JFK’s speech wouldn’t have made the lasting impression it did if he hadn’t been wholly aware of whom he was speaking to, and been keenly in touch with what rhetoric they would respond to. He begins by making his audience feel important, by declaring, “I am proud…” to visit this country, to be here, to be in the company of General Clay (who was beloved by West Berliners).
Perhaps most ingeniously, JFK spoke the language of his German audience. Rather than declare, “I am a Berliner,” in English, he spoke the phrase twice in German, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” He speaks another memorable phrase in German, “Lass’ sie nach Berlin kommen,” or “Let them come to Berlin.” Again, the phrase is significantly more powerful spoken in German, as it shows JFK’s unwavering support, and respect, for the people of West Berlin.
Repetition: Easy to Implement with Lasting Result
We’ve discussed using literary techniques in presentations, and there’s no denying that the most powerful of those techniques is repetition. There’s just something utterly compelling and memorable about repetition. Notice how JFK employs the technique: “There are some who say,” (3x) and most powerfully, “Let them come to Berlin,” which he says four times, and once in German. Repetition is a simple technique to implement in a presentation or speech– one that leaves a significant impression on the audience.
Keep it Brief
JFK was particularly great at keeping his speeches short and sweet. He certainly recognized the power of brevity, and used it to its full advantage. The pace of this speech is excellent. Only after getting the crowd excited and enthused about his message does he go into specific detail regarding his motivations for being in West Berlin. He uses emotion masterfully, and does well to end the speech strongly, by again declaring the most important point of the speech: “Ich bin ein Berliner.”