Kennedy vs. Nixon -- the classic proof that style matters

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For those of us old enough to remember (and for the rest of you, I hope you studied it in history), John F. Kennedy's victory over Richard Nixon in 1960 had as much to do with style as it did substance. That lesson has always held true. Unfortunately, in life, it's not just what you say, it's how you say it and how you look saying it.

Retailers and manufacturers have to speak to the public all the time, whether at the Rotary, at an in-store clinic, or in a media interview. Those that tend to be asked to speak more often are the ones that show enthusiasm and interest with both voice and body.

Voice -- Speaking in monotones is the quickest way to put someone to sleep. Vary your inflections. Match the pitch and tone of your voice to your message. If you are trying to show excitement, speak louder and a bit faster. Want to show empathy? Speak with emotion and more slowly. You can punctuate your point by making a statement, then pausing and slowly repeating that statement. Draw someone closer to you by whispering. Varying inflections and speeds keep people riveted.

Body language -- This will give away what you are truly saying. If you speak with passion but you sit back with your arms crossed, your audience -- whether journalist or employee -- will see only disinterest. Match your body to your voice. Always avoid crossing your arms. If you're seated, lean in toward your audience. If you're standing (perhaps at a podium), get out from behind the barrier so nothing is between you and the audience. Walk around. Move your arms a bit. Don't stand with them straight at your sides or in your pockets. Gestures are fine -- just don't overdo it. Make sure there is a portable microphone ahead of time. All of that makes it more personal for you and for your audience. I recommend this approach even if you are doing a phone interview. Your body language translates into your spoken language whether you are seen by your listeners or not.

Clothing -- You're more than ready to do your interview or speaking engagement, right? Not quite. What you wear is who you are. Make sure what you have on matches your message. An outdoor retailer, for instance, should be wearing outdoor apparel when being interviewed by media. Sounds basic, but you'd be surprised how many people don't follow this advice. Some special considerations for TV: don't wear jewelry or funky patterned clothes that will distract a viewer. They will focus on what you have on, rather than on what you are saying. Also, avoid white shirts, they tend to wash you out. Don't be afraid of a little face powder so you don't look shiny on TV. (Men, that means you, too!)

Photographs -- One last thing: If you are being photographed, don't let the photographer steer you into a location that sends it own message, perhaps contradictory or insulting. I'll never forget a story of a female CEO, one of the first to break the "glass ceiling." She was photographed leaning against a urinal in the men's bathroom. The photo made the magazine's cover. Impactful for the magazine, but demeaning for the woman. Be certain any photograph reinforces the message you are trying to get across. Don't be afraid to assert yourself about location.

Communicating is 10 percent what you say, and 90 percent how you look. Remember that, and your speaking opportunities will be successful.

Jenni Dow is the president of Dow Marketing Communications Inc., a marketing public relations and media coaching firm. Dow helps clients transform their media opportunities into marketing successes. She coaches executives and managers to overcome their fears and use media interviews and speaking engagements to their advantage. Reach her