Most successful politicians find themselves in the position they are in due to their ability to masterfully deliver a message and persuade others to believe in their cause. That is their job—to speak and inspire action on behalf of the people they represent. This is why so many of the greatest speeches of our time have been delivered by politicians, many of them past presidents.
President John F. Kennedy was undoubtedly one of the most impactful speakers and politicians in the history of our country. One of his most famous speeches—his Inaugural Address of 1961—expertly showcases the strength of a successful close when he stated, “My fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
His ability to inspire only continued. On September 12, 1962, in the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, President John F. Kennedy gave a speech on the campus of Rice University in Houston, Texas. On that day, using a rhetorical technique called the Rule of Three – which you can read more about here—Kennedy emphatically stated:
There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, thirty-five years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, and because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.
Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.
President Kennedy’s call-to-action inspired, persuaded, and provoked change. His words galvanized a nation to accomplish the impossible. Through effective use of the Recency Effect, President Kennedy left his listeners with a bold and memorable action plan. To amplify the speech’s impact, he spoke with passion and purpose, instinctually moving Americans closer to his cause. Given the advent of the Cold War against the Soviet Union, he aroused the American people by infusing a strong sense of emotion into his address, which resonated long after his assassination.
The end of your speech is an opportunity to effect change—your chance to plant a seed and make it grow. Begin your speeches with the end in mind. Everything that you have said up to that point leads to your close. Tie your powerful, attention-grabbing opening together with a compelling and memorable call to action. Your goal is not only to compel your audience to listen. Your goal is to answer the question, “What do I want my audience to think, feel, or do, when this speech is over?”
Inspire them. Help them see their own potential, and remind them of what you are asking them to do while it is still fresh in their minds—just like JFK. Learn more about this principle and discover your current strengths and weaknesses in public speaking by taking my assessment.