The NCSL Blog


By Julie Lays

You’ve answered an invitation to a community organization’s monthly meeting to defend your vote for an increase in the sales tax. As you start your speech, what’s the best way to begin?

Catherine JohnsA. It was the hardest vote I’ve had to make…

B. The state’s revenues are drying up…

C. I’m here tonight to let you know...

D. You have a right to be upset…

E, I assume you probably have already heard about...

The answer is D. The most important word for a communicator is “you.” Start a speech with “you” and you’ll convey a sense of connecting with your audience and grab their attention immediately.

Catherine Johns, a communications consultant from Chicago, shared this advice and a whole lot more, with participants at the Legislative Summit during a Sunday morning session that was full to begin with and grew as the morning went on. Sponsored by the Women’s Network, it was geared toward women but useful for everyone there.

Her specific advice was a good reminder of how important our words, appearance, voice and body language are when we want to convey confidence and be persuasive. The first impression you give is important. Think about what people see when they look at you. To convey confidence, stand tall, feet firmly planted on the ground, keep hand gestures below your shoulders and make full frontal eye contact.

She followed her own advice and gave participants time to practice with each other and to share with the whole group, which kept everyone engaged. To craft a persuasive message, she advised everyone to ask themselves: Who am I talking to? What would be meaningful to them? How much can they absorb? What jargon will stump them? What do I want them to hear, think or feel after I’m done? And craft your message in threes: three points, three stories, three pieces of advice.

Her mantra: Say it once, Say it well, then stop.

I’ll heed her advice.


For more about Catherine Jones' communications advice, listen to her interview on NCSL's "Our American States" podcast.

Julie Lays is the editor of State Legislatures magazine.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.