I think Caroline Kennedy will

I think Caroline Kennedy will, I mean, could, uh, become a, you know, senator.

Caroline Kennedy has attracted significant media attention since declaring herself a candidate to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate seat once held by her uncle, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Never having held or sought public office before, she has shied away from the public stage other than her speeches at the DNC Conventions in 2000 and 2008.

Now the significant media attention that she has received has given us a good look at Ms. Kennedy as a communicator and the result is painful to observe. In television and print interviews in December, the perception that she created was one of uncertainty and ambiguity.

During an interview with New York Times reporters on December 27, 2008, she used the expression “you know” 138 times. When you use fillers such as “you know” or “uh”, it is a signal to the listener that you are filling your time with meaningless words while you think of what you are going to say next. The result is that you appear uninformed, nervous or both.

In the following answer to a question about how serving as a Senator might impact her relationship with her family, she used “you know” seven times:

“I mean, both of us have had a lot of commitments, you know, up till now I think we’ve both put our family first. And my kids are really supportive of this idea, I think they understand that it will make — you know, bring change for them. But you know, again, I think this is, you know, I think he’s someone who’s committed to, you know, education, science education, you know, he makes children’s museums, you know, this is, he —“

Moreover, she comes across as uncertain by using the non-positive expression “I think.” By saying “I think” she places some doubt in the mind of the listener about her confidence in what she’s saying. It’s as if she’s saying, I think this is correct, but I’m not positive. In the above answer she said “I think” four times and 128 during the entire interview.

Click here to read the New York Times interview. Click her to see a five-minute edit of her 30-minute interview on Manhattan’s local news channel NY1.

Ms. Kennedy’s articulation gaffs likely won’t have a significant impact on her quest for the New York Senate seat, but it will diminish her perception as a communicator. Ultimately, it will have a negative impact on her effectiveness as a leader.

Do you have fillers and non-positives in your conversations with people? To find out, tape record yourself and listen carefully to the words you chose. If you hear fillers and non-positive words, practice eliminating them in everyday conversation. Just give yourself a mental slap every time you get ready to use one. Soon you’ll be free of these distracting words and on your way to creating the perception of a confident, positive communicator.

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