Jacki Graham Karns on Being a Presenter for the Detroit Auto Show

Metro Detroiter Jacki Graham Karns is a fixture at auto shows across the nation, including this month’s Detroit Auto Show.
Ten years ago, Karns became an auto show presenter for Honda Motor Co., marrying her love of performing with her love of cars. // Photograph by Sal Rodriguez

Born into an automotive family, Jacki Graham Karns was destined to have a love for cars.

“I remember walking through auto shows as a kid and being fascinated by the cars but also by the women onstage presenting them,” says the Livonia native. “I had a love for automotives as well as a love for singing, acting, dancing, and performing.”

Ten years ago, Karns began working on those same stages. Marrying her two interests as a Honda Motor Co. presenter at auto shows across the country, she has become a fixture at the North American International Auto Show, also known as the Detroit Auto Show. Her career as a presenter has led to her hosting special events for Rolls-Royce, conducting dealer trainings for Lexus, and working with the HondaJet team.

The world-famous Detroit Auto Show features more than 20 attractions and events to showcase the automotive industry and its evolving technology, and Karns will be right in the center of the action this year.

An event this big requires preparation and dedication from its presenters. Here, Karns walks us through her preshow rituals, recommends a must-do event, and shares how she’s added philanthropy to her lengthy resume.

I prepare for auto shows by …

Studying! It’s so important when you work as a presenter to stay up to date on news in the industry. When I first started at Honda, they sent me to their headquarters in Torrance, California. You’re submerged in their company for four to five days, and it’s all about learning.

When you’re doing press before the shows, it’s a great opportunity to chat with the engineers, the CEOs, and the dealers to get a feel for what you’re selling and why it’s the best product.

One thing that has impacted my career as a presenter is …

My work in pageants. I was Ms. Petite USA in 2016, and pageantry has helped me learn how to capture an audience. When you’re onstage, you could be talking to 10 people or thousands, but you must get them to listen to you.

A cause that’s near and dear to my heart is …

The Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan and the community I’ve built called Caregivers Hope. My mom has epilepsy, and I’ve been a caregiver for her since my early 20s. Juggling my career and being a good caregiver was a struggle, and it’s a challenge I don’t want anyone to go through alone. This community is a great way for people to connect and give each other support.

Three things I bring to every auto show are…

Comfortable shoes, water, mints, and my notes. We do a ton of walking, so you want to be in comfortable shoes to set you up for success. And we do so much talking, so I always keep water and mints on hand.

Preparation is important for these events; I like to print out my notes, highlight them, laminate them. I keep my schedules, a list of products, and anything else I might need in a binder so that I can stay on track and so that anyone I’m supervising can check in.

The one auto show feature I’d recommend to any attendees is …

Ride-and-drives. If companies are offering a chance to ride or drive the cars, I highly advise visitors to do so. You’re making a major financial decision. It’s a great chance to compare different cars.

Auto Show Manual

  • Sept. 13-14: Technology Days, $75 per day
  • Sept. 16-24: Public Show, adults $20, seniors $12, kids $10
  • Location: Huntington Place, Detroit

The Charity Preview takes place at the Huntington Place show floor on Sept. 15, the eve before the event opens to the public. Tickets are $400 each, $700 for a pair. The gala has raised over $123 million since its inception in 1976.

Go to naias.com for more, including updated information about events, attractions, and shows.

This story is from the September 2023 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.