So Conservative Party Conference, or #cpc13, is over.
The high point of any party conference is the Leader’s Speech. The Speech. Cameron’s party conference speech was very good this year for a number of reasons. It spoke about people, it had humour – some of it freelance and unscripted, it had changes in tempo and some overdue self-deprecation but more than all of these, which are now pretty standard in Cameron’s speeches, it had an argument, an enemy and a call to action. Add to that the magic of its success in speaking to the country as well as those in the conference hall.
The speech was obviously made easier by Miliband’s repositioning of the Labour Party last week which helped Cameron focus on the real electoral enemy and went some way to helping him talk in “We” in a way that united and focused the Conservative view externally and shifted it away from an internal discussion – which seldom works for any Party Leader.
What was also good about this speech was that it was not a stand-alone – policy announcements had been made already, policies were not listed in rote. The speech was about direction rather than detail – some would even call it vision.
Effortless public speaking is a result of hard work. And coaching
Ever since a colleague of mine translated for him in Berlin in the early 90′s, I have been a fan of Bill Clinton’s speeches and his causal, disarming and natural delivery and it would be easy to argue that he is the best speaker in the world today. The way he performs in 2013 is where everyone should aim to be – he speaks “authentically” as if to you alone, he uses natural everyday language that includes and that is digestible and he gives the impression that this is a cosy exchange rather than a one-way broadcast.
But he wasn’t always like that. The Salon have a brilliant article called “When Bill Clinton died on Stage” which compares his performance nominating Barack Obama for a second term in 2012 with his dismal nomination speech endorsing Michael Dukakis in 1988. The speech was slammed by national papers and even by his home state paper summed it up like this:
Gov. Bill Clinton’s big national moment, his prime time speech Wednesday night in nomination of Michael Dukakis, was an unmitigated disaster.
A gentler, more charitable assessment would be less than honest, considering the reaction of delegates, network commentators and the national press.
All trashed him, some unmercifully, for being boring, ponderous, long-winded, disjointed and seemingly unfazed by the convention crowd’s clear desire for him to sit down.
Sometimes you have to fall on your face before you realise that you need to get some help. Clinton may have been coached before the 1988 performance but I would imagine that this failure and all the associated bad media coverage made him up his game and his focus after that. He hired Michael Sheehan and the rest is American and world history. Of course you can argue that he has loads of practice (true and important) and that he ought to be a good speaker after having been President for 8 years. But would he have become President without Sheehan’s help?
Have a look for yourself at this clip of what Governor Clinton was like in 1988 at the age of 41 – the reaction from the Democrat convention is astonishing when you think how he is idolised now.
I am delighted to be speaking at the Spring Leadership and Communications Conference in May this year at the Institute for Government. This conference is based on Public Speaking in Public Life and I am looking forward to listening to the other speakers who include someone who has trained TED speakers, a former UK Ambassador, a Professor of Politics and a Cicero Award Winner.
Who Should Attend? Previous conferences have attracted speechwriters from the European Commission, the CBI, Orange, Deloitte, the United Nations, the European Investment Bank, Coca Cola as well as the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.
The Benefits Acquire techniques used in the White House, European institutions and UK Parliament Get insights into rhetoric from top writers Listen to outstanding public speakers Have your own work analysed in interactive sessions with top trainers Meet fellow professionals from the UK, Europe and the rest of the world