Browse Category: giving speeches

eam Peter Botting CPC2014 Curryphoto

Conservative Party Conference – guest post by Danny Bowman

A Guest Post by Danny Bowman who is interning for Peter Botting.

This week in Birmingham was my second Conservative Party conference and the last conference before the General Election in 2015.

We arrived on the Saturday – Sam, myself and Peter. We joined the councillors and activists, the blue rinse brigade, the ambitious/naive/thirsty CF’ers, the lobbyists, charities, businesses and the media. The Hyatt was busy from the first night with old friends meeting up, everyone offering their shiny new business cards (I did that a lot too!) and most people enjoying a good drink. Or two. 🙂

The first day saw the annual “Hate the Torys” march – happily I didn’t hear of any violence this year. We didn’t get in the hall as Peter was focusing on the fringe events and it was my job to get him from one event to the next – which was not always easy as he keeps meeting people and I have to chase him to keep to his schedule.

Mark Reckless’s defection actually invigorated the conference and the mood seemed very buoyant from day one – and then improved. Dunkirk spirit etc.

Then saw the start of the real action with major speeches from all the Ministers. Theresa May, George Osborne, William Hague (his last speech to conference) and David Cameron were always going to be the big ticket speeches for conference. And they were all top quality. Theresa and George were serious people giving serious speeches about serious jobs. Boris was very funny and very cheeky – teasing both Theresa May and David Cameron. William Hague was classic William Hague – funny, self-deprecating and grown up. David Cameron gave the best speech he has ever given – most notable about his speech though was the huge difference between him and Ed Miliband. One is Prime Minister material – one is not. In fact, if Miliband was a Conservative it is doubtful that he would even be a PPS.

The final day saw David Cameron’s speech started with referencing the successful Scottish referendum then moved onto a fierce warning to British citizens fighting for Isis/ISIL as being “enemies of the UK”. He teased and praised William Hague, showed real anger about Labour’s attacks on his attitude to the NHS and outlined a series of significant tax cuts for people earning less than £50 000 including no income tax for people earning the minimum wage.

This was my second conference. I was working instead of playing. I drank less and listened more. This conference was very different to last year. People were much more accepting of mental health and accepting of me. In fact, for many of the people I spoke to, mental health seemed an absolutely normal and non-stigma issue to talk about.

We managed to find time to go for a curry – at Sam’s insistence. It was the best curry I have ever had. I asked for the mildest curry while Peter and Sam tried out something much hotter! Even Sam rated his curry as the tie-first place curry he has ever had and he is quite fussy and critical about food!

eam Peter Botting CPC2014 Curryphoto

Conservative Party Conference – Theresa May stays on point.

Theresa May stays on point.

Theresa May’s conference speech was remarkable. It was remarkable in comparison to all the other conference speeches as Conservative Party Conference. The most remarkable thing about the speech – Theresa May stays on point. This may sound strange but cast your mind back to all the other speeches. How many discussed the economic recovery, deficit reduction, campaign strategy or Ed Miliband’s speech? How many cabinet members talked about subjects which are not in their brief? How many minister’s use their conference speech as an opportunity to get on their soap box and give their piece about a whole host of issues? Theresa May did not do this. She discussed what she was there to talk about – Home affairs. She talked about security, terrorism and crime and did not waste time discussing other departments and other minister’s work.

By doing this Theresa May shows that she is leadership material – she can show that she will get down and do the job she is given, no point scoring or petty party politics, just hard work and a commitment to getting the job done. May probably did not go out to give a leader’s speech, but by delivering a speech that stayed on point, she was able to sound even more like the next Tory leader than the rest.

Of course, she has given a far more wide-ranging speech before at the ConHome conference a few years back. But this speech was all about showing how good she is, how competent our Home Office Minister has been. This position is normally a poison chalice. A terrible job concerned with terrible issues. She has performed well and has probably been in the job for as long as anyone else – ever. Her reputation is better 4 years after getting than the job than when she was appointed. Theresa May is not flash and funny like Boris. But she is competent. Which Angela Merkel has shown is a positive attribute amongst voters.

Best Man Speech

Best Man Speech

Normally I craft words that other people speak or print. Recently, I have started speaking more frequently myself and a long time ago I was in the National Public Speaking Senior School finals and I have years of experience as a public speaking coach training other people to communicate, present and speak.  But it is very seldom MY gig.Best Man Speech

But this week I am on the spot. I have an unmissable deadline. I have a speech to write and finish. And I have to deliver it. And it needs to be good. At the very least.

For some strange reason Matthew Elliott of TPA, No2AV and Business for Britain fame asked me to be his Best Man. So here I am in The United Club Lounge in Heathrow Terminal 2, en route to Washington, thinking I had better focus on the plane and get this thing done.  After all, as Matthew’s brother John unhelpfully pointed out: “If you were a carpenter and gave a crap speech it would be ok. But you aren’t!” This hasn’t been helped by “friends” like John O’Connell who is a Director at the TPA and one of the few totally likeable people in Westminster, until now, that is. Who said: “Congratulations on being Best Man. Speech better be good!”

Plus the the venue is Mount Vernon. George Washington’s family estate. No pressure.

It is a huge honour to be chosen as Best Man. The speech is officially to the whole crowd but actually the only audience I care about is Sarah and Matthew.

But I would be lying if I wasn’t viewing this speech with some trepidation. The prospect of giving this speech has hung over me for months.  I guess that’s because it’s important to me. I can stand up and give an unimportant speech now.  I can give speeches about things I know and believe in with a few minutes notice. But a Best Man’s speech is expected to be funny, personal and emotional. Authentic and all that. Plus the audience is full of people who speak far more often than I do.

But the speech is not about me. Not about impressing anyone. Not about anything or anyone except Matthew and Sarah. Saying the things he secretly would like me to say and avoiding ALL the things she has forbidden me from saying. There is a balancing act for you, if ever there was one!

Luckily, I am staying in Washington with my friend and colleague, speaker coach Denise Graveline, who will be critiquing my content and delivery. Once I finish writing the damn thing! I would love to say that if my speech bombs, it is her fault. But the truth is, when you stand up and give a speech you are alone. Your credit or your shame.  These things can’t be delegated. I am glad I have a speaker coach though! 🙂

Public Speaking Tips

Get close to your audience – Public Speaking Tips

Lecterns are for Losers – Public Speaking Tips

This is not just about lecterns – it is about removing distance and barriers and distractions and getting close to your audience. Talking TO people is old fashioned and ineffective – talking with people is natural and human and real and normal. Audiences have always wanted to be emotionally involved in speeches. Now they demand it. Today they will simply leave the room, change channels or escape your preaching and make themselves a coffee or a sandwich while you drone on.

Public speaking conjures up images of grand stages and huge crowds – but the best speakers speak to every person like they are only talking to them. If you get this right, everyone who hears you speak should be able to close their eyes and imagine you are speaking just to them.

So as a first step in getting close to your audience, leave the lectern behind and get close to your audience. Let them see you close up – let them see your face and your expressions and your hands. Good speakers get rid of distractions as well as barriers. Physical closeness demands attention, rules out the use of notes, builds rapport and reminds the audience that you are human – like them. It also makes you vulnerable and vulnerability and authenticity are best buddies.

If you are speaking on the radio – imagine you have just one person listening. If you have to be on a big stage – speak just to one person.

Sometimes you have to use a lectern – but the other rules still apply. Move around it like Obama does rather than hide behind it. All the speeches I have given from behind a lectern have been inferior to the ones where I took a risk, went without my notes, got close to my audience and spoke from my heart.

Working on the Sri Lankan Prime Minister’s speech to the United Nations, which was by definition protocol-rich and sort of demanded the use of a lectern, we had to work incredibly hard on the content and his delivery to make this behind-the-lectern speech human and real and relevant.

Front of the lectern speeches are almost always more effective and more powerful. David Cameron’s leadership speech was in front of the lectern. TED speakers hardly ever use lecterns.

Clinton and Obama lean on them like comfortable old pieces of family furniture rather than formal, official hard-edged barriers between them and their audience.

In this video Bill Clinton, arguably the best speaker in the world today, shows how getting close and destroying barriers and distance builds empathy and helps him get what he wants.


Update. After writing this post, I checked with my friend Denise Graveline who is a Washington based speaker coach and also a TEDMED coach.

She said:

“TED talks are nearly always ‘walk-and-talk’ rather than lectern-based. A few exceptions have been made for older speakers or those who need something to steady them–a favorite of mine is 84-year-old Harvard biologist E. O Wilson’s TEDMED talk–and in those cases, almost invariably, a clear plexiglass lectern is used, to make sure you’re seeing the speaker. Connecting with the audience is the hallmark of any TED conference, from the lack of lecterns to the proviso that speakers stay through the entire conference to interact with attendees.”

She added that the TED Commandments and the TEDMED Hippocratic oath call for one not to read, but to talk which she writes about on her blog The Eloquent Woman

AGM speech

What to put in the AGM speech plus 15 Questions for Shareholders to ask

Getting the Board and the CEO ready for the AGM

AGM speeches are not what they were. Volatility almost everywhere and in most sectors; tightened or non-existent credit; reduced or reducing asset valuations; uncertain domestic and international markets; a financial cliff; a probing press; picky customers.

Delivering the AGM speech used to be much more fun. Shares used to increase in value, dividends went up, the champagne was being chilled. Those were the days…

So what needs to go in the AGM speech in 2013?

Shareholders and commentators need to hear evidence that the company and its leaderships fully understands and can articulate its past, present and projected financial performance.  Boards will be questioned on growth prospects, costs, debt, capital management, human resources and the general financial future of the company.

The AGM should give comfort, build confidence, indicate direction, demonstrate control and reassure and build stock valuations. The AGM speech, and the Question and Answer sessions that follow, often represent the most important day in the calendar. If the Chief Exec and other Board members perform badly, it can be bad for the company. It is always bad for those who perform badly.

15 Basic Questions for shareholders to ask at the AGM

Most issues should be addressed during the AGM speech, reducing the pressure questions. These are some basic questions or themes for shareholders to ask/raise. Board members need to know their stuff and be prepared. 

  1. Current financial position? Clear, truthful and easily digestible figures.
  2. Has the Board checked its figures – how was it done, show how it was robust?
  3. How has the Board minimised/limited/managed possible exchange rate fluctuations?
  4.  Does the Board’s plan for the future need working capital – how will it raise it?
  5. Has the Board identified under-performing assets, operations or divisions? What are they doing about them? Keep, fix, sell? Strategic importance?
  6. Inventory levels and annual turnarounds? Comparisons with industry averages/competitors?
  7. Outline credit management, debt chasing, early warning alarms.
  8. Recently checked reliability and expected trends of bank guarantees and credit limits. Implications and remedial action? How recent?
  9. Accuracy of current asset valuations? Remedial action?
  10. Have last years investment plans been reviewed where/if the financials, liquidity, debt, valuations etc have changed?
  11. Relationship with bankers/lenders, the media, analysts, rating agencies etc?
  12. Any scary covenants close to being breached – how are they monitored?
  13. Debt risk management: explain and demonstrate? Issues arising? Actions taken?
  14. Review/consolidation/support of supply chain?
  15. Any planned redundancies? Costs? Sufficient? Measures to retain key staff? New pension legislation – impact and cost implications?

If you have an AGM coming up, I can help you prepare for your AGM speech and for the Q and A session.

Keynote Speaker at the European Speechwriters Network London Conference

Speechwriter becomes a speaker for a day

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.

The conference has been organised by Brian Jenner, founder of the UK Speech Writers Guild. 

This is an excerpt from the eventbrite booking form:

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

How to give a compelling speech and not just make noise.

Compelling Speeches Make Points and Get Results. They compel.

  1. Prepare, Practice and then Practice the speech some more.

    Some “experts” say that you should spend 20, 30 or 40 times as much time preparing and practicing your speech, as you spend delivering it. Of course, the more important the speech is, the more time you will be able to budget/justify for the speech – but reading it out loud 7-8 times are an ABSOLUTE minimum. The most important bits of the speech are the beginning and the end – if your time is limited, focus more time on the beginning and the end, even learning them off by heart. This will also help you relax and calm the fear.

  2. Be You, Be Real and Be Authentic.

    Tell personal stories in your speech to underline what you are saying. Parables work – so do personal stories. Remember to only tell the part of the story that the audience needs to “get it” – don’t clutter your stories with unnecessary details, words and phrases. If they don’t have a job, get rid of them.

  3. Take your job seriously – not yourself.

    Self-deprecating humour is not just useful, it is almost mandatory. Ask Boris Johnson. Don’t mock members of the audience, forget jokes as a general rule and be careful of jokes against the opposition.

  4. Know Your Stuff

    If you don’t know why you are giving the speech, what you are talking about or why you are talking about it, why are you even thinking of talking? Know your stuff, know the issues, know the causes, the alternatives, the enemy, the victims and, above all, know the solution.  

  5. What do you want them to do?

    Know what you want. You must be speaking for a reason, either to persuade people or to move people to action. Be specific, make it easy for them and clear about how to do what you want them to do. Political speeches want to convince or activate votes, corporate speeches usually want money. Good political  speechwriters are used to asking for votes and money – as a Conservative speechwriter it is a basic requirement!!  Some call it “deliverables” or, even worse, “required outcomes” – whatever you want to call it, ask for it!

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