So, you meant to spend more time researching, you really wanted to get coaching, you intended to get input from friend or colleagues. But you didn’t. And now you are in trouble. The speech you have to give is this weekend, tomorrow, this evening or, worst case, in 10 minutes time!
I am writing this post from Washington. Home of American Politics. Named after George Washington. President of the United States Number One. #1POTUS. This place reeks of politics – and that was just the drive here. Up until a few
months ago, when I was doing a speaking gig in Aix-en-Provence and I met someone who lived there, Watergate meant to me Nixon and impeachment. Period. But it is actually a posh apartment building where Condoleeza Rice lives. We drove past that. We drove past the Kennedy Centre. Today I am visiting the Abraham Lincoln and the FDR memorial and tomorrow I am on a private tour of the White House. On Friday, I am Best Man to Matthew Elliott on George Washington’s Estate in Mount Vernon. I am a political geek – West Wing, House of Cards US, House of Cards UK, Newsroom and Yes Minister are all on my “favourite” lists. For me this is like a film fan going to Hollywood – except the sets are real and the people really exist. Except for Freddy’s BBQ rib “joint” which doesn’t! #SadFace
The places are iconic but the people are what matter. We don’t love House of Cards because of the scenery or the film-making although that is wonderful. We watch because of Frank Underwood. We don’t watch the West Wing because of Sorkin’s brilliant dialogue. We watch because of Josh and Donna and Toby.
We also watch them both because we suspect the reality is often far too similar to aspects of House of Cards and because we wish our elected representatives were grown-ups like Leo and Jed Bartlett advised by people like Fitz and Babish. Because as private citizens we wish the former one wasn’t real and the latter was. But as politicos we also love them because in our own little political lives we wish we were like the roles we see on screen.
I am meeting some wonderful people including a friend, John Shosky, who wrote speeches for 3 White House administrations. I am staying with Denise Graveline who worked in the Clinton administration. I have insider tour guides to Washington who give texture and anecdotes and colour to this wonderful set. I am a lucky guy.
Others. like Dan Hamilton, have taught me what little, and how little, I know about US politics including the false comparisons between “Conservatives” in the UK and in the US. And between Democrats and UK Labour. Last night Denise and I discussed, between drinks of course, the differences between Liberal Conservatives (UK) and Libertarians (US).
To be honest, I don’t know much about US politics. At all. I love the fact that I am here. I am lapping it all up. There will be annoying amounts of photos on my Facebook page very soon. Sign up here if you want to see them. https://www.facebook.com/PeterBottingMessageCraft
Image courtesy of Damian Brandon / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
This is an edited version of a blogpost from 2012. I was reminded of this post the other day when Denise Graveline reminded me that behind all the jargon, behind all the blogposts, the training, the travel, the networking and the varied clients I have – I am only one thing. A coach. She is a coach too and, I am proud to add, a client. But sometimes I think I learn more from her than vice versa. Funny old world. Anyway, enough wittering on from me… I hope you enjoy this post.
Words count. They have power and meaning and meanings and hidden meanings. And titles are words.
I used to be a tennis coach. That was my title. My card. My identity. Then I became a language coach. But then trainer was thought to be a better word. So I became a trainer. Then people said I should be called a consultant. (“The money’s better if you are a consultant” they said). So I became a Communications Consultant. And Trainer.
Then I started speechwriting so I was a Speechwriter too. And then there was strategy to consider. Which I also do. So I was a strategy-mapping, speechwriting communications consultant and trainer.
Until a few weeks back.
I went to watch my niece’s stepkids work out. They do gymnastics.
The gym is the entire top floor of a big industrial shed. It must have cost a fortune to design and furnish. Everything looks new and professional.
There is (the father moaned) a strict and expensive dress code for the kids. The guy in charge says uncompromisingly that if they want to compete they have to wear the kit.
Parents sit around and chat, surf the web or watch their kids being put through their paces through the full length viewing window or from the viewing platform (a bit like a squash court viewing area). Full transparency here!
The guy in charge is young, very calm and obviously knows exactly what he is doing. He has a group of 7 or 8 kids working very hard. He literally pushes them physically when they need to stretch more and bends joints and arms and legs and backs. Gently but very firmly. The kids grimace at him occasionally but he knows it is what has to be done. He corrects them with a few smiling words and a guiding hand. He sips water calmly while they obediently and enthusiastically run from one exercise to the next. The kids laugh a lot.
In the viewing area there are glass cabinets full of pictures of kids holding up medals and cups. And some very large champion looking cups – a few are the same size as the kids! The man is good at what he does and he obviously gets results. I am sure he does strategy. He definitely understands the skills required. And the discipline and the work. He communicates well. But he is more than that….
He wears a tracksuit – like the one I used to wear when I was a tennis coach. And on the back it says in very large letters COACH. That’s it. One word.
I was humbled to watch him work. I know I can be better. He inspired me to be better and to try harder. He motivated and moved me without talking to me or even knowing I was there. He is a coach.
I am proud to be part of that industry. Coaching people to reach, stretch and push their personal best. I love being a coach. I want to be a better one. I will keep on trying to be a better coach – pushing and encouraging people to stop underselling themselves and to perform to their maximum potential.
P.S. I coach people in storytelling. That includes interview preparation, political careers and campaigns, charities and business. So if you need a coach – get in touch.
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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.
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
Compelling Speeches Make Points and Get Results. They compel.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
David Cameron’s conference speech ended and “Operation Get Home” swung into action
Conference speeches are almost always sweated over, usually boring in delivery and content, seldom emotional and moving and very occasionally listened to. Safely back by the beach, I have had time in the train and the car to think about the speeches of the last few days and how they were delivered and received.
The “Leader’s speech” is the usual exception to all of my glib generalisations. Ed upped the stakes last week by appearing human and degeeking himself. he didn’t win anyone over but he earned the right to speak. David Cameron rose to the occasion as he usually does. Some writer’s like and need deadlines – DC needs the adrenalin pumping too.
I liked David Cameron’s speech today for a few reasons.
It was serious – and times are serious. It was personal at times – and in serious times it is good to be reminded of the character of those attempting to manage the situation. It had substance and was wide ranging. He told stories. It was raw and real in places. He was different to Ed. There were a couple of good lines for the newspapers and the TV and a few lighter lines – one which took the mick out of the central tenet of Ed’s speech last week like a well trained sniper.
He sounded like a grown up and Presidential and in charge. He didn’t pull his punches on Labour and he stayed above and away from petty and narky Lib Dem-like criticism of the coalition partner. He used the phrase ‘common ground’ that I referred to last week here and in The Commentator and that I spoke about a few weeks ago at the European Young Conservatives Conference in Oxford.
Boris was funny and clever and his speech was perfectly and craftily crafted.
Both these guys gave good speeches with more-than-competent delivery. But to be fair, compared to some of the speakers at this conference, it was easy to stand out. The distance between DC and Boris and most of the other conference speeches was enormous. Speeches were too often laboriously read and sometimes even stumbled over. Teleprompters were generally avoided. Why?
Commentators love commenting on the level of buzz at conference. Is the party to blame – or the speakers? Are the speeches to blame? Or the content? Or the delivery? Most speeches that I heard were as boring as hell – sad really from people who do this for a living. The Conservative Party has some really bright MPs but we have very few orators – never mind great ones. Maybe they will do better next year?