Browse Category: speech making tips

Keeping cool when technology lets you down

Technology is not a faithful friend – What do you do when technology lets you down

Technology is the lazy presenter’s crutch. Good presenters are able to survive and win even when technology goes AWOL. When I was A Conservative Party Association Chairman I attended a National Convention meeting of the great, the good and the pompous at the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool. Stephen Gilbert, who now works in No. 10 and who probably hasn’t had a holiday since May 5 2010, was set to give a presentation in huge theatre to an audience of around 1000 “senior party activists” – an audience not famous for being forgiving or understanding.

He was presenting data, polling, statistics and strategy. Powerpoint was poised to help and underpin his presentation. I was quite far back in this huge room full of harumph-ready impatience so I couldn’t see whether the guilty piece of technology was the projector or the laptop. But something failed, the title slide disappeared and Stephen was in the middle of the stage in front of an audience of 1000 diverging opinions. He was armed with a handful of papers.

He didn’t skip a (visible) beat. He didn’t lean over the laptop and mutter. He didn’t apologise for the problem or make a joke about technology. Hardly appearing to ever refer to his notes he started his presentation with just his voice and what was in his head.  He spoke fluently and at length to the audience – brushing off the technology betrayal with impressive nonchalance. After the presentation everybody was speaking about what he wanted them to speak about – the technology failure was forgotten. Perfect result.

How did his presentation survive the technology failure?

I have never spoken to him about it. But he survived and won because he knew his stuff backwards. Most presenters would have crashed and burned – and then blamed or tried to kill the IT guy instead of blaming themselves for lack of preparation.

Stephen knew his message, the data, the strategy, the polls. You could almost argue that he was more fluent without the Powerpoint as some visual aids confuse rather than aid.

This video is quite fun – it is a Fox News weather man living the advice of “just keep going and don’t panic when things go wrong.”

P.S. I wrote for @CityAM on which visual aids you could, or should, use in speeches and presentation. You can read the article here.

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

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!

The Conference Speech

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?

Speechwriting, speeches and speechwriters

Speeches are important. They define you as a politician.

They define who you are as a politician. They let people know what you believe. What you want to achieve. They are important – so they should be written well, prepared in advance, practiced and practiced and practiced.

How to deliver of a speech well – practice it.

The speaker should know what is coming and not fluff the words. The words, the sentences and, above all, any jokes, should be like old familiar friends.

Ed Balls is speaking right now to Labour Party conference – delivering a speech someone else wrote that he didn’t prepare. He stumbled on the word dither and often approaches sentences like you approach someone in the street that you sort of recognise and that you think you may have gone to school with.

Being likeable and liked by your audience helps when giving a speech.

Ed does have an issue here. The Labour Party don’t like him. I have seen him a lot around parliament and – shhh – putting politics and the nonsense he speaks when being a politician, I actually quite like him. I have seen him drinking in the Strangers bar – he is the sort of guy that you could imagine having a drink or three with at the bar after a rugby match. I have left parliament behind him via the underground exit several times – he always says goodnight, pleasantly and invisibly, to the policeman on guard. But he needs to work on being in 2012, moving on from his past and being more popular with his target audience.

Speech delivery and confidence is key.

Both on the radio this morning and during his speech he sounded squeaky and as if he needed to clear his throat. He sounded nervous. I do not know why this was – I know he is fighting a stutter which is immensely hard – but was it something else?

I wonder – was this speech written by him? It felt and sounded too clumsy and copy and paste for me to believe that. I am not even sure that he believed it all. I dounbt he wrote it all or that he practiced it enough. Of course, he could have over-practiced it until the words sounded funny in his mouth, which was why it sounded so reminiscent of The Office – particularly in the beginning.

How did Ed Balls’ speech go? Others will talk about the content and the fact checking. I just think he could have done better technically. But then, I am a Conservative speech writer. 🙂




Presentation coaching tip – How to present with purpose and stop boring your audience

Presentation coaching – How to stop boring your audience by presenting with purpose and passion.

Unless you can start your presentation with power, purpose and passion why are you presenting in the first place?

How you start your presentation is more important than anything else. If you mess up the beginning of the presentation up, the audience will not hear the rest of the presentation. They will just switch off. Some audiences – like potential clients – may even put up their hands like Simon Cowell and stop your presentation before it bores them any further! And who would blame them?

To be fair to those who would do that to you, if you start with a boring opening, the chances are (very) high that the rest of the presentation will be boring too. And life is too short – if your opening statement is boring, why should the audience waste time listening to the rest of your presentation?

So quit the jokes, quit the “it’s wonderful to be here” platitudes and PRESENT!

Presentation tips checklist. Things to do before you open your mouth.

  1. Have you identified the purpose of your presentation. Do you want to persuade or inform? What is the action or state that you want to trigger or create?
  2. Can you summarise your presentation in a word, a headline, or a sentence? Your goal must be that your audience can summarise and sell on your presentation in a sentence or two – are you helping them to do that?
  3. Have you researched your audience and used that knowledge? You should be speaking about them – not you!
  4. Do you have any passion for what you are presenting? If not, get off the stage and go to the beach.
  5. Remember you need to get the audience’s attention first. You get that attention by pausing rather than by speaking. Wait until you have eye contact and the attention of the audience before you start to speak.
  6. If your opening statement is your headline, does it make your audience want to hear more? Does it arouse their curiosity? If not, why not?
  7. Introduce yourself AFTER your presentation headline – not before. Your presentation is supposed to be talking about the audience, not about you.
  8. Your presentation’s headline or opening statement should summarise your purpose. But it should also be memorable? Alliteration helps make things memorable. Do you remember  the 7 P’s – “Proper prior preparation prevents p*** poor performance”?  Or even “Proper prior preparation plus pauses and passion prevent powerless purposeless presentations.” (OK – sorry about that –  but you get my point?)
  9. Have you started with a question? Have you used a surprising factoid or statistic? Have you used an analogy or a case study?





New: Free downloadable guides to improve speeches, survive telephone interviews, set goals and more.DOWNLOAD NOW
+ +
Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On FacebookVisit Us On LinkedinVisit Us On Instagram