Browse Category: speechwriting

Miliband’s attempt at Storytelling falls flat.

Miliband’s attempt at Storytelling falls flat.

I am a firm believer in the power of storytelling. In a political speech a real-world story from the heart or personal experience, when delivered well, can have a huge impact. Storytelling can change the image of a politician from a suited Westminster type to a more relatable individual. A good story in a speech can convince the public that the speaker understands them and their issues, can help them have faith in the proposed policies, and can make the speaker seem more electable.

Ed Miliband today failed to achieve these storytelling aims. He used stories which attempted to be comical, but fell flat. He tried to tell stories from the heart, but they felt made-up. He tried to use them to sell polices, but there were unclear connections.

The stories he told had the ability to develop into a deeper and more compelling idea, but it did not. There was the cleaner from Scotland who didn’t feel that she was being paid enough, but Miliband did not know how she voted in the referendum. There was the woman who worked in a pub who didn’t like politics, Miliband thought this problem needed to be solved. There was the couple he met in the park who told him the country was falling apart. There was the guy called Gareth who thought the system only benefitted a few.

But this was the problem with the speech, there were too many stories. They were all glanced over with a pathetic amount of detail. The stories lacked any sort of emotion or appeal. They felt stale, dull and possibly fictional. These stories of “real” people did not inspire anyone to vote for Labour or accept any of their proposed policies. The stories were a wasted opportunity.

There were some good parts of the speech as well. Miliband supposedly was doing the speech note-free and without auto cue, which is impressive – a skill only mastered by the top orators*. The speech was also not short of policy detail, after years of delivering empty speeches.

But the speech lacked drive, passion and emotion. This was not the speech of an opposition leader before an election.

*Update – it was later revealed that Miliband forgot significant parts of his speech, including the economy and the deficit – a good reminder that note-free is not always the best option


Video and image courtesy of the Labour Party

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! 🙂

Fancy a Job as a Nato Speechwriter?

If you have to be a speechwriter, why not be a NATO speechwriter?

I was contacted today by the NATO HQ Recruitment Service about a job vacancy for a Senior Speechwriter, a key post at NATO HQ.

Information on the vacancy can be found here.

I have copied and pasted bits the advert for those interested… but too lazy to click! 😉

Senior Speechwriter-140291

Primary Location Belgium-Brussels
Schedule Full-time
Salary (Pay Basis) : 8,143.46Euro (EUR) Monthly
Grade A.5




LOCATION: NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium


TITLE: Senior Speechwriter



Please note that the competition for this post is provisionally scheduled as follows (exact dates to be confirmed):
– Pre-selection screening during the week of 13 October 2014;
– Final selection during the weeks of 3 or 10 November 2014 in Brussels, Belgium.

This competition may also lead to the creation of a reserve list for future grade A5 and A.4 vacancies within the speechwriting team.


NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division (PDD) plays a key role in explaining the Alliance’s strategic and political messages to opinion formers and to the public in general. As NATO’s main public interface, PDD works to raise the Alliance’s profile with audiences world-wide. PDD also works to promote security cooperation through a variety of programmes in NATO and partner countries and contributes to a continuous process of international security debate and policy creation. Last but not least, the Division also acts as coordinator for most public diplomacy activities undertaken by other Divisions at NATO Headquarters (HQ), as well as by other entities belonging to the NATO structure.

The Press and Media Section is the principal point of contact for all media-related issues at NATO HQ, including engagement with the media, media policy, and media analysis and monitoring. The NATO Spokesperson has overall responsibility for all speeches and public remarks for the Secretary General and the Deputy Secretary General.

The Senior Speechwriter reports to the NATO Spokesperson and the Deputy Spokesperson/Head of Press & Media. He/she oversees the team of speechwriters which is an integral part of the Press & Media Section. He/she conducts background research and drafts speeches, articles, key press conferences, public remarks and other material as appropriate, as part of the overall communications strategy for the Secretary General and the Deputy Secretary General.

In carrying out these responsibilities, the Senior Speechwriter keeps abreast of the wide range of political and politico-military issues on NATO’s agenda. He/she follows the guidance of the Secretary General and the Deputy Secretary General, directly, and through the NATO Spokesperson, and contributes to the overall output of the Press and Media Section.

He/she also maintains close relationships with the staff of the Private Office, the Public Diplomacy Division, and with other Divisions within the International Staff (IS) and International Military Staff (IMS), as well as with the NATO Military Authorities and Allied missions.

Applicants are requested to attach to their application one speech that they have written recently and that, in their view, is representative of their work. This piece should have been prepared by the applicant alone and should be in English. The speech may, but need not, treat a topic or area of direct interest to the Organization. Applicants are requested to indicate the following elements in relation to the speech: date of the speech, speaker, three quotable quotes, venue and audience.


The incumbent must:
possess a university degree from an institute of recognised standing, preferably in political science, history, journalism and/or the study of contemporary international relations;
have at least 10 years’ experience of drafting speeches, articles, key media messages and other written material to deadline and in the appropriate style;
have substantial experience in contributing to policy development, political research, and analysis and reporting, preferably in a research institute, think-tank or in the Foreign or Defence ministry of a NATO member Nation;
have extensive knowledge of the whole range of political and military issues of concern to the Alliance;
possess a mature understanding of the complex interrelationships of political and defence developments as they affect Allied security;
be an effective public speaker;
possess the following minimum levels of NATO’s official languages (English and French): VI (“Proficient”) in one and I (“Beginner”) in the other;
be available to travel and to work long and unsocial hours as required.


Expertise Development
Within in the Press & Media Section, supervise the team of speechwriters in close coordination with the Deputy Spokesperson/Head of Press and Media. Draft speeches, opinion articles and key press conferences for the Secretary General and the Deputy Secretary General. Keep abreast of NATO’s broad political and military agenda. Keep up-do-date on all NATO-related media and communications issues. Draft opening statements for the Secretary General’s public remarks at ministerial and summit meetings, as well as remarks for internal use as required.

Policy Development
Contribute to the shaping of NATO policy by providing recommendations for the Secretary General’s major speeches, articles and key press conferences.

Knowledge Management
Conduct the appropriate research and analysis to draft speeches, articles and key press conferences for the Secretary General and the Deputy Secretary General.

Project Management
Plan and ensure the preparation of all output by the team of speechwriters to deadline and in the appropriate style.

Information Management
Supervise the effective flow of all work produced by the team of speechwriters, ensuring that appropriate products are distributed to deadline and in the appropriate style.

Stakeholder Management
Maintain close relationships with the Press and Media Section, staff of the Private Office, PDD, and with other Divisions within the IS and IMS, as well as with the NATO Military Authorities and Allied missions.

Perform any other related duty as assigned.


In carrying out the above responsibilities, the Senior Speechwriter reports directly to the Spokesperson and to the Deputy Spokesperson/Head of Press and Media. He/she is an integral part of the Press & Media Section, and maintains and develops close working relationships with the members of the team, in particular with press officers. He/she follows the guidance of the Secretary General and the Deputy Secretary General, directly and through the NATO Spokesperson. He/she maintains close relationships with the staff of the Private Office, Divisions within the International Staff and International Military Staff, and the NATO Military Authorities and Allied missions. In addition, he/she will be expected to build strong links with security and communication experts outside of NATO.

Direct reports: 2
Indirect reports: N/a.


The incumbent must demonstrate:
Analytical Thinking;
Clarity and Accuracy;
Conceptual Thinking;
Customer Service Orientation;
Impact and Influence;
Organisational Awareness;


Contract to be offered to the successful applicant (if non-seconded):
Definite duration contract of three years; possibility of renewal for up to three years, during which the incumbent may apply for conversion to an indefinite duration contract.

Contract clause applicable:

In accordance with the contract policy, this is a post in which turnover is desirable for political reasons in order to be able to accommodate the Organisation’s need to carry out its tasks as mandated by the Nations in a changing environment, for example by maintaining the flexibility necessary to shape the Organisation’s skills profile, and to ensure appropriate international diversity.

The maximum period of service foreseen in this post is 6 years. The successful applicant will be offered a 3-year definite duration contract, which may be renewed for a further 3-year period. However, according to the procedure described in the contract policy the incumbent may apply for conversion to an indefinite contract during the period of renewal and no later than one year before the end of contract.

If the successful applicant is seconded from the national administration of one of NATO’s member States, a 3-year definite duration contract will be offered, which may be renewed for a further period of up to 3 years subject also to the agreement of the national authority concerned. The maximum period of service in the post as a seconded staff member is six years.

Serving staff will be offered a contract in accordance with the NATO Civilian Personnel Regulations.


Applications must be submitted using one of the following links, as applicable:
For NATO civilian staff members only: please apply via the internal recruitment portal (for more information, please contact your local Civilian HR Manager);
For all other applications:


Due to the broad interest in NATO and the large number of potential candidates, telephone or e-mail enquiries cannot be dealt with.

Appointment will be subject to receipt of a security clearance (provided by the national Authorities of the selected candidate) and approval of the candidate’s medical file by the NATO Medical Adviser.

Applicants who are not successful in this competition may be offered an appointment to another post of a similar nature, albeit at the same or a lower grade, provided they meet the necessary requirements.

Please note that we can only accept applications from nationals of NATO member countries.

NATO is an equal opportunities employer, and does not discriminate on the grounds of gender, race or ethnic origin, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age (restrictions to age may apply for first appointment only, according to the NATO Civilian Personnel Regulations. This is a prerogative as approved by the NATO Council).

Please note that the International Staff at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium is a non-smoking environment.

speechwriting for a Prime Minister

Detained by the United States Secret Service while, um, speech writing

I have been busy helping wannabe candidates for Parliament polish their CVs over the last few days so missed posting this on Monday, the 10 year anniversary of my first flight to the United States.

Speech writing is usually tough, hard, lonely work. Many UK speech writing clients like to keep you as a secret resource. It’s often hard to get enough quality time with the client and the time pressure is usually huge. But sometimes you find a client who gives you the time, understands your job, has something important to say and is a bit different.

I flew from Heathrow with Air India and was upgraded to First Class and it was fantastic. I am normally an EasyJet kind of guy but the deliciously spicy food, the First Class Service and the choice of good Scotch made it a First that I could get used to.

I was picked up by a big black Embassy car and driven to the United Nations Plaza Hotel. It looks like it has been upgraded now but it was a bit tired at the time – especially compared to some of its shiny neighbours. It is a tall building on the eastern edge of Manhattan’s Midtown, directly across from the headquarters of the United Nations.

I was in New York to work with a client I had never met who was scheduled to give an important speech to important people 10 days later in the United Nations building. He was the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. I was excited. This was big stuff.

That night I met my client, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe M.P. at a reception at the Sri Lankan embassy. I also met his Political Secretary, Bradman Weekaron (a serious grown up with a big CV who, delightfully!, didn’t take himself seriously), members of his cabinet and the Sri Lankan Ambassadors to the United Nations and the United States. Everybody was bouncy and upbeat and there was an excited pre-match buzz in the air. The Prime Minister was gracious and smiling but taut and pent up. He was the performer. They were the fans.

When I found out what he wanted to say and achieve, I understood why. I got excited too. This was bigger than I had thought. Speech writing is too often about making dull stuff sound interesting. Writing a peace speech to the world does not come along every day.

Speech writing can’t be done in a vacuum – I need to understand the message and the messenger. I needed to understand the Prime Minister’s voice and his style and his vocabulary as well as his message. He was fantastic and gave me huge amounts of access  – many of his visitors were surprised to find me in the back of the huge room when they held their meetings with the Prime Minister and his advisors. I just sat, pen in hand, quietly absorbing it all and concentrating on him and his voice and vocabulary.

The Prime Minister and I worked together late at night high up in his corner suite after all his other meetings were over. Being a Prime Minister is tough –  18 hour days are standard. The Secret Service guards would relax after checking my United Nations pass. They had just come back from being on a security detail in Afghanistan and were happy to be back home.

It wasn’t all work though. There were loads of events during the ten days. I (glancingly) met German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who I had once chatted with in a small Kneipe in Wernigerode called the Carousel when he was campaigning to become Chancellor of Germany. I saw the scrum that surrounded Silvio Berlusconi when he arrived at the hotel. I also met and made friends with Henry Chimunthu Banda, who was the Malawian Deputy Foreign MInister, now the Speaker. I was born in Malawi, but he didn’t believe me until I pulled out my passport and showed him: Place of Birth – Blantyre, Malawi!

Then I went and got myself arrested.

The speech was over and the delegation had gone home and I had 3 hours free on my last day in New York. I had never been to the US so I went sight seeing. I wasn’t used to seeing such big buildings – in Bulawayo, where I was brought up,  there were probably only 2 or three buildings taller than 5 floors – and here I was in a city of shiny glass and metal skyscrapers. I slung my camcorder over my shoulder but under my jacket so it wouldn’t be stolen and wandered around, eyes up and mouth open, filming. I was in a different world, walking along streets decorated with green door canopies that I recognised from TV – I was hoping to find the Cheers pub and buy a souvenir drink.

Then I heard a pistol being cocked behind me to the left. A controlled voice told me to put my hands in the air. Slowly. The Controlled Voice politely said: “A moment please Sir.” – then a large hand clasped my right shoulder and arm. It wasn’t a request or a suggestion. These guys were tense.

They wanted to know why I was filming skyscrapers and buildings and they didn’t like my story much. To be fair, if you were them, would you believe a Brit who claimed to be working for the Sri Lankan Government, carried a United Nations pass and spoke with a southern African accent? And it was in the secure zone and “Bushlock” had reigned for days. (Random question: Do New Yorkers call gridlock Obamalock now?)

I got “escalated”. I was taken around the corner to a long, white pantechnicon with shiny aluminium Jacobs brakes on the outside and space for at least 15 people inside. I knew what it was because on the side in 5 foot letters it said “US Secret Service Mobile Command Centre”. Apparently, New York is loaded with them again this week, as the UN convenes again at its traditional time. In Britain it would have been a Transit van with a BT logo. A senior officer questioned me while he half-sat on a desk and played back the video footage on my camcorder, an officer took notes and someone else phoned the United Nations pass office, the British Embassy and the Sri Lankan Embassy. Twenty minutes later, they started to relax and I was released after I was sternly told that New York is safer than London.

My work over the last 20 years has taken me to remote, dusty, non-tourist bits of China, glitzy Dubai, sweaty North Africa and over a hundred towns or cities in Europe.  But I have had few gigs as memorable as my trip to America. Watching the speech live from the front of the chamber was a once off. Watching it again on CNN from inside the tiny cramped CNN studio in the United Nations building was special – MY words on CNN! MY English teacher would have been proud.

So what happened then? When he returned to Sri Lanka, The Prime Minister took over 8 hours to complete the 30 km drive from Bandaranaike International Airport to the capital Colombo because of the crowds who had come out to greet him.

According to

“Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has returned to a hero’s welcome in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo. Tens of thousands lined the streets outside the airport to celebrate the return of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Swarmed by officials and supporters at the airport…

According to Wikipedia, The Sri Lankan President later sacked three ministers of the cabinet, took over the ministries using her constitutional powers and ended the uneasy coalition between her and the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe while he was out of the country.

I took this photo of the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka from the Malawi desk right at the front of the inner chamber of the United Nations.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister speaking at the United Nations

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