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Speechwriters’ advice: Do British politicians give too many speeches?

Speechwriters’ advice: Do British politicians give too many speeches? Does anybody listen anymore?

Speechwriters slave away writing speeches every day in Parliament. Are they wasting their time? When was the last time you organised your day around a politicians speech? Maybe out political leaders should make speeches a little less and be heard a little more

Imagine that there are some normal, non-political, non-geeky people who actually take the time out of their busy day to listen to our politicians seemingly daily speeches.

Then, let us push the bounds of credibility even further and imagine that they listen to a whole speech from beginning to end. How much do they remember about what was said?

People’s memories and perceptions of a speech are largely based on how a speech and the speaker made them feel, rather than the words they said, which is surely another argument for giving fewer speeches.

What was the last memorable speech given by any of the Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem and UKIP leaders? What was the last speech the readers of this political magazine listened to in its entirety?


I remember four of Cameron’s speeches. His pre-leadership speech to conference, his speech at the beginning of the coalition – the one in the garden, his speech when he came out for NO2AV and his apology speech for the Bloody Sunday killings.


I can’t remember a Clegg speech. At all. Seriously, I am not being mean, I just can’t.


My only memory of a Miliband speech was the most recent one at the Durham Miners’ Gala where the backdrop and the visual image of the speech was stronger than the content of the speech. I only remember one line from his speech and that was three days ago! Oh, this is unfair, I remember him speaking at the Labour leadership elections.


Farage does his angry, ranty anti-EU speeches which are quite entertaining and jump up and down delivered. But even they are all the same aren’t they?

It is probably safe to assume that these four party leaders have all been talking and giving speeches incessantly before and ever since they became leaders of their parties.

Poor hard working speechwriters write these armies of words every day. Speeches to the party faithful and to their parliamentarians are important. But what about the people who don’t frame their party membership cards and put them on the wall? Never mind the floating voter, what about the normal voter?

I am a weird political geek by most standards – but if I can hardly remember any of their speeches, what chances do the normal real people have?

When doing business in China, the main negotiator talks all the time. But the older guy who says nothing but listens in the background, he is the dude – not the talker. Prime Ministers and Leaders of parties and indeed Ministers are important people, or at least they hold important jobs. Maybe they should talk less. Maybe if they talked less they would be listened to more.

Americans gather around televisions in homes and bars to watch their president give the State of the Union address. Most Brits know exactly who they will be listening to on Christmas Day at 3pm and they factor it into their day, their eating and their drinking schedules.

Serious question: In the UK, when did anyone (apart from political staffers and inhabitants of the Westminster Village) even think of organising their day or their meals around a political speech?

Most leading politicians spend their lives going from venue to venue and giving speeches to members of the public who remember very little of what they say and their security details who can probably recite each word and ‘joke’ off by heart. No wonder the public say politicians are all talk and no action.

The politicians don’t have time to do anything! They are talking all the time.

Perhaps this is the ultimate victory and winning tactic for Sir Humphrey? Keep the meddling Minister out of the office – give them 20 speeches a week to deliver – they will get nothing done and feel important at the same time. Perfect.

By making speeches so often, politicians have cheapened their potential power of their words. The public have switched off and got on with their lives, relying on being told what the leaders of our political parties say by the media and commentators and seeing the odd snippet or soundbite on television.

More precisely, the public are told what the media thought of the speech, their interpretation of its content and their analysis of its delivery. Filtered. (Ed: Delicious irony, here!)

Politicians’ words are heard via someone else’s ears, mixed with their perceptions and prejudices and then regurgitated, recounted, summarised, abbreviated, analysed and commented on in someone else’s wor

Secrets of (video) Storytelling – a strong script and a one-off cast make a compelling combination

Secrets of (video) Storytelling – a strong script and a one-off cast make a compelling combination

I collect great examples of storytelling, both as an inspiration and as a spur to tickle my complacency button. Hat tip to Jag, Paul and Harry, my friends at the UK’s premier digital agency MessageSpace for sending me this grade A example of storytelling.

The video has a unique cast (N.B. I am fussy as hell about misuse of the word unique, but  believe me, this cast does qualify as unique) and a funny and compelling story line. So no surprise it has been viewing over 615 000 times.

Humour plays a big role in the success of this video – plus the fact that the protagonists are happy to be involved and to not take themselves too seriously. All of them have significant roles in their day-jobs – the key is taking your job seriously – but not yourself.

Great storytelling. Like you, I get bored by YouTube videos very easily and I often skip to the next one. I very seldom watch any videos twice. I did with this one – I bet you will too!

2.05 minutes long and its job is done.

A big round of applause, salutes and similar for the actors for taking part! Good for you!

Interview Preparation and Interview Questions

Interview Preparation and Interview Questions

Interview preparation is key to getting the job you want. This video gives some great guidelines and emphasises the need for preparation – not just on your own story and narrative but also preparing for the questions that you are likely to get.

I put my clients through an exercise with my 50 Top Interview Questions – it is tough work, but it is interview preparation that works precisely because it is tough and because it is focused.

My clients moan and groan when they have to do their Q & A homework and the other huge workstream that comes out of my training – but their first or second call after the interview is generally to me. The buzz of receiving those excited calls, which, to be fair, are usually just “I got it, I got it, I am so excited!” is great for me – and brilliant for them making the call. If you don’t have to prepare to get through the interview – the job probably isn’t worth it.

It is simply inexcusable to go to an interview without having prepared for the obvious questions. You are underselling yourself and you are wasting the time of the interviewer.


Powerful story telling is not measured by the number of words you say, but by the points you make.

Powerful story telling is not measured by the number of words you say, but by the points you make.

Story telling is powerful. It is why movies move us and adverts move us to buy stuff. Most people waffle on for 5 minutes or more when they make a speech – and say nothing during that time.

I always push my clients to make points, not noise. To say more with less. We all like filling up our conversations with words and fillers and meaningless phrases. When we tell stories we often clutter them up with excess and unnecessary THINGS that perform no function and that often distract from the story or message and often confuse the audience. If the words are not adding to your meaning – cut them out.

This video tells a story incredibly well in less than two minutes. If you can move people with a two minute speech then you are in a very small minority.

Winston Churchill famously said:

If you want me to speak for half an hour, give me a day’s notice; if you want me to speak for five minutes – give me a week.”

He was right – watch this and see if you could. Make no assumptions…watch to the end.

Interview by Parliament. How to survive a select committee “grilling”.

Interview by Parliament. How to survive a select committee “grilling”.

The theatre starts. The microphones go live. Bob Diamond has entered the room. Andrew Tyrie welcomes him. Bob pours himself some water. He clears his throat. It all starts off rather well. Very civilised.

Three hours later it ends. Andrew Tyrie is resigned and says “we have tried”. Bob is untouched, like a wax jacket in a storm. Sure there were a few gusts of wind and a few sharp and spiky stiletto attacks that tried to get through the wax jacket cover. Some even came close. But this guy was good.

Bob Diamond had done his homework. He knew his message, he knew his audience, and he kept his cool.

He knew everyone by their first name and used their first names repeatedly – this put the interrogators off who all persisted with “Mr Diamond”. Some were visibly annoyed by his use of their first names. He didn’t seem bothered.

He had several clear messages that he stuck to rigidly. So much so that everyone knew them off by heart after an hour with one of the MPs quoting them back at him.

He was polite and deferential. But he often disputed and refused to accept the premise of questions. He repeatedly refused to answer questions unless in context or without insisting on giving the context. And he outlined again and again the three narratives that he wanted to use as backdrops to his questions.

Tyrie was the toughest questioner. He was dry and after facts and yes/no answers. Facts; dates; how frequent?  Bob tried to reframe and contextualise but this was a broad brush CEO vs. a Details Accountant. This would have been a far more interesting match if the three hours had been Tyrie vs. Diamond. Less fun for Diamond though. And much more dangerous.

Then the rest of the Treasury Select Committee had a go. They can be broadly split into, and with a few exceptions, bank haters (Labour) who rant a lot, and ex-bankers (Conservatives) who have been there and done it in banking and know what questions to ask.

The problem of course with Select Committees (I have helped people prep for these encounters) is that everyone has to have a go. They are public outings for the Select Committee members and they all have their questions to ask. But they don’t always seem to follow on from each other or to act as a pack.

In comparison, Bob Diamond sat alone, prepped, with several lines and loads of context. He may not have scored many or any runs – but he didn’t concede any wickets either. Excuse the cricket, but John Thurso went as far as comparing him to Geoffrey Boycott, so I am allowed.

He may have only left his job on Tuesday, but for Bob Diamond this was a job interview, a bit of theatre to show how good he was, how good Barclays was and how well they had done. It was a chance to say goodbye and to big up Barclays and the Barclays staff. And to say nothing else whatsoever.

The Conservatives were all keen to show how tough they were. They know their stuff too. Jesse Norman, Michael Fallon, Mark Garnier and Andrea Leadsom all asked knowledgeable questions. Leadsom was the most dangerous with her questions about gilts, while David Ruffley wagged his finger and seemed to want to send Diamond to prison.

The Labour gang were all keen to provoke Diamond with the agreed mantra – you were either complicit, incompetent or negligent. Please choose a tag and wear it.  Did they expect him to break under their pressure like Col. Nathan R.Jessup in A Few Good Men? Fat chance!

He fixed them with his stare, sort of politely. Like the murderer does who is memorising your face for later. And then, ignoring their questions to varying extents, in a measured tone, he answered the questions he felt like answering with the answers he felt like giving.

George Moodie tried, unsuccessfully, to get him to agree with Ed Miliband and/or join the Labour Party with a question about an inquiry. That didn’t work did it?

Teresa Pearce’s staffer had been doing word counts of the Barclays annual report – and “profit” was apparently mentioned more often than “ethical” and something else.

John Mann desperately needed some YouTube footage for his parliamentary website. He offered to tattoo the Quaker’s founding principles of “honesty, integrity, plain dealing” on Mr Diamond’s body before calling Barclays a “rotten thieving bank” in an Enoch Powell-like, “my constituents say” kind of way.

His researchers had been busy too – finding some old reports which he read quotes from. It confused me. It confused Bob too. He shook his head and said: “Sorry John, is there a question?” He said it politely. But it still made me laugh.

John Thurso was sneaky. He tricked Diamond into speaking bank geek and then triumphantly used this as a rationale for separating investment backs from retail banks. “No John…” Diamond responds…

Diamond must be knackered. Three hours on your tod with all of them against you. Just water to drink. If I was him I would have spoiled myself to a very good Scotch after.

This was my column for The Commentator

Interview preparation post gets bumped by dismal television interview performance!!!

Interview preparation post gets bumped by dismal television interview performance!!!

I was going to write today about interview preparation for jobs. Until I saw this awful TV interview by a politician. Which you have to watch all the way to the end. It is definitely worth watching!!! Is it the worst television interview ever?

Apart from the awful ending at the end of the interview, without being asked or prompted or bullied or forced into it, he repeats ALL the opposition’s allegations ON TV!

He has no coherent strategy or plan apart or any clarity of thought or message from his repeated single line about “the mother of all scare campaigns” – a phrase that may not appeal to everyone – Australian or not.

He then adds to the train smash interview, by name checking and alerting the areas to be affected (or not) – effectively putting petrol on the fire of “the mother of all scare campaigns…”.

With all the extra publicity this television interview has now had – he is doing the work of the opposition. The opposition must be laughing their heads off.

I could go on and on about what he could and should have said but why don’t you just watch it and enjoy? This has made my Monday! 🙂

hat tip  @jjpoconnell from @The_TPA

How to win in presentations and speeches – lessons for political speeches and corporate presentations from Wimbledon

How to win in presentations and speeches – lessons for political speeches and corporate presentations from Wimbledon

1. Eliminating unforced errors can be as important as finding the elusive winners. Last year Nadal had seven unforced errors in his entire match against Andy Murray, which he won. Rafa made five in the first set alone in the final, which he lost. There are hundreds of potential unforced errors – turning up late, technical issues, distracting clothing/body language ‘noise’, incorrect assumptions about audience, content, outcomes, priorities, agendas etc. For politicians there are many others. Get rid of them.

2. One winner is better than one rescue. Playing winners cost less energy, less time and use less political capital than last ditch efforts scrambling around the court to save a point or the day. Plus they demoralise the opposition.

3. Being nimble on your feet. You need to be able to smell the room, change pace and sometimes direction. In the same way that playing a tennis match is different to knocking a ball against a non-agenda wall that simply knocks it back at you, a live audience is volatile and disobedient – their agenda is the rogue player in the room.

4. Position and place your shots. Focus on where your opponent is and where they are going. Your content should be honed and secure in your head. All your energy and focus should be on your delivery, the audience and how they are responding – refocusing and varying your delivery and your message if needed.

5. Attitude is king. In a different life and on a different continent I was a tennis coach. I was lucky to be coached as a coach by Ian Barclay, who coached Pat Cash. He said that a beginner needs 95 percent technical input and five percent attitude input from their coach while a pro needs five percent technical input and 95 percent attitude. People can smell a winner – and you will play up if you dress, look and feel like a winner. Be aware of where you are and get the coach that need – if you are a beginner get the technical skills coach – if you are more advanced – get the coach who can get your head in the right place.

6. Be the player – not the commentator. If you let commentators language and thoughts into your head (“If I pull this off…”, “My bonus on this will be huge..” etc), you WILL lose concentration. You may also lose your principles. Let others commentate – you play. As Petra Kvitova said after winning last year’s final: “focus on each point”.

7. The power is in how you start. Getting attention, being different, claiming the right to be heard, asserting authority and proving and reproving your credibility – these are the jobs of the first serve or your first return. Or the delivery and content of your first sentence. Or your first policy or planned legislation. Own the occasion or it will own you.

8. Get and maintain momentum. Part of this is eliminating distracting, energy sapping unforced errors. Part of this is having a plan of what you want to do and when. A plan that is divided into months and years, not just days and weeks. Political grids always have to react to the unforeseen – but a plan and a schedule for the big things you want to do will keep you moving.

9. Favourites don’t always win – commentators are fallible. Ignore them and concentrate on simply being better.  Better in substance and better in delivery. Every point in every game. Every seat in every election. If Labourhadn’t dreamed and gone after the “impossible”, the so called safe seats, the Conservatives would stayed in power. Safe seats are often safe because they are not contested hard enough by good enough candidates and because “no-hoper” seats are too often seen as stepping stones. Iain Stewart proved in Milton Keynes that a different approach can work.

10. Practice, practice, practice After the men’s final last year, Djokovic’s coach said the result was due to “just hard work!!!” Skill is needed but work hones the skill.

11. Believe in yourself and in your message. Djokovic’s confidence last year came after winning in the Davis cup. This confidence boost was more important than doubling his technical skill. A small consultancy once hired me to “fix” the presentation skills of a new hire from one of the big consultancies. And at first she didn’t appear to be that good. But when she presented on a topic she believed in, she was transformed. Her problem was not her presenting skills. The problem was her lack of confidence in the claims this consultancy made.

12. Be likeable. Many former players are spectators at Wimbledon. But the popular personalities – Sue Barker, Boris Becker, John McEnroe – are the ones who are still working. Every presentation you make either adds to or detracts from your personal reputation – and may open other doors in the future.

13. Be true to yourself. Professional tennis players happily wear their sponsor’s logos. But they don’t let them become their advisors or their coaches. And they don’t let the brand of the sponsor overshadow their own brand.

14. Know your competition. Djokovic won last year because he neutralised Nadal’s best weapon – his forehand. Being different means knowing your competition and outplaying their strengths.

15. Pace or Positioning? Pace is important in baseline rallies and services. And it is lethal when your positioning is good. But it saps energy. Sometimes, positioning is all that you need. Just ask Panenka Pirlo!

16. Spin. Top spin, back spin, side spin are all important in tennis. Polishing your narrative and your delivery are important in politics and presentations – wouldn’t it be nice if spin wasn’t?

This was my column for The Commentator for this week.

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