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Prime minister presentations: What can we learn from Theresa May’s style?

What sort of judgements are you making when you see prime minister Theresa May present? Like her or loathe her, May could be part of the furniture for at least another three years.
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She has wanted to be prime minister since the 1970s, and her leadership role will be pivotal in how we emerge as a nation after Brexit, should she retain power.

Great leaders motivate, inspire and get us to buy into a vision. How well is the prime minister communicating her ideas and strategy to you as a small business owner?

What sort of impression is she making on you and what can we learn from her style that will make us better presenters?

Few of us will have met her and of course our view of her will be coloured by the prism of our own prejudices and predilections. Especially around such sensitive subjects such as Brexit.

 I am not a political commentator and I have no inside take on her advisors and personal coaches or script writers. I have, however, co-authored (with Tom Bird) a book on the subject, The Leader’s Guide to Presenting, so have spent time reflecting on what works when you present as a leader.

There is a plethora of presenting scenarios, both formal and informal, when our current prime minister has to step up and communicate. You will have seen her in the Commons, presenting to her own party, addressing the world’s media with other international leaders and communicating to a wide variety of audiences.

Her predecessors have had mixed press reactions to their presentation styles – most commentators agreed Blair and Cameron were able and charismatic, whilst Brown was inauthentic and uninspiring.

The current reality is that we have very few politicians who really shine in the UK. Aside from Boris Johnson, can you really identify an individual who moves you and inspires you? And let’s not get started with current affairs in the US!

All audiences judge a presenter’s performance by consciously or unconsciously assessing the behaviour they witness. So, we pay attention to body language, voice, and the words that are employed. And we calibrate for authenticity, and can make snap judgements about presenters which we then justify by what we notice and record in our minds.

Does the leader seem genuine and aligned? The whole package will then determine the extent to which we believe in the presenter/ leader and the nature of his or her communication.

So let’s get really practical here – what works and in what areas could the prime minister do with some polish?

Here are a few key areas in which her presenting is effective and some thoughts on how she can improve as a presenter.

The prime minister’s body language

Effective Less effective
Feet shoulder width apart and so appears well balanced and grounded – professional and strong


Looks serious which underpins sense of gravitas and professionalism

 

Occasional uncontrolled movement of head and darting eyes suggests nervousness, especially at beginning of presentations

Very rarely smiles – and so we lack that connection to her and find it difficult to warm to her when she presents

 

The prime minister’s voice

Effective Less effective
Very clear and measured. We can hear precisely what is she talking about in every utterance

Often come across as highly credible and authoritative– slow deliberate monotone delivery with effective use of pauses.

Rarely peppers her presentations with stories

Focuses too heavily on the credible voice pattern – can connect more with audience if she sometimes speaks faster with an upward inflection and a tonal variety

 

 

The prime minister’s words

Effective Less effective
Stays focused on key messages – no filler words or phrases such as the ones Trump employs which undermine his authority

Well-structured formulation of argument – logical and evidence based as you would expect

 

Over reliant on scripts and teleprompters – this keeps her safe but she loses authenticity and engagement with audience

Humour appears unnatural – and when utilised comes across as false

 

When you get a moment, watch and listen carefully to the prime minister and decide for yourself.

Getting the presenting balance right is a talent, and one that is often currently overlooked in the UK, both by politicians and business leaders.

Politicians and leaders need to straddle the line between style and substance – prime minister May delivers on reliability, seriousness and gravitas.

She has a way to go though, if she wants to really engage her audiences and deliver with real style and impact.

Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird are co-authors of The Leader’s Guide to Presenting

Image: Shutterstock

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