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What we can learn from the upcoming season of political speeches

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They may all roughly be saying the same thing when they stand up on their soapboxes in Brixton market or on the back of a cattle truck to get the rural vote – and we may shake our heads at the banality of it all.

But you really have to hand it to those politicians because they are doing something that even some of the most accomplished and confident businessmen and women approach with terror – speaking in public.

That fear would be fine if you were allowed to be a chief executive who could just remain behind his desk and shuffle your paperwork and devise strategy – but you are not allowed that luxury. As a boss you must lead, and on fairly regular occasions that means standing up in front of your staff at your annual conference, your investors at an AGM, possible lenders at a funding pitch or the media at a results presentation.

So how do you calm the nerves and ensure you produce a speech which will be remembered for all the right reasons – entertaining, engaging, informative and thought- provoking – and not for the wrong ones? Stand up Gerald Ratner!

Writing

When writing a speech you first of all need to understand the subject and context of the speech. So is it an informal after-dinner speech, a pep-talk to staff highlighting achievements, a serious speech at a conference outlining strategy or talking to investors about your chances of international expansion.

You need to hone your main theme or message to no more than two main points. The day after your speech your audience are really only ever going to remember one thing from your 20 or 30 minutes performance – if you are lucky!

Think of those great wartime Churchillian speeches – what do you remember of the words that preceded “We will fight them on the beaches” or “So much was owed by so many to so few”?

So think about those two key messages you want to get across and ensure that even if there are a series of points you make in a speech that they all link to those central themes.

Don’t be too much like a politician – they rat-a-tat-tat through points and themes – and now the economy and now the war in Syria and now hosting the World Cup and etc, etc.

You also need to be aware of the audience you are talking to. If you have designed a new electric-powered aeroplane for example, and your audience is a group of pilots, then don’t go on and on about this bolt here or wiring there.

These are pilots – they want to know how the plane flies, how it feels, how fast it goes and what enjoyment they will get from it. Don’t just talk about the things that interest you.

Writing your speech from back to front can be helpful in controlling your words and ensuring that you hit and highlight those key themes and stay on topic.

Try not to use too many technical phrases or long words to sound impressive. Never assume your audience’s knowledge.

The introduction is vital – you want to grab the attention of your audience. Some people play the humour card here but be careful – you may not be as funny as you think you are. If an introductory joke or supposedly funny anecdote falls flat then your confidence will be shaken.

Conversely, if you do get a laugh then you may become over-confident and start thinking you’re Les Dawson. Here is a hint – you’re not.

Indeed Gerald Ratner’s infamous moment when he described his jewellery as crap only came about after he made a last minute change to his speech.

The reason? A colleague told him that it “just wasn’t funny enough”.

Maybe play it safe – talk about the venue or praise your audience for coming – braving the snow or rain for example. Perhaps if you have had pre-speech drinks try and remember a positive personal anecdote, story or fact about one of the guests.

Make them feel important and valued.

Read more on public speaking:

Presentation

Your audience wants to hear you speak. They are interested in what you have got to say. They don’t want you to fail, for your throat to croak, for sweat to emerge from every part of your body and for you to end up staggering dazed into a pot plant.

Your audience will empathise with you. If you look uncomfortable and nervous, your audience will be as well.

So right from the start of the event walk tall, smile and make eye contact with your audience. When it comes to how you present do what you feel comfortable. Some people like to stand at a lectern, they feel safe there next to their notes.

But others think they are the work of the devil, making your hands grip onto the sides tighter and tighter and never making you let go!

Perhaps a combination of standing at a lectern and walking around a stage using hand gestures, making eye contact is best.

Some very polished speakers don’t need notes – they wander round, the thoughts pouring from their heads, the anecdotes flowing. That’s all very well, but think of when Labour leader Ed Miliband tried it at the last party conference.

“Did it go well?” “Eh, yes very well Ed. Just one thing. You didn’t mention the….”

“The war?”

“No Ed not the war.”

“Ah. The economy.”

“Yes Ed. The economy.”

One major stumbling block for many people is the sound of their own voice. Not everyone is blessed with a Richard Burton lilt or Sean Connery burr. A lot of people have flat and robotic voices.

This can’t be completely rectified but with hard work it can be improved. Try doing your speech in front of family or friends, tape your speech and listen to where you sound flat.

Writing your speech in short sentences – almost like soundbites can help. This will help you pace your speech better and make you take natural pauses.

Going back to Churchill, he was the master of this. Listen to his speeches and the slow pauses, the over emphasised phrasings. He used to practise his speeches in the mirror to get the tone and pacing right.

Try doing some vocal exercises before you go on to clear the throat such as going all Sound of Music and moving up the do-ray-me scales. Just make sure there aren’t too many people nearby!

Writing and making a speech can be tough, but it is a fantastic way of getting your personality and your company’s strengths over to new audiences.

Image: Shutterstock

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