I sat in the auditorium today to listen to you. I’m politically neutral, so I wasn’t there to cheer or snipe. But I was able to be objective.
You have had a lot of stick. Much of it is unfair. You are clearly hugely intelligent and thoughtful. It’s clear that you are desperate to succeed. It’s also clear that you have been coached. A lot.
But despite all the advice, the help and the analysis, you aren’t quite hitting the sweet spot. On the podium, you may never be Nye Bevan, or even Neil Kinnock, but there are a few very simple principles of speech writing that could take you to a different level.
They are principles we use every day here, and they work. I promise.
1. BE STRATEGIC. What do you want your audience to remember tomorrow? What’s the one key message? Start from there and work backwards. I’m not sure if it’s ‘together’, the ten year vision, the 6 policy points or the fact that you chat to a lot of strangers in public places and remember their names. If you want your speech to be remembered, work out which is the key message. Use it as a theme. Lead with it, and use the rest of your points as evidence to tie the argument together.
2. BE ORIGINAL. Using an individual’s story to make your point is a simple rhetorical tool. It can be powerful. But it has been done to death. I’m still recovering from David Cameron claiming to have met a black man in Plymouth in 2010. Using the same trick again and again in the same speech is not inspiring. Or original.
3 BE CONSISTENT. It wasn’t long ago that you were preaching the ‘One Nation’ of Disraeli. If there is a natural link from there to ‘together’ then make it. Show that you are not conjuring-up new buzzwords for the sake of it. You looked ten years forward, but we need to know that you are not abandoning your last’ vision’.
4. BE POSITIVE. Audiences respond to constructive thinking. You were quite right that there’s cynicism about parliamentary politics. That hit a nerve. So did your comments about PMQs. But you followed-up with a series of PMQ-style one-liners about Cameron, Clegg et al. If you are going to rise above Punch and Judy politics then it’s vital you practise what you preach.
5 BE STRUCTURED. Your foreign policy points included an endorsement of the bombing of ISIL, a plea for a two state solution in Israel / Palestine, a Euro-love-in, a rousing mention of our military and a desire to export our LBGT achievements around the world. All very admirable. But not so easy for your audience to follow when they popped-up at five different places within your speech.
6. BE BRIEF. This is the age of instant communication. Attention spans are short. Obama was speaking at 3pm. 65 minutes was much too long. There was too much repetition. You could have doubled the impact by saying the same amount in half the time.
7. BE BELIEVABLE. You obviously care. But the constant repetition of key phrases, the forced body language (pointing in ‘man of the people’ style at a ‘friend’and glancing furtively at your wife when referring to loved ones etc) just looked contrived. It’s hard to be natural when your natural style has attracted so much stick, but you now look almost robotic – the hand gestures of Blair mixed with the affected dropping of consonants of Osborne. It’s hard under pressure – but you need to relax.
I repeat that I’m not here to criticise your policies. But your speeches could be SO much better. Give us a vision. Great. Then tell us how you’ll achieve it. Explain how this philosophy will work – economically, socially and politically. Sprinkle in some magic – original magic. Then finish. Shorter, sharper, clearer.
Hope that helps, Lawrence
PS. USE YOUR NOTES. We’re always being asked whether it’s worth learning a speech by heart. And unless it’s very short, or unless you are VERY good, we always suggest you keep something for reference. It’s great looking like you’re making it up on the spot. I’ve heard a groom forget his Mum on his wedding day – something he still rues. He’d left his notes in his jacket pocket. Immigration and the deficit were your very own Mother-of-the-Groom moments. All for trying to look like you were ad libbing.