27 September 2008

More tips for Gordon Brown's speech

Here are some more that weren't published, and you can see a video clip of Brown and Clinton at the end of this entry,

When it comes to party leaders’ speeches in the television age, it’s widely believed that the audience that really matters is the millions watching excerpts on news bulletins at home, rather than the hundreds who are actually there in the conference hall.

But for Gordon Brown this year, his live audience is arguably far more important than usual, consisting as it will of key Labour decision-makers and activists who will have to be won over if he’s to succeed in reducing the heat in the kitchen. So here are three tips that could help to make or break his performance on Tuesday.


It’s quite common for speakers to look at one side of the audience more frequently than they look at the other. For example, during Mrs Thatcher’s speeches, she used to look to the left three times more often than she looked to the right. But Gordon Brown suffers from by far the most serious case of ‘skewed eye-contact’ I have ever seen, and spends the vast majority of his time looking towards his left. His glances to the right sometimes fall to as low as 5% of the time, as happened in his speech to the Labour Party Forum in July, during which he only looked to the right for just under two of the 37 minutes it took to deliver.

The trouble with this is that it’s likely to make half audience feel ignored or left out, as if he’s not really speaking to them at all. And with a conference audience made up of so many doubters, dissidents and plotters, he really cannot afford to risk making a large proportion of them feel excluded or uninvolved. So he needs to remember to alternate his gaze to both sides (and straight ahead) for the duration of his speech.


Although observers and commentators are not equipped with clapometers, the fact is that they do notice how much applause there is and us this as a basis for assessing the success or otherwise of a speech. This means that the more bursts of applause there are and the longer the standing ovation at the end, the more favourably will the speech be reported by journalists. So the more positive the response Mr Brown gets, the more will it weaken the case of the those who want to continue their campaign against him -- and might even see them off for the foreseeable future.

Two key points need to be borne in mind when it comes to maximizing the frequency of applause. The first is that about 70% of the applause in political speeches comes after the speaker attacks, criticises or ridicules the opposition.

The second is that most bursts of applause come after the speaker has used one or other of a small range of very simple rhetorical techniques. This means that he should use these to package as many of his key messages as possible, because the more use he makes of them, the more applause will he get.

If he could equal or exceed Margaret Thatcher’s 1981 conference speech, when she was applauded, on average, every three sentences, Mr Brown would surely be home and dry.


In 1988, Senator Joe Biden’s campaign for his party’s presidential nomination collapse when he was exposed for having borrowed verbatim from a Neil Kinnock speech during the 1987 general election – an iniscretion that has continued to haunt him since being selected as Barack Obama’s vice-presidential running mate.

There was a strong echo of this in Gordon Brown’s July speech to the Labour Party Policy Forum, when he said “There is nothing bad about Britain that cannot be corrected by what’s good about Britain”, which was suspiciously close to a line from Bill Clinton’s inaugural address in 1993: “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what’s right with America.”

Brown was lucky that it went unnoticed at the time. But the Labour Party Conference is a much bigger stage, and Mr Brown and his speechwriters should be aware that there is nothing to be gained by taking the risk of being accused of plagiarism.

Click below to watch clips of Clinton and Brown in action.

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