27 September 2008

Tips for Gordon Brown's conference speech

Here's what The Times published about what I said before Gordon Brown's conference speech: 

David Cameron does it. Nick Clegg has tried it. But there is no need for Gordon Brown to bend to fashion by abandoning the traditional lectern for a no-notes, pacing the stage speech.

He tried it at Warwick in July, but the regular pacing - two or three steps from side to side - was distracting. Instead he should make the most of looking and sounding like the 'elder statesman' he has become.

It also throws up other problems, such as what to do when the audience applauds. Do you walk aimlessly around, stand still, look down, look away? At a lectern, at least he can look down as if to check his script, turn a page or have a drink of water, all of which look a good deal more natural.

Maybe there's a lesson to be learned here from Neil Kinnock, who is reputed to have had a lectern made to measure to fit the width of his shoulders.

Secondly, he needs to appreciate the importance of pauses. Churchill, Thatcher, Reagan, Clinton, Blair and Cameron paused, on average, every five words. But, in some of Mr Brown's speeches, he is pausing only once every fifteen words. This needs to come down. When and where the pauses come make a huge difference to the meaning, feeling and emphasis.

Thirdly he needs to think about his hands. In the past, Brown has resorted to a small number of repetitive gestures that seemed contrived or robotic. This is another argument for using a lectern: at a podium, his hands tend to look after themselves and appear more 'natural', whether clutching the sides, moving away occasionally to give emphasis.

Finally he should make his speeches simpler. He tries to pack far too much information into them, including long recitations of statistics and huge numbers. He cannot rely on everyone finding such things easy to understand.

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