BY Russell Wardrop

DATE: 16 OCT 2012


There’s been a lot of oratory in the past few weeks. A public speaking fest with softer Balls; magnificent Miliband; brilliant Boris; better Cameron; three-dimensional Romney; awful Obama; and imperious Gillard.

Seven speakers, seven short lessons:

Ed Balls used to be too prickly, defensive and aggressive. He rubbed people up the wrong way and suffered from “cleverest boy in the room” syndrome. (Just like his still unlovable opposite number.) Platform performances of a few years ago were hectoring lectures compared to now.  (I wonder where he learned that.) He is much improved with more humility, humour and humanity. For anyone who knows they need to change style, Balls is a good example of someone who has achieved that.

Magnificent Miliband is maybe hyperbole and owes something to lazy alliteration, but he was good. He has always been good-ish and in the past there were some effective interviews and speeches on the environment. He’s been easy to caricature, especially when he helped his persecutors along with his Wallace & Gromit speech.  This extempore effort tells us you can give yourself permission to be good; you can go out there are amplify your performance to the max; you can crank it up.

Boris Johnson has much more to him than humour. He can do oratory proper, and loves it. He knows what he is doing and where he is going, from the rolled-up notes plonked on the podium to the hair flicking and eye contact and shambling that buys him time. What you can take from Boris is to get up there and be yourself. An amplified version of yourself, for sure, but definitely you. (All the way to Number Ten? Please…)

David Cameron delivered better than he has done for a while, though that is not setting a high bar. What can you say? Simply, have a theme, give it some structure, leave out trite rubbish and deliver what you actually believe. This year what he said was at least comprehensible and there were glimpses-more than glimpses to be fair- of the kind of conservatism the PM stands for.   

Well. Well, well: who gave the rapacious, inarticulate GOP nominee Mitt Romney a heart and a soul? Obama as much as anyone else, to be sure, but anyone who watched Romney will have been surprised by the first presidential debate. So surprise your audience, there is nothing like it. Perform in a way that they least expect and you’ll be memorable. I remember late one night watching an American news channel in a barren budget hotel in some far away city and catching a plenary with a funny, charming, clever, articulate American politician as he spoke to a group of supporters... in his home state of Texas. Can you guess who it was? To this day I still think it might have been a doppelganger.  

Sometimes, no matter how good you are, it simply does not work. It can all seem effortless one day and the next you are wading through mud. Barack Obama might simply not be a terrific debater: We will find out tonight. But what can all take from his astonishingly bad showing again Romney is that even the best can fall short when it comes to the high wire act that is speaking in public. That should be a comfort to us all.

You will wait a long time before you see a better evisceration of a political opponent than that delivered by Julie Gillard in the Australian Parliament last week. It is worth sitting through the entire 15 minutes. Soaring rhetoric and memorable speeches are not what Gillard is known for; it is unlikely she sees herself as an orator. But you can knock your opponent for six, or out cold, with a performance like this. It might be a game-changer for Australian politics and society. Two things here: passion and preparation. The passion was always controlled, but always present. (Obama take note.) It came right to the surface on occasions and she rode the wave, then reeled it back. Losing the plot would not have been clever. And preparation: Preparation, preparation and preparation. Gillard has extensive notes, maybe even a script. She knew where she was going, she had practised, she coped easily with the stuff and nonsense you get from the opposition in such a setting, in fact she relished it.  And that, my friends, gives you the great gift of confidence.

Game changers, that’s what many of the above are. They do not win you the prize on their own but massively shift momentum in your favour. On Sunday morning I watched Andy Murray lose to Novak Djokovic. The Serb played a ball through his legs, then an audacious drop shot, to win an inlikely, crucial point: it was a game changer. Murray could still have won (he very nearly did) but from that moment Djokovic had more of the momentum.

You can never be complaicent, you can always surprise and you can always improve. Ask Obama's supporters.


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Russell Wardrop is our Chief Executive. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.

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