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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Have we made the recession worse by choosing the wrong number? 20% VAT and the perception of pricing.

Petrol retailers had to endure some anguish a year of so ago when price per litre hovered just below £1.00. There was something about the magic pound that provided a brake on suppliers, before they lifted the price through the bar. Now at £1.30 there is no holding back until £2.00 beckons.

Moving to Open All Hours-speak there are some further lessons for us. Price labels can be an irritation but none more so than £4.99. The shop assistant is forced to open the till, issue the change, record the transaction and a discentive for employee theft is created. The more cynical observer will observe that the pricing strategy, lulled the purchaser into forgetting that the bill is a penny short of a fiver, and the £4 dominates the perception of the sale.

In that context, the impact of the VAT change to 20% is worth a second look. In the hurly-burly of a financial transaction,a mental calculation with 17.5 percent does not come easily. Conversely, there is a certain ease in working out 20%.

We are handing over a fifth of the price as a tax. We can visualise a fifth of a cake and it is a big slice. That fifth will go around in peoples' head and the outcome is predictable - an encouragement to spend wisely and less. What chance an economic recovery then?

When the Treasury staff advocated a tax increase, I am sure they knew demand would be squeezed. I wonder whether they could have made a better fist of it, if they had chosen 19.5 or 20.5%. Then the public would have been stymied by the mental arithmetic.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Getting your message across powerfully, practically and persuasively - rule of three.

The next time you are at a trade fair or exhibition take time out to do a 360 degree whirl, view the banners and give them a score out of ten. You won’t find many that grab you.

Here is an opportunity to make yours work when others don’t.

I visit the NEC and ICC regularly and in a day take in several hundred of these displays. The number that stay in the mind are pitiful. Assume your audience scans you for a couple of seconds at max.

A visit to Earls Court or Olympia, provides fertile ground for observing one of the most misused business marketing tools around. We are talking of the seven foot pop-up roller banner and its cousin, the airship-dimensioned display frame. Erected apprehensively, knowing they may collapse on you or snap down like a mouse trap. We have all been there.

How many of them really catch the eye? Have company managers dominated the design process and content? Have the graphic artists, speech-writers and copywriters had their creative skills pruned? Have we kitted the stall-holders with tools that just don’t work? How many exhibitors pack up their displays, wondering whether the ROI has been justified? The same rituals are played out thousands of times a day.

This is how it goes. After an outlay for the stand, possibly running into thousands, our intrepid exhibitor lays out the gizmos to attract the punters. The bowl of sweets, key fobs, mouse pads and corporate blurb come out of the bag. The backdrops of course are the banners and this is what they remain - a glorious vehicle to market the organisation but woefully misused.

So where does it all go wrong? Well it could be the content of the banner for starters. There could be too much of it. As the punters walk the aisles they will give a fraction of a second to each banner, so you need something to bring them in. The name of the organisation and the logo don’t work and they are usually the dominant graphic and text. Punters want to know what you do, what makes you different and whether you are any good.

Banners can be run off in a day, but it takes time and skill to put one together which is eye-catching and discourages a high bounce rate. Walk the aisles and make a note of the banners which pull you in. Those that do make you think, tug at your emotions and give the reader something to do.

Next, borrow some rhetorical speech-writing devices from the political worlds i.e. rules of three, contrasting phrases, witty play on words and reversal phrasing eg “Building is what we do best and the best is what we build.” Useful and snappy copy for the press release and website. Living in a five second culture, we do not tolerate lots of text so keep it down. Cut out the jargon.

Space on a stand can be at a premium so why not use the banner itself as a demonstration tool? Something you can engage the client with. It is almost as if the production of the display banner becomes an end in itself when in reality it is a starting point for promoting goods and services.

Ineffective banners emphasise company name, logo and contact details and have no call to action. The punchline is simple: create banners that are pithy, witty and engaging.

Of course you need presenters who can bring them to life – but that is another story.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Does the Wikileak affair mean a return to pencil and paper? Do the leaks tell us anything we could not have guessed anyway?

It will take time for the dust to settle over the Wikileak revelations so that a reasoned assessment can be made of their publication. Words such as hypocrisy, embarrassment and incompetence will be bandied around by the population, as they see the revealed workings of its political and diplomatic elites. Governments should be receiving more in their input tray than high level gossip. Are the diplomatic positions revealed any different from what a professional analyst knew anyway? Security services and diplomats will jump and down over the “irresponsible” exposure of sources and positions taken. However much redacting takes place, humint may have been compromised, and there is only so much one can glean from remote sensing and drones.

The digital communication revolution has seen the inexorable onward and upward rise of traffic and there has been nothing to date to question this curve. The Wikileaks will give everyone pause for thought. What information is being hoovered up, why and to what end? We have information overload drowning in a sea of data.

For the first time, there has been a massive leakage of digital material to the global press. How much of this quarter of a million pages will provide interesting copy is questionable. In the five-second culture, the public will not be listening as the next story emerges.

Security tightening will be a given. Beyond that, we are likely to see a more circumspect use of the digital networks. We may see a return to a more humble way of communication i.e. word of mouth and paper and pencil. They have their flaws, notably dated and partial pictures of a situation. On the other hand easier to erase and deny.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How ever do young people learn the skills of oratory and debate? A golden opportunity for Michael Gove and his White Paper.

So we have yet another Education Minister bringing forward a White Paper to reconfigure the educational structure of the country. Business and other employers know that it is hard going, to get the right home-grown people with the right skills at the right time. The desire of educated and articulate workers to enter the country is symptomatic of this.

Never have so many qualifications been awarded to so many and yet something is missing. It might be the inability of school leavers and college students to be at ease when using their voice confidently, presenting and holding a coherent conversation. It might have something to do with the recent finding that people in the UK, are spending in excess of 30 hours a week in front of some type of screen, and detached from those with whom they are communicating.

Michael Gove would serve students and society really well, if he were to put in place more curriculum opportunities for students to learn speaking skills. It would prepare young people for later times, when they have to deal with customer-care, start up a business, contribute to political activity or be a confident member of the community. It is about assertiveness and self-worth.

The prescient observations of Gertrude Stein in the early 20th century are more apt than ever: "Let us stop communicating with each other, so that we can have some conversation."

Lessons from Ashes to Ashes - future elections will be anarchic and fast-changing battlefields.

The Ashes to Ashes billboard spoof between the Tories and Labour at the last election, stood out as an oasis of quick-thinking and imagination in an otherwise drab and sterile media campaign. In the heat of battle, it did not get the deserved attention from media analysts.

Labour’s billboard attempt to build on Gene Hunt’s character with Cameron sitting on the Quattro and a strapline of “Don’t let him take Britain back to the 1980’s”, was neatly turned against them with a Tory reworking of the image: “Fire up the Quattro, it’s time for a change.”

Apart from that, the billboards became yesterday’s tool. Those adverts that did reach the hoardings were the scenes of “improvements” from local graffiti artists. This has ever been the case. The difference this time was that the enhancements got a later airing on Twitter, Facebook and the blogsphere. A national audience was reached. Copywriting was democratised. Central party straplines were ridiculed with wit and insights.

Future elections will be largely fought through the blackberry, apps, blog, text and mobile. Imaginative, concise, quick-thinking and memorable messages will be needed for local leaflets if they are used, SMS circulation or Twittered in 140 characters. This can be a golden age for campaigners to generate witty, subversive, pithy and tight messages which tap into the voters’ psyche. Parties need to put in place, the infrastructure to harness the possibilities of a virtual reality campaign.

Monday, November 22, 2010

When everyone belongs to Linkedin, Ecademy and their ilk, everyone belongs to nothing.

It is the business ritual after attending a fair or convention to scan the delegate list and peruse cards exchanged. Invitations to expand your connections follow. Said sites expand exponentially, more struts to the network are completed and the mesh gets tighter. This really is Grand Designs! So what?

It might seem heresy for this blog post to deliver a critique of a sister platform, but the question must be posed: how much business actually emerges from this accumulation of lists? What is the connection list for and how will I use it?

Is the expansion of one’s list merely an ego trip in sending out messages to others that you are an important person? Is your list just the outcome of the hoovering-up of names just like new trawling techniques for fishing? Is one collecting car numbers?

The warning signs come when you have established such a long list that you stop looking at it. Things get worse when you begin to realise that added connections are people who are already on the lists that you already know. The network becomes incestuous and parochial. When everyone knows the same everyone knows nothing.

The question arises: what is the connection list for? Is it a contingency list for when you are made redundant, an easy access mailing list or just a gizmo diary to beat the Filofax?

Pursuing the fishing metaphor further, nets need to be checked, mended and used in the right way. Your electronic business network is no different. The best conversations at a social gathering come from a diversity of interesting people bringing value to the table. Think upon the Linkedin network in the same way. Are your members likely to do business with each other? Do they complement or duplicate their skills? Are they decision-makers with their hands on the levers of power? Are they people with potential or status which is waning? Will your list develop a reputation that others will want to join without cajoling from you?

Others make judgements about you from the company you keep, and the virtual reality variant is no different. It used to be said that networking was about who you know. Actually, it is who knows you that counts and your connection strategy can shape this.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Is David Camerons’s decision to have a personal photographer the first signs of a rather different communication battle leading to the next election?

David Cameron’s decision to appoint a personal photographer – albeit salaried as a civil servant, has a little more behind it than accusations of vanity and cost.

The last election is receding rapidly in the memory and 2015 beckons. The last election was a game-changer with televised debates. What innovations will we have next time around?

Hustings, leaflets through the letterbox, canvassing, party broadcasts and big hoardings have reached their sell-by date. One may question the efficacy of databases and telephone canvassing. Not much left really. Four years is a long way off, and social media, apps and the blogosphere may have developed a presence and maturity beyond their current infancy.

People absorb information in different ways. Reading and listening can be turgid media, especially if the message is tedious to start with. Could it be that the photographer will herald the start of a pictorial narrative which can be taken to the public for the next election?. The success of OK and Hello stems not just from the subject matter, but also the balance between the photos and words. An easy scan which is just what politicians seek to get their message across.

You need a pictorial bank and you need to start now. You need photos with a message and context beyond record shots of the great and the good. Good photos might bring to life ethereal concepts such as The Big Society. It will be interesting to see how the Photoshopped-photographs are drip-fed through to the media. What, when and to whom? We can’t believe that they are just going into a photo archive for posterity and to show the family. This seemingly innocuous move from Cameron may have more behind it than meets the eye. Watch this space?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sure as little apples how we pronounce H will provide a field day for how we read each other.

The recent BBC-reported and British Library-inspired discussion about whether we use “atch” or “haych” in our linguistic repertoire will be stimulating heated discussions all over the country. Language changes, the issue is whether it is evolutionary or otherwise.

Perhaps the sustained showing of television soaps, with their emphasis on vowels rather than consonants has brought about a fundamental change in our language. It brings into focus many of the prejudices and stereotypes we have about class, education and status. Sociolinguistics, schools, families and employers will have a field day over this confection.

In an increasingly competitive world for jobs, contracts, sales or votes, how we speak can have a disproportionate impact on success or otherwise. How many of us like our taped voice? When 93% of our first impressions are gained from how we look and how we use our voice, more attention should be paid to how we speak. When Shakespeare noted that “the apparel oft proclaims the man”, he should have added verbal dexterity.

I am working with three corporate business clients at the moment. It is interesting to see that in each case, much more attention is being paid to the presentational skills of their employees as they pitch, bid and tender. Schools and colleges don’t seem to give you a qualification in how you speak, but if they did, future applicants for jobs would certainly have the edge over the competition.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Politicians need to talk like the rest of us.

The political classes have a poor image and it is not just expenses that got us in this pickle - it could be how they converse. Imagine this scene. You have won your political seat at national or local level and then have to face the scrutiny of awkward questions, either from the electorate, press or television interview. You are under pressure to deliver honest answers and yet not embarrass colleagues, tell lies or be evasive. You don’t want to be misinterpreted and yet you want to give yourself wriggle room for the future. You want to display integrity, and candour and give an opinion on a situation which you may not fully comprehend. How do you defend a position publicly, which away from the crowds and glare of the cameras, you know to be wrong or indefensible? You want to keep your gesture clusters, leakages and tells under wraps. How do you keep all of these balls in the air at the same time?

The political class has developed a different genre of conversation to the rest of us. Yes, we know about the politician’s answer rephrasing a question to the one that enables an easier answer. And what about straw man thinking, giving your opponent a position he/she may not have adopted in the first place and then knocking the stuffing out of it? How does one develop the skills to practice these arts in the first place? Is it ingrained in the character and personality or is it learned by watching others and learning on the job?

Does our political representative sit down with pen and paper and create a flow chart to work out the myriad of question and answer permutations? Do our interviewees play mental chess games in their beds at night, anticipating the interviewer's opening gambit and then working out appropriate counter moves? Do they rehearse their answers so that the oratory and rhetoric seem convincing?

Not answering a question, rephrasing the question or dissembling are part and parcel of human discourse. What makes the political conversation interesting is that it is done in the public gaze. Talking "off the record" is a symptom of the dilemma.

Not surprisingly, the electorate can sniff out an answer that does not accord with common-sense. It is embarrassing and irritating to observe a political representative defending the indefensible. What a shock it would be to hear “ I don’t know” or “I haven’t thought about that.” or “I got that one wrong.” proffered as answers. We have heard it since the election but it would have been nice to have heard it before.

That is how the rest of us talk and if the Westminster bubble talked in the same manner then the cynicism the electorate displays for our representatives might be tempered. Coalition politics and a rebirth of the opposition provide opportunities not only for changed policy and personalities but, more importantly, how we conduct our conversations and interviews in the first place.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dickensian advertising techniques for 21st century business and politics.

Is it time for some retro-advertising techniques for the business and political worlds?

You don’t get more 21st century than a Wolves-Aston Villa match. What is surprising, is seeing the style of one of the techniques used to advertise the event. In the last century and before, it was common place to see pedestrians walking the street and carrying display boards hung from the shoulders – a type of A board. They either advertised consumables or noted that the end of the world was nigh. So it was a surprise today, to see somebody doing the same and inviting one to buy tickets for the said match. Time, date, price and vendor details were read easily. You felt you were in a time warp and it certainly caught the attention. But this was not a one off.

A month before, I had seen something similar at various road junctions around the city. This time it was an entrepreneur and franchisee-holder advertising his fast food wares – a spoiling action to counter the opening of a competitor nearby. The imaginative spoiler employed forty students over the weekend. Recruited from a local college and paid above the minimum wage, the students worked in shifts at road junctions to convey the messages on their boards.

So what? Well, it was low key, simple, cheap – almost intermediate technology and in the slow-moving traffic flow, the message was put over effectively. It stood out from the usual marketing and advertising techniques with which we are bombarded. We have our trade fair vertical banners today, but somehow we don’t do just justice to the investment placed in their design and manufacture. Political hoardings are being ridiculed by subversive graffiti copywriters, whilst the rotating electronic devices lack a certain presence. Perhaps a revisit to Dickensian media might be worth a try. It really would be localism and if business is giving it a try why not politics?

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Telling Triangle - an innovative tool to see what type of presenter-communicator you are. Every politician, business or media person will want to know.

Have you ever wondered what type of presenter you are? The Telling Triangle is a free diagnostic tool assessing whether you are a potential, mainstream or effective communicator. No need for contact details,instant feedback given and only taking a couple of minutes to complete. The triangle is part of the portfolio of programmes coming from our partner website at

Regular visitors to this blog know that we like communication skills where the human factor drives technology rather than vice-versa. The Telling Triangle assesses whether your communication style is as interesting and persuasive as it could be.

Friday, August 20, 2010

"Bullet Points" say it all about communication. We need gentler language.

An interesting piece of research published by Ofcom recently, suggests that the average citizen is using communication technologies and their different platforms, to the tune of over seven hours a day. This hides the fact that an individual might be multi-tasking the technologies in the first place, ie watching television with a blackberry to hand.

One wonders what the neurological implications might be ie thought, concentration and other cognitive attributes. They might throw up awkward issues, but even more worrying, is the implication for social interaction and how we communicate with each other.

Having just returned from a trekking trip around the Mont Blanc Circuit, I reflected on conversations with fellow travelers as we negotiated forests and glaciers. One stands out in particular.

A beef farmer from Scotland observed that language could be brutal. Strange how chance conversations can develop in unexpected ways. He noted that emails and texting encourage a perfunctory and terse exchange of information and we took it from there.

It is as if technology dominates the communication process and personality and conversation become the casualties. You can’t get much more brutal than the use of terminology such as “bullet points”. The term conjures up images of finality, precision and the snuffing out of life standing opposite the attributes of humanity, relationship and conversation. The logical outcome is that when people actually do meet, their communication and inter-personal skills have been stunted. People will have to learn conversational skills later in their lives, when an earlier socialisation process should have enabled it early on, whether it be across the kitchen table or playground.

How does the next generation actually cope with the prospect of meeting people and having to converse?; how will businesses recruit employees with abilities to handle customers?; will the interview process just be a series of psychometric tests?; how will the budding politician engage with the voter on the doorstep and how will the employee engage the skills of tendering, networking and negotiation? In business we tend to buy from people we like, but how do you develop these interpersonal skills in the first place?

2011 has been designated the National Year of Speech, Language and Communication – a campaign to raise the profile of such skills amongst children; an opportunity to focus on their learning difficulties. It should also be an opportunity for everyone to reflect on how much conversation is going on at home and school when the screen is not so much a source of information but a childminder. The photocopier and wordprocessor together gave us information overload - the democratisation of publishing. The mobile phone and computer now gives us people who can’t talk to each other. In the 21st century, never have we had so much communication, but so little conversational ability when we actually meet each other.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Thoughts on motivation in Afghanistan - a rebel with a cause.

One cannot disagree that in difficult circumstances our troops are doing a great job. The question is whether it is the right one. Listening to Liam Fox on the Today programme, makes one wonder as to why it is taking so long to get the Afghan army up to speed, when their kith and kin (Taliban) seem to be having a successful war. Might it have something to do with the motivation of fighting for a cause one believes in? A message for our less martial business and political worlds perhaps.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Gender differences and use of the phone - lessons for business, politics and life.

An interesting piece of research from BT shows that men and women use the phone in different ways. Tarzan's calls show three times as much functional content (50%) compared with women (17%). Jane's calls by contrast measure three times as much personal conversation (28%) compared with her friend(10%). Men want to talk quantitively and women qualitatively. Obviously, a confirmation of anecdotal evidence and Men from Mars.... The next bit gets interesting. Much of our communication is transitory, cryptic and perfunctory or else gushing with emotional overload. Extremes of a kind. Lessons here for political dialogue, tendering in business, networking, and the myriad of other contexts where we communicate. Endearments, elaboration of thinking and the expression of nuance are the casualties, whilst on the emotional side it can be difficult to assess what is important. Either way there are casualties of misunderstanding. We confuse listening with hearing as we do looking with seeing. As Gertrude Stein observed in the 1930's, long before the appearance of Twitter and other social media - "Let us stop communicating with each other so that we can have some conversation."

Friday, July 2, 2010

Trade Fairs - have they passed their sell by date? Preparation for a party conference.

I have just booked my place for one of the Autumn party conferences. Whilst thinking of what is to come, thoughts moved to a similar gathering - the business or trade exhibition. Living on the doorstep of the NEC and ICC, opportunities abound to observe participants at these watering holes. This element of business seems to have eluded management consultancy books expounding best practice. Millions must be spent each year. Has the time come for us to find a new model for bringing exhibitor and client together?

The chosen stand-minders set out the stall, plug in the gizmos, fill the bowl with sweets and tidy up the leaflets. Some worrying seconds pass as the vertical banner is erected with a prayer, that it does not snap back into the box. A few furtive glances at the opposition to see how you match up, a quick walk along the aisle to see whether your stand "works" and then it is count down to letting the rabble in.

The exhibition is a rich laboratory for observing human interaction at its most embarrassing. Take the punter first. We have all walked the souks and souvenir markets abroad, not quite knowing how to handle the uncertain world of a different language, no labelled prices and hawkish sellers invading your space. I am not saying the British exhibition is anything like that, but the body language of the punters suggests a distinct unease at knowing either how to open a conversation or respond to an opening gambit. Perhaps some lessons from speed dating are in order.

And then you want some refreshment and the bowl of sweets beckons. Innocuous you might think but a minefield. These freebies are there to break down barriers but the reality is otherwise. If you take one without asking, it seems a cross between shoplifting and childhood when you took without asking. On the other hand, asking permission seems rather precious - Catch 22. Over the counter, the exhibitor has a problem - seems a bit strange to be in conversation and then to proffer a sweet. Not the icebreaker it could have been.

For the exhibitor, the trick is to stand out. Not that difficult if you develop a style where you make it easy for people to come on to you. Eye contact, co-ordinated gesture clusters and open body language are the ingredients. Standholders spend so much time talking to each other that breaking in is not easy. If you want to stand out literally, move into the aisles and the public space. Take some leaflets and some good open question chat up lines.

As the day progresses everyone tires. Business cards are mislaid and plastic bags overflow. Your legs are on their knees and a litany of inane conversations forgotten. Surely there must be better ways for these commercial fests to be played out. Wonder what the conference offers?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Clear diction at the G20 conference helps Cameron and Merkel.

A little reported comment by Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor at the Canadian G20 conference is worth noting. She observed how David Cameron's clear diction and careful delivery helped her understanding of his English and what he was saying. Here is a powerful message for the politician seeking to influence or the entrepreneur pitching for the next opportunity in Britain. Not many of us like the sound of our voices and even fewer do anything about it. Speaking well gives you authority, influence and status. Have you noticed that how you speak can get you better or poorer service? We are not talking of the strangulated sounds from the Royal family or the extravagences of regional accents, rather a delivery that is clear, free of jargon and colloquialisms, not distracting and makes for interested listening. In a competitive business world we tend to underplay one of the most valuable assets we have - well-spoken English. Foreigners are appreciative and we downplay it. Our exports, tourism and diplomacy would all benefit from Merkel's experience. One thing is for certain in their future meetings, Merkel will approach them knowing that a major communication hurdle has been overcome and the content of debate has a chance of being heard.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Restaurant reviews and conversation.

Another weekend and another Sunday supplement to scan. I am always drawn to the restaurant critiques, not that I am ever going to be a customer. An SW1 postcode for most reviews, an elevated bill for two and living in the provinces all put a stop to that.

No, what tantalises my voyeuristic reading, is the statutory photograph of the centre of attraction for that week. Not a setting out of place, a regimented layout, not a customer to be seen and interior design that seems to sap the vibrancy out of a place. It is as if you are looking at a furniture shop out of hours.

However good the cuisine, the ambience must surely have an impact on the social interaction of customers as they tuck in. Not an issue until one realises that, as most of the reviews are of West End eateries, their clients will cover media, politics and business - positions of influence. One wonders what impact the atmosphere of a place has on the quality of communication that takes place across the tables. Does the ambience drain both the food and conversation?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Getting the best from World Cup teams- communication at its best and worst.

So how did the Algerian manager prepare his players for the English match? He knew he had a tough game ahead. What was called for was not a trip to a safari park or more practice passes - something headier was needed. Yes, he showed his team the famous 1966 film "The Battle of Algiers." Admittedly, the enemy were the French and not us, but the call to arms was a force-multiplier which served its purpose- A George Patton factor!

Capello may not have the everyday language skills to give our team the fillip it needs so he must seek other motivational strategies. Even if you know the team is underperforming, Capello would be wise to hide his body language a bit - it only helps the opposition and confirms for your team what it already knows.

And finally, the Terry press interview and later failed attempt to "air" viewpoints at a meeting. The political and business worlds are littered with failed coups through misreading support or poor tactics. Such was the case here but Capello's moral authority is shot to pieces. To coin a phrase " he remains in office but not in power."

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Words to be spoken are not the same as words to be read" Helpful tools for the novice scriptwriter.

Every Parliamentary intern or staffer's rite of passage comes when asked to craft a speech for the first time. Assume you have read "Lend me your ears" whilst "I have a dream", has been well thumbed. You know something about oratory and rhetoric. You know rules of three, contrasting and puzzle-solution devices. But how do you create something which is memorable for the audience, enhances your employer's reputation and builds your own professionalism? You want practical tips about how to approach the whole endeavour. Help is at hand!

  • Your aim is to create rhythm in the speech which accords with the delivery style of the speaker. Get that right and the audience gets moved along as well. Remember, words to be spoken are not the same as words to be read. Many budding speechwriters move to the keyboard and start banging out some prose. Not surprisingly, when it comes to delivery, these words come out as a reading - after all that is how they were created. Far better to think of words which you conjure up whilst driving, cutting the grass or having a shower. Create your script away from the pad. Phrases may have emerged in an anarchic manner, but when honed, they will maintain their vibrancy in the chamber or elsewhere. "Communication is what we do best and the best is what we communicate" sounds contrived - you would not use it at a dinner party. It has a ring and in the right place exudes energy and drives audience dynamics.
  • Talk and tape with your client, so as to gain a feel of his/her speech patterns. Obama is ace at delivering cryptic lists and his pace of delivery adds to the energy in the performance. Check out the rhetorical devices your client seems most happy with.
  • Let the speech have one key point culminating in the punchline or call to action. The audience may be hearing but not listening. A colloquial style and logical structure helps them along.
  • Least is best. Your speech may not become iconic but at least it deserves a chance. A memorable strap line allows easier recall to be picked up by the media. Keep sentences short, allow for the pause and place opportunities for co-ordinated gesture clusters.
  • We are not expecting the power of a Malcolm Gladwell. The recent election debates have told us that communication abilities can be a tipping point in harnessing opinion. Don't allow the speech to get bogged down in policies, personalities and process. Instead work on a passion about people and their predicaments - a key reason for entering the profession in the first place.
This item now appears on the Parliamentary blogging directory

Friday, May 28, 2010

You Never Can Tell... working with a Buddhist monk.

Just when you think that there are no more surprises, one pops up to make you think. A recent client on the books is a Buddhist monk from Asia, and currently based at a local temple. A chance conversation several months ago, led us to offering some gratis help with his presentation and vocal skills. A small trade-off against the opportunity to learn how to meditate properly. A win-win for us both.

In the hurly-burly of life, one expects clients where the focus of a client is business, politics or whatever. Bit of a change where the commodity is a belief system, awareness and the contemplation of values. Somehow, I think it has added a powerful extra dimension to how we work with clients in the future.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

My word is my bond.

"My word is my bond" was a phrase I often came across when working in The City years ago. Rarely heard today. Strange how one can be reminded of such values in unexpected situations. Was watching a DVD of a 1960's western "The Professionals" recently, and heard this piece of dialogue:

Rico ( Lee Marvin) - "We gave our word to bring the woman back."
Dolworth (Burt Lancaster) - "My word to Grant is not worth a plug nickel."
Rico ( Lee Marvin ) - "You gave your word to me..."

Any other interesting bits of dialogue/quotes about integrity that come to mind to add interest and authenticity to presentations and speeches?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Who fills the space between us and Number 10?

As You Never Can Tell is a presentation and communication company, it would be remiss of us to let the parliamentary election go without comment.

As a teenager, I recall visiting Downing Street and putting my hand on the famous door. In my thirties I revisited - and was met with the wrought iron work put in to secure the road. I felt saddened at the restriction.

'So what?' you might ask. Well - in 2010 what we now see is the street turned into a giant outside broadcast studio with the media circus using the venue as a backdrop. It is a metaphor for the distance between the electorate and the political elite with the Fourth Estate filling the vacuum and filtering what we are to know. If politics is the poor relation in our society, the geography of our most famous street exemplifies what has gone wrong.

When the dust has settled, perhaps Messrs Cameron and Clegg can open their eyes to what is happening outside their front door.