Lessons from Brown, Cameron and Clegg

Thousands of words were spoken.
Thousands more have been written.
The analysis has been constant.
But irrespective of the politics, what can the amateur public speaker take away from the party leaders’ debate last night?

  1. Be natural. Gordon Brown wasn’t. His smiles were forced and made him look awkward. Nick Clegg was, and he became more believable as a result.
  2. Be relevant. Clegg answered his audiences’ questions directly and then referred back to them. He mentioned the names of the people who asked each question. It made him look like he cared. Cameron and Brown picked up on this later on but Brown’s reference to ‘the questioner’ was impersonal and gave the impression that he wasn’t listening.
  3. Appear relaxed. This doesn’t come easily to Brown. Cameron is a master at it. Last night he appeared to decide to look more austere and Prime Ministerial. Clegg just relaxed. Or appeared to. The hand in the left pocket was a masterstroke as it helped him look entirely at ease.
  4. Be positive. The relentless attacks on Cameron may have been well-aimed but audiences tend to respond better to ideas and suggestions than to negativity. Clegg clothed his criticism with alternative policy suggestions. Some were unworkable, but his approach was constructive.
  5. Look up. I dread to think how much time and money went into preparing the three leaders for the debate. But it paid off. They all had notes, but didn’t appear to be reading from them. They all looked at their audience. Clegg, again, went a step further and confidently looked into the camera. At us. Again, it worked.
  6. Be sincere. Whether or not your audience like what you are saying, they need to believe it. Brown didn’t help himself at all with the scripted jokes and the bizarre smirk. They actually reduced the effectiveness of many of his more impressive, factual points.
  7. Know your detail. The big picture is vital and sets the scene. But detail provides colour. All three leaders provided first hand evidence of conversations they have had in specific places with real people. Brown won on substance and this was definitely where Cameron was at his weakest.
  8. Speak slowly. Can you remember one instance of not being able to follow what any of them were saying? Nor me. They spoke at the right pace, enabling us to easily digest a series of complex issues.

As per usual, there is little rocket science here. But these are vital lessons to take into any speech or presentation you need to make, from a PowerPoint pitch to an after dinner speech.

It is pretty obvious that Clegg won last night – and from a professional perspective, he ticked all the boxes that turn a good public speaker into a great one.