Speech Tips for Parliamentary Candidates

As the election looms I have had a number of calls from candidates from all three major parties who are standing on May 6th.  Irrespective of their political convictions, they tend to ask many of the same questions about speaking style, format and delivery.  Here are a few of the key conclusions that we’ve come to:

Know your lines – Yes, you’ll need to write a speech, but no, you shouldn’t read it out.  You are speaking about your own convictions.  Reading from a page will instantly give the impression that you are  giving someone else’s.  By all means have a script to refer to, but know it well enough that it is obvious you are speaking from the heart rather than the page.

Relevance – People are coming to hear you speak to get to know more about you and what you will do for them locally and in Parliament.  On that basis there is no point launching straight into the party’s national agenda.  They can hear that on the BBC.

Context – Although relevance is vital, you can’t speak entirely independently of the Party line.  The key for them is to understand how the big picture promises will effect them locally.  Your role is to act as a translation service between the two.

Brevity – There is always a temptation to use a constituency hustings or set-piece speech to roll-off your life’s works and ambitions.  But think about what your audience want, which tends to be a punchy, interesting speech that moves on quickly and is easy to follow.

Positive – In any political forum there will be a temptation to knock the opposition.  But don’t let this become your sole objective.  Your audience want to understand what you will do to improve things.  By all means point out what needs to be improved, but you will make a longer-lasting impression by focusing on the positive elements you can add.

The simplicity tightrope – The best speeches are always easy to follow.  But many a constituency speech borders on being patronising.  Be clear, set out the context and your preferred solutions, but don’t talk down to your audience.  There is nothing worse than a politician who treads a roomful of voters like a primary school class.

Don’t Preach – This is an opportunity for your constituents (or potential constituents) to get to know you better, but as importantly, it’s a chance for you to get to know them.  The most fruitful parts of meetings of this sort are often the questions and answers.  And so rather than a fist-thumping sermon about the benefits of voting for you, leave as much time as possible to respond to questions and comments in a calm and intelligent way.

Eye contact – It sounds obvious, but people will like and trust you more if you look at them when you speak.  Look around the room.  Try to meet people’s gaze.  Smile where possible.  This humanises you and is more likely to win people over than if you are focused on your notes or the middle distance.

Be Relaxed – Tension is a turn-off.  You are speaking because you want to represent these people in Westminster.  On that basis it is important that you appear calm and unflustered even if the debate isn’t going your way.  If you appear to let the tension get to you then you stand to lose your audience’s confidence pretty fast.