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‘Uncaged: From Prison to Purpose’ | Michael Maisey | TEDx

‘Uncaged: From Prison to Purpose’ – we had the honour of helping our fantastic client Michael Maisey prepare this recent TEDx Talk

“From growing up traumatised, abused and neglected and left in a cell for 23 hours everyday at the age of 16, Michael shares his story of transformation and what he believes needs to change in our criminal justice system.

Michael is the author of “Young Offender” which tells his story of going from armed robber to becoming a local hero. He has been sober for 14 years and founded the CIP Project, a non profit organisation that helps people become the person they want to be.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.” – TEDx

Asked to give a TEDx Talk?

Have you recently been given the privilege of making a TEDx Talk but the whole thing seems very daunting? Check out our TEDx Talk page for advice and information. It was an honour to work with Michael from early on in the process, right the way up to delivering the speech. So, if you’d like any assistance, from a sounding board for your ideas, to someone who can write it with you, get in touch! We always love to chat and have years of experience within the TEDx world.

Public Speaking not your vibe?

So, you’ve got plenty of ideas for content but the idea of delivering the talk is terrifying you. Never fear! Check out our Public Speaking Courses and 1-2-1 training.

The Power of a Promise | Jordan Wylie | TEDx Winchester

‘The Power of Promise’ – a TEDx Talk given by our friend Jordan Wylie at TEDx Winchester in April 2022

“Ideas are two-a-penny. Action isn’t. But some ideas do make it all the way to completion. Jordan Wylie dips into his extraordinary experiences from the military, extreme adventures and as a fundraiser to search for the magic ingredient. Is there a formula to maximise the chances of a good idea coming to fruition? He concludes there is. And it’s something accessible to us all. Former soldier, extreme adventurer, bestselling author and one of the stars of Channel 4’s award winning programmes Hunted and Celebrity Hunted This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.” – TEDx

Asked to give a TEDx Talk?

If you’ve recently been given the privilege of making a TEDx Talk but the whole thing seems very daunting, then check out our TEDx Talk page for advice and information.

Yes You Can! 9 Steps To A Truly Inspiring Motivational Speech

Let me start with a confession.  I can’t tell you exactly how to write the perfect motivational speech.  Despite all the self-help books, the TED talks and the promises on LinkedIn profiles, there is no magic formula.  If there was, every speech would feel the same – and we become inspired by original thinking.

That’s the bad news.  The better news is that you can maximise your chances by asking yourself a series of questions before you start preparing.  Whether you are motivated by the words of Winston Churchill, Barack Obama, Vince Lombardi or Oprah Winfrey, they will all have asked themselves each of these questions along the way. 

Who are you trying to motivate?

Like any speech, we are all most likely to get it right if we put our audience first.  We may have a brilliant idea, but we need to articulate it differently to a group of school children than to a bunch of senior colleagues.

Different audiences have different switches.  Each of them sees the world through their eyes, not yours.  The best speeches understand that and, by definition, become relevant.  Al Pacino’s locker-room address in ‘Any Given Sunday’ is a brilliant motivational speech for a group of athletes, but the style wouldn’t work at the Tory Party conference. 

The following story is attributed to John Lennon “When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” In this context, Lennon was saying they didn’t ‘get’ him.  Which is precisely how to lose your audience.

What do you want them to do?

Once we know who we want to motivate, we need to be very specific about how we define ‘motivation’.  It’s more than a sense of purpose and goodwill.  In almost every case you want to motivate people for a reason.  Do you want them to sell more?  To vote in a certain way?  To change the way they behave?  To inspire others?

If so, you need to write that purpose and keep it visible as you write your speech.  Never lose sight of it.  All roads must lead there.

Charles Swindoll wrote “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.” Your motivational speech should be measured 10% by what you say and 90% by how your audience reacts to it.

What do you want them to remember?

Even if your eloquence convinces them to do exactly what you ask, it’s important they remember why.  They need to take away a key message – a reason to believe.  They should vote for you because they’ll pay less in tax.  You want them to be more punctual because it sets a better example for the rest of the team.  You want them to be more creative because their ideas will create jobs for others.  

This is what we call ‘leading with benefits’.  A great motivator doesn’t necessarily focus on the process but how their message works to the audience’s advantage.  Obama famously repeated ‘Yes We Can’ in his 2008 New Hampshire Concession speech.  The benefit was an America in which anyone in the audience could realise their dreams.

Is your core message positive?

The majority of great motivators focus on the positive.  Steve Jobs felt that: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” And that’s a philosophy that underpins one of the world’s great corporate success stories.  Working hard “because otherwise I’ll shout at you” may work very occasionally, but it isn’t a recipe for long-term success.

How would you feel in the audience listening to yourself?

Motivational speaking comes with a health warning.  If you get it wrong, the impact can be horrible.  The leader who fails to motivate may be in a weaker position than the one who doesn’t try.

The challenge is that many speakers aspire to the style and rhetoric of many high profile motivators.  And even after the best part of two decades, it’s extraordinary how many speeches given by sensible, professional people teeter on the brink of David Brent.

The best way to cut this out at source is to imagine yourself in the audience.  Would you react with cynicism or respect?  Ennui or excitement?

As a rule, this sort of self-awareness, coupled with a willingness to be self-deprecating, will ensure you get it right.

Take this oft-quoted thought from Michael Jordan:  I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”  It is inspiring precisely because it so humble.

Do you believe it?

Believe you can and you’re halfway there” urged Theodore Roosevelt whose magnificent, motivational ‘Man in the Arena’ speech adorns our office wall – still relevant over a century on.

He asked his audience to believe.  In this case, you, the speaker, need to.  Because however well it reads and however positive the message, if it doesn’t feel right to you, you’ll never be able to carry it off.

This is a trap many wannabe-motivators fall into.  They desperately want to inspire, and approach the task with the best intentions.  But in doing so they try to ape others and don’t stay true to themselves.  If you don’t believe in what you are asking others to, you’ll slash your chances of success.

Have you worked on the language?

Structuring a really compelling and relevant speech is half the challenge.  Part 2 is turning it into something that sounds great.  That happens in two phases. 

The first is to write it for the spoken word.  This matters for any type of address, but if you want to inspire, it needs to be perfect.  You need sections that flow seamlessly into one another, never leaving an awkward pause or change of direction.  The script will include pauses that resonate and highlight words that require particular emphasis.  You’ll want fewer and fewer words to make a great impact.  You’ll need to decide how often to make the same key point – the balance between asserting its importance and turning-off your audience.

This doesn’t happen by accident.  As Churchill famously admitted, he kept busy preparing his ‘impromptu’ remarks.  Great speeches will always appear to be given off the cuff, but they almost inevitably result from formidable levels of preparation.

Will you practise it?

And then there’s the second.  Stand up and say it.  Again and again.  Make sure you are comfortable with the narrative.  Can you carry off the requisite passion and emotion?  How will you harness the requisite energy levels?  Do you know it well enough to ensure you are looking right at your audience during the key passages?  Practising isn’t just about rehearsal, it’s also about editing.  It’s never too late to make changes, and in my case, some of the most important tweaks only become clear when you hear yourself delivering it out loud.

Have you asked us for help with your motivational speech?

We’d love to.  Whether you would like us to review your draft (no charge!) or take the entire process off your hands – including writing it for you and coaching on that all important delivery.

Hope this was useful.  Please ‘share’ if so. 

Lawrence +44 (0)207 118 1600

Amy’s tips on communicating with confidence

We recently started working with Amy Beth Hayes, star of stage and screen. She has been helping many of our clients deliver speeches and presentations with confidence, authority and more than a little success!

Watching Amy work is fascinating. She has broadened our horizons, away from simply delivering well-written scripts and into the impact we make in every day situations. It has been astonishing seeing her transform people’s confidence.  They immediately enter a meeting room with more confidence.  They shake hands at a networking event with more authority.  Or walk to the podium with real poise before they begin speaking. It needs to be seen to be fully appreciated, but we asked her to pen a few words to explain the principles behind her work.

How to be you at the very top of your game

Body Language, Posture, Voice. A tick-box of ways we are judged every second of the day. What we say clearly matters – Lawrence has built his reputation on improving it – but how we say it unlocks that content and affects every decision people make.  We can prepare our content to the finest detail.  But they are likely to invest in us due to deeply ingrained factors.

It’s a scary thought and one that breeds huge insecurities. But the good news is that it can be taught and controlled. And its less about trying to transform you, and more about enhancing what is already there. The dream scenario isn’t to turn you into someone else, but to be yourself – on your very best form!

We all know how a ‘great day’ feels. It means walking to into a room, shoulders back and with confidence. Communicating ideas with ease and eloquence. We can crack a joke, we are relaxed and comfortable in our own skin.  We may feel like this meeting up with some great friends for a drink. Or chatting to people at work who like and respect us.

Us on a bad day? We’re afraid we’ll trip over our words when we’re put on the spot. We may not talk at all in that important board meeting. We might choose to blend into the background while others take the limelight. In essence, that voice in our head that tells us we’re not good enough takes over.

What if there was a way to turn off this voice?

The good news is: You can!

I can work on your body language, posture, eye contact and voice. Show how subtle changes in pitch and register can hook in your listener. Give you practical exercises to suit your particular needs and combat your fears.

Worried you will trip over your words on an important conference call? There’s an exercise that will entirely eliminate the possibility of this happening. Scared that others will sense your nerves in a board meeting? There’s an exercise for that. Hate walking into rooms? You guessed it, there’s an exercise for that too.

Once you have the confidence in your body and your voice, the foundations are in place.  It’s suddenly easier to be creative under pressure. To take risks.  To convince others to believe in you. Its that simple.

The Spoken Word

Got a speech coming up? A power point presentation? Or do you simply have to wine and dine a client to convince them to invest in you? Ask yourself this:

What really makes something or somebody interesting?

It’s their passion.
When we describe something we are passionate about, we naturally alter our pitch and tone and our emotional register shifts. Even our volume changes. This is why passionate people are interesting to listen to and why people who talk in a monotone and who are unconnected to their subject matter are not. Its about changing the vocal landscape.

Changing the vocal landscape:

Try it. Say this out loud :

“I really believe this could work.”

Now say it again by emphasising ‘really’ and ‘believe’:

“I really believe this could work.”

Say it another time, this time allowing the slightest pause after ‘believe’ :

“I really believe …
… this could work.”

See the difference? It sounded like you meant it and that you were excited by the idea and the potential of that idea.

In this way it is possible to make any subject matter interesting, to make people listen to you, to have what they call:


Charisma is essentially a connection between you and what you’re saying. Its means being connected. It is when we are nervous and fearful, when we don’t change the vocal landscape, that we stand to loose that connection.

Don’t throw away all your hard work by allowing nerves, a lack of confidence or a fear of taking the spotlight to get in the way. You are great at your job. Let the world know that. By writing great content and then presenting it as yourself on your very best day.

If you’d like to discuss how we can help, please call Seb for a chat on +44 (0)207 118 1600.

3.5 tips to guarantee a great motivational speech

It’s that time of year again.  The staff conference.  The team offsite.  The office party.  You need to stand up in front of your team and get them focused.  You probably haven’t advertised it as a ‘motivational’ speech.  But everyone knows you’re not really just updating them on the numbers from the second quarter.  They could have been emailed. What matters is the big message.  The team wants to understand how things stand and what the future holds.  You want to get them working harder and adding to the general good.

Those intentions are honourable,  but the result can often be a massive let-down, leaving your staff baffled, sniggering or, worst of all, both.

Things start to go wrong because our idea of what motivational speeches SHOULD be like stems from those at the very top of the game.  Yes, JFK managed to inspire a Nation by insisting that we “do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”.  But he was a) the most powerful man in the world b) talking about a man on the moon and c) representing youth, good looks and a new world order.  Which means that his audience was a little more receptive than one might expect at the October accounting debrief.

Even worse than attempting to ape politicians, is to be influenced by cinema.  Al Pacino knocked out a hell of a half time talk in ‘Any Given Sunday’.  And there’s absolutely no doubt that “All comes down to today, and either, we heal as a team, or we’re gonna crumble. Inch by inch …” is inspiring stuff.  But a) it’s Hollywood and b) it’s Al Pacino.  This is not a template for the rest of us to gee-up our teams at work.

And yet ‘motivational’ speeches (and speakers) keep falling into the same traps.  These often start with the Google search “Great Motivational Quotes”, which generally lead to Vince Lombardi.  He was a brilliant and popular American Football coach (Tony d’Amato, de Niro’s character in ‘Any Given Sunday’ quoted extensively from Lombardi).  But his goosebumpy quotes, taken from the rarefied atmosphere of the locker room, are clearly inappropriate for less dramatic occasions and subjects.

This leads us to ‘real’ life.  Which , for the vast majority of our clients, means a meeting room at work.  Or a few words at the end of a brainstorming day in a Regus building.  In this sort of environment, it’s going to be difficult to pull-off a speech beginning (or ending) with something along the lines of: “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”

The key to getting it right is to stop trying to be someone else.  Quoting some of the world’s greatest speeches makes us sound inspirational in the same way as donning a GB swim hat makes us Adam Peaty.

The key, as ever, is relevance.  In three areas:

Relevant to the audience

Don’t start your motivational speech by trying to be Bill Clinton (or even Hilary).  Start by putting yourself in your audience’s shoes.  What:

  • Do they want to hear?
  • Will interest them?
  • Can make them think differently?
  • Might inspire them?

Yes, inspirational language might work, but only if it’s relevant.  And in business, ‘relevance’ is usually defined by describing the benefits to them of getting things right.  Will they save more lives?  Could their day become easier?  Can they earn greater rewards?  Will their jobs be more secure?

Ultimately, we are motivated by these benefits.  ‘Winning’ is what turns on sportsmen, but it tends not to be relevant to most employees (even if it is to you).

Relevant to you

Yes, your audience comes first, but you are the conduit for the messages they’re receiving.  So there is no point trying to sound like someone you’re not.  Are you the thoughtful, introspective type?  If so, it’s unlikely that the Braveheart approach will work.  Relatively dry and detailed?  Let’s not try to make this a stand-up routine.  The key is to be YOU but at the very top of your game.  Otherwise your audience will see right through you, in the same way that they saw right through Gordon Brown when he tried to be pally, or William Hague pretending to be down with the kids. Authenticity and transparency can be the greatest motivational tools of all.

Relevant to the business

Apologies for dragging out the sporting references, but sport has a certain glamour.  It’s dramatic, often fast moving, and emotional.  Inspiring words can make a real, short-term impact in that world.  But in the world of business, people tend to respond better to transparency, simplicity and pragmatism.  Of course a shared vision and a set of common goals can work wonders, but relevance tends to require less throwing of tea cups than in a football changing room.

A sprinkle of motivational speech magic

You may have noticed that the title referred to three and a half tips.  Arguably the first three should all be parcelled together under the word ‘relevance’.  The half is less easy to define.  It’s something that makes your motivational speech original, memorable and inspiring – for all the right reasons.  It’s impossible to be any more specific from this distance because it’s impossible to sprinkle relevant magic without any ingredients.  But if you’d like to discuss how we can help, please call Seb for a chat on +44 (0)207 118 1600.

How to take your speech to the next level: 5 tips

Writing a speech is easy. Writing a great speech is a little trickier.  But it isn’t rocket science. So often, speeches fail to reach their potential because five very simple points have been overlooked.  These five points sit at the heart of everything we do at Great Speech Writing, whether it’s for a President, an MP, a CEO, or even the best man at a wedding.  They all refer to the speech writing process (rather than delivery) but if you can cover them all, delivery will instantly become that much more powerful and convincing.

1. Think about your audience, not your subject

We all know too much about what we do and things we are passionate about.  Given the opportunity we can just keep talking about them.  Which is fine if we happen to be chatting to someone who genuinely cares.  Unfortunately, most speeches are given to groups whose levels of interest and enthusiasm are not guaranteed.

So we start not by asking what the speaker wants to say, but what the audience will want to hear.  Do they want a high-level strategic view or a series of details?  Do they want to be motivated or reassured?  Do they know much about the subject already or are they starting from scratch?  Is it appropriate to try to make them laugh?

If, as is typically the case, there are different groups with different profiles in the room, what are their common interests?  How can we appeal to some without patronising others? When push comes to shove, who matters most?

The answers aren’t always straightforward, but by starting with the audience rather than the subject matter, you are on the road to becoming relevant.  And that’s they key to great speechwriting.

2. Work backwards – what do you want them to remember?

So once we know our audience (inside and, potentially, outside the room) we’re thinking the right way.  And it means we are ready for step two.  Which is deciding what we want them to remember.

I’ve asked hundreds of clients what they want the typical member of their audience to wake-up remembering the next day.  Their first answer is usually “all of it” or “all my main points”.

Sadly, this is about as likely as remembering all the ingredients on the back of a crisp packet.  We spend our lives listening, reading and absorbing.  And our brains have a remarkably effective way of filtering out the vast majority.  Take something you truly love: watching a football match; reading a novel; listening to the Archers.  Then try to recall each minute or page.  It’s just not possible.  But you will remember a few key details and a very high-level summary (we played well and won; Heathcliff isn’t such a bad guy after all; the pub burned down but no-one was killed).

Your speech is no different.  Your audience won’t possible remember it all.  You will have succeeded if they remember one key message to take home and wake-up with tomorrow.  It could be ‘this business is going places’ or ‘that lawnmower doesn’t need petrol OR a wire’ or ‘they really ARE going to cut my basic rate of tax’.  Once you know what you want it to be, you then start to plot your speech backwards from that point.

3. Think structure, not detail

I ended the last point by referring to ‘plotting’ your speech rather than ‘writing’ it. This is also fundamental. Too many speech writers decide on the theme and start typing, often when time is tight. That’s not the best route to a punchy, seamless speech.

The interim stage that is so often ignored, involves creating a structure. It’s simple. Your speech will, in effect, be an argument. For something. All that matters is that it leads to your key memorable message, and that you get there in an engaging, relevant way. Your speech structure is an essay plan or, perhaps, 8-10 stages to help you get there.

So, having put the key message at the top of your page, I’d then suggest writing those key headings, and playing around with their order to maximise their impact and the flow from one to the next. Once you’ve got it right, the speech should make sense just by reading down the sub-headings. Ultimately, you may only need to use them (rather than the full script) when delivering the speech. Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t fill in the gaps between them. That comes next.

At this stage, if your key message is “Cycling is good for you, buy a bike”, your sub-headings could read:

a) The hook – someone is killed by a bike every day. So it may surprise you that the life expectancy of a cyclist is six years longer than average

b) Stats – not many cyclists are involved in accidents

c) The keys to longevity – regular exercise, non-impact bearing, aerobic

d) How cycling ticks all the boxes

e) Why other forms of exercise don’t

f) Why the right bike matters

g) How we’ve created the right bike

h) And you can buy it at a discount this week!

You’ll notice, that the summary doesn’t, at any stage, include the addresses of our global offices, the number of our staff, or the contact details of 23 salespeople.

4. Only use ‘evidence’ that supports your argument

This is all about relevance (again). With a plan in place, you can now decide what detail to include (and despite my constant reminder to keep a speech ‘high level’ you can’t avoid the nitty gritty altogether). The key is that you ONLY select ‘evidence’ that supports the key argument. And that you never forget that the audience won’t remember it all – they just need to be convinced that your key message is validated. This often means that of that 20 pages of notes you may have on the subject, you’ll just pick a page or two of additional detail. You can save the rest for next time!

5. Write for the SPOKEN word

This process should leave all the right bits in the right place on your page. But it isn’t a speech. This is when to remember that you are writing for the spoken word.

That means writing in a very different way to an email, article or memo.

For a start …

… it means including pauses …

… to slow you down …

… making it easier to deliver …

… which will enable your audience to follow you.

You can then highlight the words that require particular emphasis …

… to bring the speech to life …

… and to stop you sounding monotone.

When a speech is written this way …

… it can have an incredible impact on delivery.
Read at the right pace, you should speak around 120 words per minute. So your 15 minute timeslot at a conference shouldn’t push past 1750 words.

So those are five very simple tips. I can only stress that we use them every day. There is a sixth though. Which is to sprinkle a little speech writing magic to take it to entirely new level. But I’m afraid you have to pay for that one!

For more tips please just drop us your email address; it doesn’t cost anything to chat to a speech writer so please give us a call or drop us a line to discuss your next speech or presentation.

A testimonial with tips


Ben Scanlan works for Network Rail. We’ve spent time together on his corporate messaging and presentations. He kindly sent through these thoughts. They include some useful tips that Ben is happy to share. Here they are:

“So over the past three months I’ve been using Lawrence once every couple of weeks for an afternoon at a time. Here’s what I’ve learnt.

He’s incredibly candid. Somehow he manages to marry that with an understated manner through his humbleness which means I’ve always felt honoured to have my work torn apart.

So lesson one is be humble.

Starting at the beginning was a recurring theme. This may sound obvious. It’s not. At our first session I presented Lawrence with a board pack that I was working on, with the intention that we improve it. First question off his lips? ‘What’s the key message?’

I laughed. I didn’t have an answer. I knew the sections of the presentation. I knew the charts. I knew the different things I was supposed to be highlighting. Despite, or possibly because of, all this, I didn’t know the key message. And this is the fundamental principle from which all else falls. When I eventually figured out what the key message was, trying to layer the presentation presented the next fundamental challenge. Trying to go from big picture to detail in a controlled way like an inverted pyramid.

As I write that now, it sounds so simple, and it did when Lawrence first explained it to me. Except that it requires a discipline that I’ve not had before. Nor have I been expected to have. He calls it an upside down key-hole. You have your big message and then gradually become more concise as the presentation goes on. This way means that there is a logical flow, which makes things easier for the audience. And making things easier for the audience frees up their mental capacity to run with ideas and be inspired.

Too often I was bringing ideas in from all angles, and that was limiting what the audience could reasonably be expected to do.  

Finally, trying to be the audience was a key consideration. I had the problem that my brief was to cater to all 16 members of a panel and their individual desires. Some wanted detailed pre-read to pore over while others didn’t prepare and wanted to be presented to. Through discussion it was clear this was a hindrance to getting a core message as I couldn’t put myself in the audience’s shoes; they were too varied. So I had to go back and really nail down my brief. A secure brief lends itself to a good presentation, as the key message can be seen.

There’s a significant culture change that needs to happen in my organisation for all of these points to be taken on board and not railroaded by the paradigm that exists. However, to really bring about that sort of change, there’s a certain responsibility on those of us not at the top to really shape the paradigm and not just go along with it.

Working with Lawrence has been a huge eye opener; the lessons are startling in their simplicity. While our work has been primarily on presentations, its applications have altered the way I do business. Emails, briefing notes, conversations, even the way I structure my thoughts. I’ve found it rippling into my personal life as well.”

Speech nerves? Luckily, you’re not George


Preparing a speech for a business event or a forthcoming wedding?

Worried about standing up in front of an expectant audience?  Scared of a heckle or a nasty quip?

It’s at times like this we need to draw breath and create some perspective.

Let’s just feel relieved that we’re not George Osborne delivering a speech of the magnitude of the budget.  Or, even worse, Ed Miliband, having to reply without any time to prepare, and with huge swathes of the country already sniggering about your public speaking ability.

Heaven forbid.

Even now, twitter feeds abound with the news that health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, could hardly keep his eyes open whilst waiting for the more exciting bits.  And it wasn’t even a dull budget.  As for the reaction to the Leader of the Opposition’s speech, boredom would have been preferable to much of the criticism he received.

Now, imagine that was the reaction to your best man speech!

The very good news is that your speech making abilities will never be subject to the intense scrutiny that George Osborne is experiencing this week.

That’s worth remembering.

The other thing worth remembering by anyone delivering a social or business speech – is that your audience wants you to be a success.  We may see a lot of parliamentary speeches, but parliamentarians are not a typical audience.  Heckling is effectively part of their job description!

Understanding that is a key part of delivering any successful speech. Most audiences (unless you find yourself being interviewed by the serious fraud office) are onside and willing the speech maker to be as poignant, moving and entertaining as they can be.

It’s very rare to be up in front of an entirely hostile audience (although Mr Osborne’s experience at the Olympic Games is another exception to the rule!).

In a setting where the audience is made up of colleagues, friends or family, gathered for an event or celebration: for the speaker about to make their tentative way to the microphone, the crowd will be friendly, sympathetic and supportive. They want you to succeed.

If you remember that, and you have taken the time to prepare a thoughtful, balanced speech, you’ll be in an infinitely stronger position to stand up and start speaking.

And if the thought of a heckle really does turn your knees to jelly, and you don’t really fancy the press listening to your words whilst analysing your haircut, then we have one very important piece of advice:

Don’t go into politics!

How to ruin a great business pitch


I had a meeting with a long-standing client yesterday.

He is a great guy, a formidable presenter, and a very successful professional in the world of finance.  But he arrived at the meeting looking unusually downbeat.  His first words were that: “My confidence is shot“.

He emphasised how he had made a name for himself in the City by bringing pitches and presentations to life using stories, anecdotes and ‘hooks’ far removed from the industry norm.  He was renowned for his ability to paint a picture within which specific and technical products made sense.  My work with him had only ever emphasised that he should keep doing what he was good at as it had stood him in such good stead.

However, he had recently moved jobs to promote a huge new idea in the world of banking.  For the purpose of this article, let’s call it ‘New Money’.

‘New Money’ is complex beyond belief.  But it could transform the world of banking for the better.  It has succeeded elsewhere in the world and is now about to hit Europe.  The biggest danger is that people won’t understand it.  It requires context, clarity and relevance before the inner-workings of the product itself are described.

My client had been called in to his new boss to explain how he planned to pitch the big idea in a series of  upcoming meetings with institutional investors.  And so he set-out the big picture and started to explain the context when the boss cut him short with the words:

“Don’t be ridiculous.  They don’t want a story.  They just need stats and facts.  Go away and create some slides.”

Rarely in my professional life have I heard such bad advice, or, for that matter, such poor man management.  In one sentence, he had undermined the basis of my client’s entire career and the prospects of his succeeding with the ‘New Money’ venture.

I hope our meeting helped to steady the ship, and to remind the client why he is good at what he does.  It also reminded me of the eight key rules of any business presentation on a technical subject:

  1. Define the key message.  Without it your pitch will lack a core meaning and purpose.  It will usually be a benefit.
  2. Create a structure for the presentation that never veers too far from the key message
  3. Try to find a ‘hook’ to draw your audience in.  It needs to be relevant and appropriate, but if it is original it will inspire them to want to know more
  4. Define the next step you want from your audience at the end of the pitch
  5. Write a simple script to show how your argument will progress and how you will draw your audience towards that next step
  6. Highlight those areas where an illustration may help bring your points to life.  They will be your slides
  7. Don’t use slides for anything other than illustrative purposes – slides should not repeat what you are saying
  8. Rehearse it out loud until you know what you are saying so well that you can argue the case without notes

Having been through this process, my client has altered his approach again to focus on his strengths, but with a little more factual evidence than I’d usually recommend.  Importantly though, those ‘facts and stats’ are simply evidence in an argument, rather than the argument itself.  As a result, his pitch is still a story rather than a haphazard list of details.

The key for anyone preparing a presentation (or any speech for that matter) is never to forget your audience.  A day after you have spoken they will rarely remember one of your facts.  Which is fine.  Because if they remember the key message – and understand how it will benefit them – then your job as a presenter is done.

The greatest speeches and speakers

The list of speeches is endless, the candidates limitless and the answer completely and utterly subjective.  But we thought we’d give it a go anyway.

This isn’t just a cut-and-paste of every other ‘Best Speeches Ever’ compilation.  It breaks public speaking down into its five key constituent parts, and  picks an example to demonstrate each.  Which means we’re not saying that Neil Kinnock is the world’s greatest public speaker, or that Barack Obama gets by solely on the back of a winning smile.  We’re simply suggesting that if you could combine the strengths of this lot, you’d have the public speaking equivalent of Pele, Don Bradman and Nijinski rolled into one.

The Pause: Mastered by JFK, in Berlin June 26, 1963

JFK masters the pause - Great Speech WritingIn many ways he gets it all wrong.  Gripping the lectern as if he’s worried he might fall-off, swaying from side-to-side, great phrases garbled too quickly.  From that perspective, it’s a study in sea-sickness.   However, he’s rescued by the words themselves and, as demonstrated here, by the power of the pause.  Extraordinarily, he has the confidence to stay silent even when the crowd don’t respond.  It doesn’t take long before they do.  Pausetastic!

Click here: JFK Masters the Pause

Body language: Mastered by David Cameron, Global Investment Conference, 9th May 2013

body language - Great Speech WritingWatch this one with the sound muted and ignore the content (along with your political views).  This is body language at its very best – energetic, great arm movement and eye contact, but in no way over-the-top.  From the moment Cameron leaps onto the stage, he is in control, exuding positive energy and creating impact.  The key to getting people to listen is to get the body language sorted first (they say that 90% of a speaker’s personal impact is created visually).  In this speech, it’s hard to look away.

Click here: David Cameron masters great body language

Facial expressions: Mastered by Barack Obama, White House Correspondent’s Dinner, 2011

expressions - Great Speech WritingWhen he’s on form he’s the contemporary master of public speaking.  This is Obama at his best.  The pauses and comic timing are worthy of a professional entertainer, but focus particularly on his face.  The smile lightens the mood; the frown is quizzical but unthreatening.  The speaker’s job is, in many ways, to use delivery to signpost to the audience how they should react to the words.  To say he nails it would be one of the great understatements. And the jokes aren’t bad either.

Click here: Barack Obama masters the use of facial expressions

The voice: Mastered by Neil Kinnock, Labour Party Conference 2005

emphasis - Great Speech WritingLampooned by Spitting Image, mugged by the English Channel, and forever associated with the infamous “We’re orriitte” in Sheffield, Kinnock may be an odd choice.  But the man remains a fine orator.  This isn’t a long clip, but it demonstrates how the emphasis given to certain parts of a sentence can bring a speech to life.  Listen out for the words “outdated”, “misplaced”, “irrelevant” and “chaos”.  Passionate, heartfelt but not OTT.  Delivery at its finest.

Click here: Neil Kinnock masters emphasis

The content: Mastered by Martin Luther King, August 26th 1963

content - Great Speech WritingNot a controversial choice, but hard to look beyond this.  It passes every test: memorable, significant, powerful, poetic and full of pathos.

Every schoolboy can quote ‘I have a dream’ but when you listen to the speech in its entirety it’s incredible how many other sound bites and phrases you will be aware of.  You’ll also appreciate just how many other speeches have taken elements of this one as a template.  On top of everything, MLK pretty much sings it. The word “Alabama” lingers for ever.  The rhythm is extraordinary.  When he talks about ‘rising’ his voice rises with it.  Simply the best.

Click here: Martin Luther King masters his content (amongst other things)

On the other hand: Not mastered by Robert Mugabe, United Nations 2011

agh - Great Speech WritingFed-up of inspirational, talented, impactful speakers?  Watch this for a bucketful of wet water to dampen your love of public speaking.  Eyes down, voice monotone, hands still.  You’d feel more engaged  listening to him on the radio.  As for the content – it’s irrelevant.  I challenge you to sit this clip through without falling asleep.

Click here: Mugabe fails horribly across the board


There is, of course, an element of self-interest in pulling these together.  We help politicians, business people and private clients around the world write and deliver speeches that are remembered for all the right reasons.  If you enjoyed this, please spread the word.

5 Tips to Quash Business Presentation Nerves


I’ve written elsewhere about how to write original, punchy content for your business presentations. Having great content is often the key to feeling confident about standing up and speaking. But you may still be apprehensive. Here are five tried and trusted tips that form the basis of our one-to-one coaching with nervous presenters. You’ll notice that they don’t include imagining your audience naked. Or visiting the pub on your way to the pitch.

1) Prepare

Preparation is king. There’s an apocryphal story about a successful after dinner speaker explaining how he managed to deliver such well-received speeches time after time. His secret?

“For every minute that I speak, I spend an hour preparing.”

Which means not just finishing your final slide and forgetting all about the delivery until you break out in a cold sweat the night before the presentation. When it comes to winning over your boss, impressing investors, or getting your team on board with your vision, your delivery is just as important as your content.

Practice early, practice often, and don’t become that bane of business meetings across the globe: the person who stands at the front of a room and reads off a series of Powerpoint slides. Your colleagues can read, there’s no need to do it for them! Of course, if you read our article on slide building there won’t be any words on them to read!

Knowing your material well will also go a long way to easing the tension you feel before addressing the room. Don’t be afraid to read a script in full so often that you start to complete your own sentences. Read it slowly, so you can glance at your script and then look up to deliver each line. Rehearse it as you intend to deliver it on the day. Putting on the clothes you’ll be wearing on the day will give you yet another reassuring feeling of familiarity when the time comes.

When you stand up to speak you’ll feel much more relaxed, because you’ll have done it all before!

2) Deep breath, shoulders back

First of all, take a deep breath in. Now hold it.

And exhale.

Don’t you feel better already?

Chances are that if you’re nervous you’re also carrying a lot of tension in your shoulders and neck. Take a minute and consciously push your shoulders down. Not only will you feel more relaxed, but your posture will convey that confidence to your audience.

3) Smile

There’s a very simple trick you can play on your brain to help banish those public speaking nerves. Even though you might feel more like frowning, smile! The mere act of smiling can make you feel happier and more contented, even if you have to force yourself to do it. Think of it as fooling your body into a state of relaxation.

It will also help communicate to your audience that you’re at ease and comfortable with your material. After the famous 1960 presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon, people who listened on the radio thought that Nixon had given a stronger performance, but viewers who watched the debate on TV favoured Kennedy.

Appearances matter, so smile!

4) Ease into it

There’s no need for you to launch right into your presentation. If you’re worried about your voice playing up when you first open your mouth, clear your throat before starting and have a sip (just a sip!) of water. Taking a moment before you address the room might feel strange, but it shouldn’t look that way. Your audience is likely to take it as a sign that you feel at ease.

If you’re still worried about your voice sounding squeaky when you begin, ask the room if they can hear you at the back. That gives you an easy opening that isn’t the first line of your speech. Once you’ve warmed yourself up in this way, you’re likely to find it much easier to carry on with confidence.

Of course, make sure that you’re presenting to a large enough room before you try this trick. It would be odd to ask your five colleagues squeezed around a tiny table if they can hear you. If the setting is too small, try thanking everybody for coming instead, or asking if anyone has any questions before you begin.

5) Enjoy it!

When giving a business presentation, all eyes are on you. You could look at this as a terrifying prospect, but there is a more positive way to view the situation: you have an opportunity to make the best impression you know how to make, and your audience’s undivided attention while you do it!

If you can show that you’re confident, that you know what you’re talking about, and you know how to communicate an idea, then you’re already doing better than the majority who absolutely dread talking about their business! Your audience is guaranteed to be impressed.

If you still feel like your heart is going to leap out of your throat at the mere prospect of having to talk in a professional environment, then don’t hesitate to get in touch! Whether it’s prepping your delivery or even writing the speech itself, I have years of experience putting speech worries to rest!

If you want bespoke, one-to-one sessions to help improve your delivery on a specific speech, or indeed want a speech written by us, please call any time.


Managing your voice to conquer the nerves

The majority of our blog posts focus on your content and how to structure, write and edit speeches and presentations.

From time-to-time we cover delivery, but rarely from the perspective of a public speaking phobia.

When nerves take over completely then our value as speech writers is limited, and we refer clients to people who deal exclusively with this common issue.

In the past we have asked a hypnotherapist and life coach to share their thoughts about conquering nerves. Today, I’m delighted to add insights from Clare Davidson, who works with clients across the world on managing the WAY they speak to enable them to relax themselves and find a new voice.

Clare suggests that:

“The fear of speaking aloud to a group is a common theme for those hosting an event, whatever the nature of the occasion.

People’s nerves can dominate to the point where their body feels tense, they cannot concentrate on conversations, their mouth becomes dry and their throat contracts. This general discomfort can make their communication less effective. The delivery of their speech will not be clear and can easily become inaudible.

When delivering a speech people can speak too fast, or too slowly, to cope with their nervousness. Their diction and articulation will suffer greatly, and they lose the thought behind the words.

By learning to focus on breathing, tense muscles will relax and a person can quickly regain their poise when in a public situation. The tone of their voice will improve and become an attractive feature reflecting their personality, while exercises practiced to promote vocal dexterity will immediately help articulation. A person can then look forward to approaching public speaking with relaxation and confidence, knowing that their diction will be clear and their voice easily audible for all to hear.”

Please let me know if you would like to speak directly with Clare. I would be delighted to set-up an introduction.


+44 (0)207 118 1600

Weaning yourself off slide addiction

The Addiction
Slides. They are a corporate drug. Prescribed correctly and in small doses they can work miracles. Abused and, at best, they induce narcolepsy. They are also addictive (usually in the lethal PowerPoint form), and over-used by businesses, institutions and presenters across the world.

The Symptoms
Slide addiction has a number of easy-to-spot symptoms. The first is to respond to a request for a ‘presentation’ by instantly opening PowerPoint.

Addicts forget that slides are only a means to an end. They have been asked to ‘present’, not to reveal their PowerPoint prowess. In their desperation to accumulate slides, they forget that their audience is likely to remember almost nothing within them. They forget the power of brevity. Which leads to these secondary symptoms:

  • Pages of text summarising numerous points the speaker is making.
  • Illustrative graphs or tables sitting above five explanatory sentences. (In my view those sentences should be part of the speaker’s script, and the table used to illustrate his or her point).
  • Slides that are packed full of high-tech graphics and detailed information creating the impression of complexity and depth, but with no memorable message to pull them together.

The Cause
1. There’s no point bashing out bullet points and illustrations without a STRATEGY. And an effective presentation strategy requires two things:

Understanding that an audience CAN’T multi-task
Most of us are incapable of doing two things at once. When asked to listen to a speaker and simultaneously read words on a screen behind him or her, the default position is to read the slides as quickly as possible. We lose touch with the speaker, and once that link is broken, it is hard to repair. The damage can be done with as few as ten words on a single slide. More than that and you might as well email your ‘presentation’ through and await responses.

2. Asking one vital question: Why are you presenting in the first place?

As a general rule, you are probably aiming to do one of two things:

Present a MESSAGE: Deliver a core, high-level message that will be powerful and memorable (a new strategy, a sales pitch, a motivational piece etc)


Communicate DETAIL: Exchange large amounts of detail (training, educational programme, compliance updates etc)

Each requires a completely different approach.

The Best Approach

If you are presenting a MESSAGE:

To get the MESSAGE across, slides should only illustrate the points made in a speech. The script setting out the MESSAGE needs to stand alone, captivating the audience through spoken words. Slides can bring it to life through careful use of images, charts and video, but they should not summarise or repeat it. Ideally these slides should include NO WORDS AT ALL.

If you are communicating DETAIL:

To communicate the DETAIL, visual notes and information may be necessary. But the sad truth remains: the moment you have bullet points up on a slide, your audience will start reading and stop listening. And so TIMING becomes everything. You will still need to speak with impact, ensuring that your slideshow contains only images or blank slides while you do so. When you have made a point, or explained a detail, you can then click to reveal it. But you then need to stop speaking and let your audience read it for themselves. Once they have had time to do so, you should either ask if there are any questions before you move on, or simply click to a blank slide to re-focus their attention.

The Prescription
There are some fabulous uses of slides, and many of my clients have travelled the world armed with a simple, helpful and stimulating slide-show. Those presentations have all resulted directly from this strict prescription:

1. Start by deciding on your core message. Write it down.
2. Structure your argument in a way that ensures that message is its focal point.
3. Write your script before you create your slides. That way they will always illustrate your key points rather than repeat them.
4. Aim to have minimal words on the slide (a single image/graph or table is usually ample).
5. Remember that the typical member of your typical audience will only remember the high level subject matter of the presentation and ONE key message the morning after you have spoken. Therefore take every opportunity to keep it light and hone in on that message as regularly as possible.
6. If you have been asked to present or circulate your presentation in advance of the event, then I strongly recommend that you don’t re-present the written document at the event. Instead, summarise it briefly and impactfully, referring back to the longer version, and then open it up to a question and answer session on the details.
7. Don’t be afraid to involve your audience by opening the floor to questions where appropriate.
8. Never forget to be relevant. Irrelevance is a clear sign that you have a slide dependency (or that you have forgotten your audience entirely).

If communicating DETAIL, you need to:

1. Keep text-heavy slides visible ONLY when the presenter is not speaking
2. Use ‘break’ slides enabling the presenter to take control of the room
3. Include plenty of time for questions
4. Use exciting visuals. Even if they convey vital information, slides should still be interesting to look at.

And remember: If a DETAIL presentation has simply become a barrage of detailed, text heavy slides, then the presentation is no longer a presentation. It’s actually a written document on a wall and it should either be read in silence and followed by questions OR the presentation should be cancelled and the document circulated by email.

Health Warning
I hope this helps you on your way to a safe use of slides. But please speak to a professional for advice specific to your audience and objectives. If you are struggling, I’d love to help.

Introducing your business presentation

It is no secret that your audience will judge you during the first minute of your business presentation. If you appear convincing and impactful at the beginning, the audience will listen to you throughout.

It is worth spending as much time on that minute as the next five combined.

Here are three ways to make the perfect start:

–          Surprise them: You don’t need a song and dance routine but any opportunity to break free from the typical corporate opening is to be encouraged. An impactful quote or slide can work well, but make sure it is relevant to your core message.

–          Build up the benefits: Try to focus on the end benefit of your presentation at the start. If you’re selling software then surprise them in minute one by demonstrating concisely and memorably how it will change their businesses and lives for the better.

–          Make it word perfect: Know your introduction off by heart – this is not the time to be glancing at your notes, or wondering what comes next. You have one chance to create an impression and should not appear uncertain or unprepared.

And five things to avoid:

–          Long introductions about yourself and your business: This serves little purpose to an audience who’ve already read your biography in the seminar handout or delegate list.

–          False compliments or sentiments: They don’t need to know how happy you are to be there and how kind they are to take the time to listen to you.

–          Apologies: Unless you are late, never begin with an apology. They don’t want to know you’re nervous, are new to the job, or that you have a sore throat.

–          Complaints: You’re wasting time and irritating your audience if you complain about the temperature of the room, the AV set up or the noise outside the room.

–          Weak jokes: A natural reaction for a nervous speaker is to try to ‘befriend’ the audience by beginning with a joke. But humour is hard to pull off and can easily offend people if done poorly.

Remember, everything you put into your introduction will help keep the rest of the presentation and speech on track. If you’re still unsure where to start or how to get your speech or presentation off the ground, please give me a call on +44 (0)207 118 1600.

How to write a great speech: ORIGINALITY

My previous blog piece focused on relevance.

But although being relevant will help you convince your audience to listen for a while, it isn’t enough on its own to hook them in.   And so once you have decided what your key message is going to be, you need to wrap it in an original way.

Don’t worry.  This doesn’t mean you need to wear a bizarre costume, Morris dance  or sing.  But whatever the event at which you are speaking, you need to convince your audience that they are going to learn something new from you.  And the best way to do that is to communicate a little differently.

There’s obviously a catch here.  If I give you an original idea then it will immediately cease to be original.  But I can give three examples of people who have managed to present relevant ideas in ways that have really made an impact on the audiences concerned.

Like the energy consultant who flew off to a meeting in Cape Town last April and linked the various elements of a new technology his firm had launched to the preparations for the Royal Wedding.  This enabled the less technical members of the audience to enjoy the speech and understand his role.  He was congratulated the following day on being the most impressive speaker at that year’s conference.

Then there’s the example of the accountant given fifteen minutes to speak on the difference between tax evasion and avoidance.  This is obviously a technical issues with major consequences.  Avoidance leaves more money sitting in your personal account.  Evasion gains you a stretch behind bars.  And so she started by telling a story about life in Ford Open prison.  Her audience were captivated.  And their interest grew when she explained that was exactly what they could be facing if they failed to listen to some of the finer details that were to follow.

Finally, there was a father-of-the-bride at a wedding.  His speech was relevant enough, but it just lacked a little bite.  Until he mentioned that his daughter had spent the first twenty years of her life obsessed with the musical Grease.  As a result, he wove together the key stories and characters from her life using song titles and lyrics sung by John Travolta and Olivia Newton John.  The following week he and his wife started receiving thank you letters for the wedding.  And the vast majority referred to his speech as being the best they had ever heard.

These examples are obviously pretty random.  There is, sadly, no formula for originality.  It disappears the minute you try to adhere to a template.  And that’s why every speech we write at Great Speech Writing begins on a blank piece of paper.

But if you can combine a relevant approach with an original way of communicating the message then you are on well on track.

Conference Speeches 2011 – Who won?

Great Speech Writing has watched, scribbled and squirmed throughout the 2011 Party Conference season with a particularly keen eye on the peformance of the three party leaders.
Here’s the post mortem.

Content – The good, the bad and the ugly

Good – A speech that flowed well, linked seamlessly from topic to topic, and led with the clear message that this is a time for Liberals, not extremists.
Bad – The constant bleating that ‘We’re doing a lot really well. But we keep forgetting to tell anyone about it. So we keep losing.’ sounded a little too much like a schoolboy explaining his duff end-of-term report to his parents.
Ugly – the lurking fear that style is defeating substance

Good – A simple narrative written in compelling sound-bites, many of which read better on paper than they actually sounded. Clear on being pro-business, and drew clear line between Tory and Labour economic policy.
Bad – 60 words didn’t seem quite enough to cover the party’s entire foreign policy (and over 50 of those were targeted at our troops).
Ugly – At Great Speech Writing we write many Groom speeches, and there was a horrible moment when we worried that Ed had picked up the wrong script. Surely the time had passed to tell Mrs M in public that he adored her. Even more worrying was when he seemed to be admitting to a serious crush on Harriet Harman.

Good – Seamless links from subject to subject and a running theme of leadership that worked from a speech perspective. Cleverly briefed the media 24 hours earlier than usual to ensure that Boris’ speech was overshadowed.
Bad – Never a great idea to back-track on the content you’ve leaked on the morning of the speech.
Ugly: “I lead to unleash your leadership”. Not quite Disraeli. Or even Ian Duncan Smith.


The key to any great speech is to decide who it is targeted at and to pitch right at them.
Cameron spoke to the outside world via the hall – and appeared Prime Ministerial in the process. Clegg addressed the hall, talked directly to his audience and even thanked them for listening. It worked.
Milliband got very confused. At times he was speaking to the conference. At others to the country when his style was more party political broadcast. And at one stage he just got completely confused by looking at the audience and saying: “I believe in my conversations with you the British people I am determined we restore your trust in us on the economy”. Agghhh!

Those mixed-metaphors in a nutshell (with no armbands)

Nick Clegg – “Don’t apologise because we’ve all opened a door to enable our stick of rock to punch above its weight. But it’s not a walk in the environmentally friendly park full of predators.”
Ed Milliband – “I’m not interested in consolation prizes so we’re going to rip up the old set of rules, which were built on sand under a safety net full of holes, to create a new bargain and write a new chapter.
David Cameron – “The world’s a mess but under my leadership we’ll turn the British ship round by laying strong foundations to bail out the last Labour government with armbands off.”


Cameron wasn’t. Milliband tried to be. At times Clegg actually was. He managed to sound honest, regretful and upbeat all at once. And which other party leader has ever talked for so long about being disliked? He may also be the first to re-package a quote from a footballer (Roy Keane’s prawn sandwiches).

The love-in

Cameron was obviously keen not to antagonise his friend Nick, and even used the phrase “Nick Clegg and I” which harked back to the golden days of the Leadership Debate and Gordon’s plaintive “I agree with Nick”.
In fact, Cameron fell so solidly into line with Nick that he didn’t just cut and paste his attack on Labour’s economic policy, but also used some very similar adjectives to describe British values.
And to top it all, he even borrowed Nick’s tie.
There wasn’t much love for Ed – but he gave it out in bucket-loads to his wife, Ed Balls, Harriet Harman and the NHS.

Memorable sound-bites

Clegg – From the good: “We are in nobody’s pocket” and “From the easy promises of opposition to the invidious choices of government” to the meaningless: “Our home, our children, our future” to the Partridge-esque: “Masters of the universe became masters of destruction” (the latter met by a notable dearth of applause).
Milliband – The speech was one rolling-sound-bite including: “I’m my own man”, “He betrayed your trust”, “You can’t trust the Tories on the National Health Service” and “Producers versus the predators”. The latter was one of many examples of EM trying to create a distinct ‘good and evil’ feel to the political landscape. And that worked.
Cameron – Light, airy and safe phrases including: “We can turn this ship around”, “We’re going to get Britain back to work” and “our new economy”. “Leadership” was obviously his key theme and word. One half expected him to raise a glove Gary Glitter style, chanting that he was the leader of the gang. Cameron was also keen to appear as international as possible, bouncing from continent to continent in a way that’s only really possible during the draw for the World Cup Finals.

Balance between humour and sincerity

It is vital to create the right balance, but only if the humour works. And most of it was lame.
Clegg was the best, realising that this was a party conference and not an audition for the Comedy Store. His persecution complex lines were good (inspired by Woody Allen?) but he undermined them slightly with one-too-many sycophantic references to conference darling Paddy Ashdown (fast becoming the Liberal Lady T).
Milliband began with a stand-up routine that moved swiftly from brother jokes to “Ed nose day”. But things got even worse with the inevitable Blair-esque popular culture reference: ”The computer says no”. Only a few years too late there Ed. He did make a good quip about Clegg not keeping his promises, but all-in-all there were many too many weak jokes.
Cameron was a disappointment here. Rather than settling for a couple of sharp one-liners, he tried the scatter-gun approach which left him a gap of less than twenty seconds between joking about Boris and “The Joy of … Cycling” (ho ho) to Colonel Gadaffi providing the IRA with semtex (which wasn’t a joke at all but threatened to be). The low-point was the crack about diabetics in the EU. Nope, still not funny.


Clegg dropped-in Gladstone after 5 mins and Ashdown wherever possible. But didn’t mention Ming Campbell. Funny that.
Milliband mentioned Kinnock before he’d drawn breath, and Blair and Brown soon afterwards . To a mixed reaction.
Cameron waited 37 minutess before reeling off a list including Lady T. And that pleased the conference so much, he mentioned her again thirty seconds later.


As clients of Great Speech Writing are well aware, great content is useless without great delivery.
Great delivery means a well paced speech, demonstrating appropriate levels of energy and emotion, and ongoing eye contact with the audience.

Clegg – was the only leader who sounded passionate and appeared to mean it. His body language was a throw back to that first leadership debate – with good movement of the arms helped by a transparent podium that opened him up to the audience.
His long pause for a sip of water after five minutes energised him (was it vodka?), and stepping away from the podium was something only he did – and something that served the dual purpose of making him look relaxed whilst breaking up the monotony of a forty five minute speech.
Interestingly, he spent much time looking to those ahead of him and to his left – but rarely glanced right. Read into that what you will. Perhaps he had cricked his neck?

Milliband – is, sadly, not a born communicator. He has been well trained and spoke slowly and methodically, but he still seems unable to emphasise the right words. This can ruin potentially bold and passionate remarks. Take, for example, his confusing execution of the punch-line “Don’t mess with Rupert Murdoch”, after which we feared that he was about to burst out crying.
Despite his claims that the nose op’ was a success, the nasal whine is still an issue, making his cries for action sound akin to a schoolboy pleading with his teacher for more homework.
Unlike Clegg, his sips of water leave much room for improvement, looking as they do like he is auditioning for a future role playing Mr Bean.

Cameron remains the master of delivery. He decided to present himself as a leader and carried it off. Great eye contact despite the layers of make-up, great movement of the hands and effortless gravitas. His comic pauses were all well-timed despite some appalling material, and he appeared to be in complete command of his material and his audience.


Ten years have passed since Tony Blair’s ‘kaleidoscope’ speech after 9/11 – the greatest conference speech of the past twenty years.
In that time, a new generation of party leaders has emerged. And they share many similarities – from their age and worrying lack of stubble, to their centralist messages and carefully stage-managed performances.
In practise there was not a huge amount to choose between them, but Nick Clegg exceeded expectations and it is always hard for Cameron to live up to his. Milliband’s public speaking record means that he can easily outperform his benchmark, but his delivery still sits far behind the other two.
None of these speeches was exceptional. None will be remembered in ten years time. But casting the politics aside, we have Clegg’s content and delivery ahead of Cameron by a short head.

But if the leaders’ failed to shine particularly brightly, then who did?
Balls versus Osbourne remains the most fascinating duel in British politics. Both value substance over style, and both are genuine heavyweights. Balls will never charm a crowd like any of the party leaders, but his speech was well-written, clear and powerful.
Boris entertained in his unique style, and remains alone in his willingness to be original and break the rules.
Of the younger generation, Labour’s Rory Weal stole the show, winning a gold star for his passion and bravery, and a detention for hackneyed content.
Perhaps he is destined to be the next William Hague – a party conference veteran who is undoubtedly the most devastatingly effective and accomplished public speaker in Westminster. The way he brought to life the graveyard slot at the start of the conference was a lesson to us all.
He may well take us back to the future by becoming the next leader of the party. Other prospective candidates for centre stage include the effective Yvette Cooper and two outside hopefuls in Jeremy Hunt and Jim Murphy- both tall men prowling the stage without notes. Where can they have got that idea from?
Finally, let’s not forget that George Osbourne gave a strong speech that was overshadowed by the freeing of Amanda Knox. And the Prime Minister was knocked-off the front pages by Steve Jobs. There’s no cure for bad timing.
Whilst Theresa May remembered the importance of getting your facts right.

To conclude, it isn’t only politics converging into the centre ground. Speechwriters and coaches are too. We all yearn for the conference speeches of yore, given by politicians with the conviction, imagination and passion to step away from the consultancy template and daring to be original.

Beating the Psychology of Nervousness

There are nerves and then there are NERVES.  The quaking, shaking kind, born of a complete fear of public speaking that borders on a phobia.

In some cases, even the best content and coaching on delivery are not enough.  Because the speaker needs to get to the root of their concerns before starting to work on the speech itself.  Which is why I am delighted to include this Guest Post from someone who can get to the real heart of a public speaking phobia.

Jacky Lewis runs 'Training Matters London'Jacky Lewis is a trainer, coach and existential psychotherapist who runs Training Matters London.  Jacky works with clients to conquer many of the issues that can undermine their professional lives.  In the following article she explains a possible way to adapt your mindset when the nerves kick-in.

Please let me know if you would like me to introduce you to Jacky.

Guest Post: Overcoming the Psychology of Nervousness

Many people feel a high level of anxiety when confronted with delivering a speech or presentation.  They feel their legs have turned to jelly, they develop a dry mouth, feel sweaty, shaky, their hearts beat faster…they are experiencing classic stress symptoms.  But have you ever stopped to think why this should be?  Why don’t they just sail through it, deliver their message and feel proud of what they’ve said?  The answer may be in the hidden unchallenged assumptions that we all carry inside and that we allow to ‘disable’ our thinking.
There’s no reason why should perform below par once we understand how to master these thoughts.  Here are a few unhelpful and limiting assumptions I’ve come across over the years; can you identify with any of these…?

  • I’m afraid I’ll feel vulnerable / exposed when I stand up to make a speech.
  • I’ll look stupid.
  • Everyone in the audience could do this better than me.
  • They won’t be interested in what I have to say.
  • I’m not interesting; they’ll find me boring.
  • I am no expert on this subject.
  • People will ‘find me out’.
  • I hate operating outside my comfort zone.

When we are training people to present with confidence, it is interesting to find out that most of us share some of these same misgivings.  The problem is that your audience is ‘attuned’ to picking up these signals of insecurity in the speaker; they may well switch off if she or he presents in an under confident or unconvincing manner.  So you need to start your presentation as you mean to go on; with a high level of assurance and transmitting a ‘can-do’ mind-set.  Convince your audience that they’re lucky to be hearing you!

So what can you do…?

Begin by making a list of your own personal unchallenged assumptions and then start to challenge them. Ask yourself ‘what is the evidence that people won’t be interested in my message?’.  Then ask what makes you think you’ll be boring, and so on. Work through your personal negative points; try discussing them with a friend.  Your unchallenged assumptions will be less powerful when you share them with others.
Now go on to picture yourself when you listen to a presentation; aren’t you usually open and interested in what the speaker has to say?  If he or she starts off their presentation with a strong level of confidence and self belief,  they will take you with them; you’ll be ‘on side’. People in your audience are much less judgmental that you think (or fear) they are; you just have to decide that you can inspire them.  Getting your message across and motivating your audience is largely a matter of believing you can do it and demonstrating that.  What did the author Susan Jeffers say? ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’……  Good luck!

Tips for Presenting with Authority

It is not unusual to feel vulnerable about standing up to speak. The trick to delivering a successful speech or presentation is to create a perception of confidence to make your audience feel that you are in charge (irrespective of how you are actually feeling at the time).

Take your time

Think about the most powerful or influential speakers you’ve heard. As a general rule they will speak very slowly. This is actually very easy, and a great trick to earn yourself the confidence of the room. Look at this video of Barrack Obama. He speaks very slowly, and very clearly. His audience knows that he doesn’t need to rush; that he’s in control of the situation, and taking it at his own pace. Not only does it make the process of public speaking easier, it also simply sounds more controlled. And it’s easier to take-in what he’s saying.

Use your hands

Moving them doesn’t just help illustrate your point. It also helps release nervous energy, enabling you to speak more confidently.

Print your speech or presentation onto cue cards

Partly, this is useful for the simple reason that a cue card is smaller than a sheet of A4. However, actually the biggest thing you gain from having cue cards is the confidence they inspire in both you and your audience. From the audience’s perspective, you have clearly prepared for the speech you are giving; you have approached it in a professional way, and seemingly have done this before. From your own perspective, having the cards there at all will remind you that you are equipped to deliver this speech. Psychologically, this puts the ball in your court.

Hold your cue cards at about chest level and about half a foot in front of you

This way, when you look up at the audience, your speech will still be in your eye-line. You should not be presenting something purely by looking down at a piece of paper. Look up. Make sure the audience know that they’re your focal point; that they’re what’s important to you. When you watch a speech by somebody doing nothing more than looking down and reading from their notes, you can’t help but think they may as well just hand the piece of paper out and request half an hour’s silence for everybody to get up to speed. The reason they are watching a person, rather than reading a sheet of paper, is because they want someone to talk to them, to engage with them; someone in whom they can have confidence.

Glance, don’t read

You don’t have to know it word for word, but you certainly should only be presenting something to a room full of people, if you’ve practiced it beforehand. Speaking slowly enough to give you time to glance down at your notes between sound-bites will make a huge difference.


You may be shaking during the speech; you may even be terrified. However, what you must not be is miserable. Or, at least, you mustn’t look it. A frowning speaker is a reluctant speaker; someone out of their depths, perhaps. Nothing gets you the respect of a room like standing in front of 50, 60, 100 people and simply smiling back at them. Socially, it shows the audience that they’re in for a good time. Professionally, it shows you’ve got all the answers. Put it this way, if you were looking to buy a fridge-freezer from two men; one of whom was smiling and the other of whom was crying, who would get your business?

Perform a little

Pick relevant people to look in the eyes. If you’re talking about the company director, and he’s in the room, then look at him! You don’t need to bound round the stage, yelping, to get people’s attention. But you also won’t be interesting to watch simply standing still. These little touches can make the difference between a good presentation and a great one.

I hope you find these tips useful. Please let me know if you would like help preparing for your next speech or presentation.

Delivery: Practise makes perfect

Effortless delivery can turn a good speech into a great one. Far too many people spend 100% of their preparation time writing their speech or presentation, forgetting that it’s the delivery that will make or break it.

If you’re preparing to give a presentation or a pitch, this is even more essential. An under-practised script can sound hollow and unconvincing to any client or colleague.

So how do you go about practising for the big moment?

Let’s start with defining ‘practice’.
‘Practice’ doesn’t mean silently reading the speech or Power-Point notes to yourself on the train, or in bed each evening. Nor does it mean running through it until you can recall the key headings and a few words here and there.

Practice means trying to get as close as possible to how you’ll deliver the speech on the day itself. Here are my top tips:

1. Stand up and read it aloud. But don’t just recite it; put some feeling into it, emphasising key words, pausing at appropriate moments and looking up at your (imaginary) audience as you would on the day.
2. Hold a tube of toothpaste or something similar to recreate the microphone.
3. Ask your other half or a good mate to listen and make suggestions if things don’t sound right.
4. Imagine that you have an audience in front of you, and create as much eye contact with them as possible.
5. Use the same cards, paper or laptop that you’ll be using on the day.
6. If you’re getting bored with the speech, then stop practising so frequently.  Just have a run through as and when you’re worried you’re beginning to forget it.
7. Perfect your posture. Good posture can make you look and feel more confident.
8. You may want to rehearse in the clothes you’ll be wearing on the day. If it’s formal clothes, it can help to become familiar with the feeling of tightness around the neck that comes from wearing a suit.

If you feel this is bordering on the obsessive, remember that stage shows never go ahead without a full dress rehearsal, so why should your speech?!

I hope that’s helpful. If you would like some help rehearsing, or on the writing part for that matter, please feel free to contact me on +44 (0)207 118 1600.

I look forward to hearing from you.


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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.

Presenting to your staff?

At a time when ‘internal communications’ are becoming ever more of a business buzzword, I speak to an increasing number of clients about how best to present news and information to their colleagues.

As with any speech or presentation, there are a number of tricks to ensure that yours does not lead to ‘Death by PowerPoint’, a condition that can have the audience yawning at ‘hello’.

It isn’t PowerPoint itself that creates the problem.  Quite the opposite.  It actually the tools to help bring a subject to life.  But when you are talking to your own staff, you do not need to fall into any if these traps:

  1. Repeating ad-nauseam everything they heard at the last internal call-to-arms
  2. Showing them every line of every balance sheet and set of accounts that you can find
  3. Impressing them with an organogram showing how every individual within the team interacts
  4. Running through so many objectives and visions that even you lose sight of what matters
  5. Displaying your entire script on each slide so they have to listen to a demonstration of your reading ability

It is amazing how senior people who tend to give these sort of presentations start with the premise that they need to be formal and prosaic.

As a rule of thumb, an internal presentation should be as fun and straightforward as possible.  The idea is to engage your staff rather than alienate them.  And that is rarely achieved through a forest of facts, figures and hypotheses.

Which may sound like common sense.  But it is anathema to many business leaders, whether they work in the public or private sector.  So if I’ve covered the ‘don’ts’, here are a few tips for inspiring your colleagues:

  1. Keep it simple.  Why present for half an hour when you can say it all in ten minutes?
  2. Use your slides to illustrate and amuse, not as an autocue
  3. Decide on the key message you want to convey and stick to it
  4. Prepare by writing a synopsis of your speech or presentation in no more than one hundred words.  You can then use that paragraph as a framework for the rest of your content

This is only the start, but I hope it helps.  I would, of course, be delighted to help you work on your next one!


Making a speech on behalf of a Charity?

If you would like some help writing a fundraising speech please click here

Read more about our charity / fundraising speech writing services

Tips for making a charity speech

You represent a charity about which you care passionately. You have the opportunity to speak about it in front of a number of people who could make a real difference. People who could help you raise funds or spread the word. You want to appeal to them in a memorable and inspirational way, but you are well aware that they have heard hundreds of speeches on similar subjects in the past and are constantly being asked for help. So how do you go about convincing a room full of them that yours is a charity that needs and deserves their attention and support?

To begin with, don’t rush into detail. The big picture matters, particularly to busy and successful people. So before you start writing, check that you can summarise each of the following three points in an impactful and simple sentence:
a. What is your charity’s core purpose?
b. How does it go about reaching that goal?
c. What do you want from your audience on the night?

These sentences will already put you in a strong position to write your speech. The following tips should help develop it further:


Only use statistics in a meaningful way. They are a vital way to make important points but they risk just becoming more numbers thrown at your audience. So be selective and use appropriate comparisons. For example, 90,000 sufferers of an illness is hard to quantify. But if you imagine a concert or match at Wembley Stadium and then imagine that every member of the full-house watching it suffers from that illness, you begin to evoke meaning.


Large numbers are important to prove a point but they can be impersonal. Charities rely on empathy to make their mark. And so for every collective figure you use, try to back it up with a real example. So forty thousand homeless people become relevant when one of them is called Ronald. Who was sleeping at Charing Cross Station. And who was forced to beg for small change even though he had previously studied History to degree level.

Good News

Don’t allow the weight of problems associated with the charity to dominate. If, as a result of your help, Ronald now has his own flat and a steady job, then say so.


Never forget to set out measurable and achievable outcomes. Explain clearly and simply how your audience can help someone like Ronald. What should they do next, and how will he and people like him benefit?

Next Steps

Don’t forget that although this cause means everything to you, your audience have other calls on their time and money. If they stand to benefit from their affiliation with your cause then explain why. Show them how much (or how little) of their time and energy you require.

Ground Rules

Every Charity is underpinned by a serious cause. But don’t allow this to distract you from some of the key rules of speech making. For example:
a. Maintain a balance between sincerity and lighter content
b. Err on the side of brevity
c. Keep it simple, however highbrow your audience
d. Develop some core sound bites that will convey your key message coolly and calmly

I write speeches for a number of keynote speakers at fundraising events and charitable functions. I would be delighted to discuss how best to develop your speech to create the impact you’re striving for.

I look forward to hearing from you.


11 tips for a powerpoint presentation

There is a school of thought that ‘great’ and ‘PowerPoint’ should never be used in the same sentence, and it is true that there are many other ways to engage your audience.

However, PowerPoint is a fact of business life, and it can be an incredibly impactful tool when used in the right way.

Too often it isn’t.  So here are a few tips to help you prepare your next one.

Preparing it

  1. Create a structure that focuses around the key point you want to make.
  2. Work from a Master Slide (or slides) – this makes it a lot easier to change things later on.
  3. Aim never to have more than 10 words on one slide.
  4. Remember that a relevant image or illustration will be immeasurably more impactful than a sentence.
  5. Let slides build with your story, rather than giving away the outcome before you have delivered it.
  6. As with all speeches and presentations, check whether it is relevant to your audience, approaches the subject in an interesting and original way, and sets things out simply.

Delivering it

  1. Don’t forget that the audience are there to watch you, not your slides.  Use the presentation to back up your message, not to replace your role in delivering it.
  2. Don’t repeat the words on the slides behind you.  It is a fact of business life that most of your audience will be able to read them too.
  3. Make it clear when you are referring to a specific part of a slide rather than just gesticulating randomly into the air between you and it.
  4. Avoid handing out a printed version of the presentation beforehand.  Your impact will be nullified if your audience know what’s coming next.
  5. As with all speeches and presentations, speak clearly, interact with your audience wherever possible, and emphasise key words and messages.

Many of the keys to a successful presentation come down to common sense.  Preparation is key.  You can never think too much about original ways to entertain your audience.  Nor can you rehearse too much.  Knowing what will appear on each click through the presentation is a must.

I would be delighted to review an existing presentation you have written or to help you create something original and impactful. In the meantime, I hope this helps.


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