Posts

our advice

Our Advice to the Tory Leadership Candidates

Our advice to the Tory leadership candidates does not differ from our advice to clients in the spotlight. It is only the substance and the level of scrutiny that is challenging.

Our advice

Our Advice: Get the Lines on Brexit Watertight

  • Have your stance on Brexit clearly thought through and articulated so that anyone voting for you knows (and can repeat in your words) what you stand for. It is not the ideas that count, that is just the starting point. It is the exact words you want to have crafted and rehearsed. And of course, prepare answers to the tough Brexit questions. This may seem like stating the obvious, but preparation includes arming yourself with answers to all possible challenging questions. It is surprising how many politicians can trot out their prepared pitch confidently and then become flustered and inarticulate when a journalist asks the obvious tough question.
  • Have one or two stand-out ideas that are not Brexit related, to indicate life after Brexit. Boris Johnson’s tax cut for those earning more than 50k is an example. Hunt is talking about abortion limits (deep sigh from me), while Gove wants to change the VAT system.

Our Advice: Don’t get Personal, Don’t get Nasty

  • Be tough but respectful. Leadership requires a sense of ‘grit’ – giving the impression you will not funk difficult decisions. At the same time mud-slinging, attacking or undermining opponents smacks of weakness, not strength. (This is why political leaders tend to get others to do their dirty work. I am old enough to remember the Brown-Blair feuds and the machinations of Charlie Whelan.)
  • Learn to answer a question before landing a message. After Theresa May, commentators will be super critical of a candidate who appears to ignore every question put. My colleague Eric Dixon blogged about this a few weeks ago.

Our Advice: Don’t Lie

  • Don’t lie. The private prosecution of Boris Johnson for lying over the £350m a week to Brussels claim in the Brexit referendum failed after a legal challenge. But the fact that it was brought at all shows there will be a section of the audience watching out for any outright lie. Given the uncertainty around Brexit and the need for leaders to ‘sell’ confidence if not certainty, this may be a hard one. The question ‘is there a chance there will be food shortages after a hard Brexit?’ is, for example, difficult for a politician to answer honestly without prompting some very unhelpful headlines.

our advice

Our Advice: It is all about Authenticity

  • Sound authentic. This is the big one. Authenticity is the name of the game. On this measure Boris is the one to beat – he doesn’t try to present a manicured front to the public. His hair is a mess, he has made a fool of himself many times. In a different age this would all have counted against him but in the era of Trump, Farage, Zelensky (the new President of Ukraine) etc. it is an asset. Corbyn used to have authenticity but he lost it along the way. (In this Irish Times piece Chris Johns looks at the role of authenticity but he thinks Boris is lacking in this department).   Rory Stewart who describes himself as a “Trumpian anti-Trump’ is working hard on authenticity as well as getting to grips with the modern use of social media, both of which are very interesting from an observer’s point of view. However, at the moment it doesn’t seem to be aimed at his fellow MPs, who as we know, have the votes that matter at this stage. Our advice on message building always includes targeting the relevant audience.

Our Advice: Avoid Greek Mythology and Latin Phrases

  • Finally, we would advise against using Latin or making references to Greek mythology. As regular readers know, we at The Media Coach love metaphors but they have to be carefully chosen. Boris Johnson told the Sunday Times last weekend “I truly believe only I can steer the country between the Scylla and Charybdis of Corbyn and Farage and on to calmer water.” Almost everyone would have had to look that one up!

Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons

Why Macron won

Why Macron won: the Media Coach lens

If my circle of acquaintance is anything to go by (and maybe it isn’t) France’s new President Emmanuel Macron seems to be more liked by the international community than many of his own countrymen. Politics aside, part of the reason could be that at his best he communicates in a way that is easy for many English speaking (NB NOT anglophone) audiences to identify and connect with. Below are three Macron communication traits that I think give him the edge.

Why Macron won

Why Macron won: energy

In his book Don’t Be Such a Scientist, Randy Olson argues that all great communicators successfully connect with several different organs of the body – head, heart, gut and groin.  Macron doesn’t meet all these criteria (his set piece speeches can be tedious) but he’s physically forceful and animated during  interviews and 1:1 exchanges.

He’s not especially tall,  but he compensates for a lack of height with optimism, intense eye contact, forward focused body language and hand gestures that paint pictures as well as reinforce points. For example, during the 3rd May debate with Marine Le Pen, he used a piece of scrap notepaper as a proxy for a payslip to illustrate how one of his proposed employment tax reforms would work. He also counts items/issues off on his hands and underscores points very visually. A lot of politicians do this but few have the same businesslike, positive energy as Macron.

Why Macron won: he makes it tangible

One of the main criticisms levelled at Macron by his critics was his supposed lack of policy substance. This may prove to be true but he does use lots of tangible examples. I appreciate I am not glued to French TV but whenever I’ve seen him speak this is very obvious. In this excerpt from a TV exchange with French farmers he’s manages to explain why EU farming and trade policy matters to France in colloquial, visual terms by talking about exports of raw milk, Camembert and yoghurt and apples (in the South West) before moving on to wine and finally the impact that steel dumping by China had in the North and Eastern parts of France.

Why Macron won: great sizzle

During interviews and debates Macron eschews more traditional methods of French political rhetoric, (which tend to be discursive before building up to a final conclusion). He gets straight to the point and is quick with sharp rebuttals and one liners that are not only highly quotable (incidentally, the French word for sizzle is le gresillement) but also jump language barriers. For example, during the above exchange with the same farmers he described himself as a ‘Européen exigeant’ (demanding European) and characterised Marine Le Pen as a ‘mensonge sur pattes’ (a lie on legs). And one of his most memorable lines from the debate last week was when he called her ‘La Grande Pretresse de la peur’ (High Priestess of Fear). This picked up headlines not just in France but all over the world.

Of course, several of the techniques I’ve just discussed are ones we teach. This is not to imply that Macron is some kind of crypto Anglo-Saxon politician in disguise. But part of his appeal may well be that as a smart energetic, concrete communicator with a direct style he is someone who can resonate with audiences outside his own country, even when speaking in his mother tongue.

 

 

juncker1

Juncker disappoints: We want more from EU speakers

This article first appeared on Hearings.Digital-Diplomacy.EU

What is the purpose of a speech?

Judging from some of the conversations I’ve been having with people on Twitter, I have been unfair to the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, because I wanted him to deliver his State of the Union speech in an engaging and convincing manner.

When I make comments like this, people in Brussels often assume that this is somehow a dig at the speaker’s English (which is usually perfect) and that I should cut them some slack because they are often talking in their third or fourth language.

So before I start this blog in full I want to make a number of things clear.

I am in awe of people who work in several languages

As a Brit who works almost exclusively in her mother tongue and speaks passable (but not professional) French and Spanish, I know how hard it is to work at an effective and nuanced level in other languages.

Doing speeches in multi-lingual environments is tough

This is partly because of language but also genuine cultural differences which exist over what makes an authoritative public speaker. Personally I think speeches should be banned from EU policy environments because they don’t add anything and almost all policymakers do better when taking questions rather than delivering set piece speeches which they aren’t good at.

I don’t want everyone to sound like Tony Blair

 

Or Angelina Jolie.

Far from it. I want them to be the best possible version of themselves if they are going to convince an audience to listen to their message. This does not make me superficial and unduly fixated on metaphors.  Nor does it mean I overlook substance in favour of rhetorical flourish (whatever that is). Rather, it means I accept that all public speaking is an exercise in creating and sustaining a convincing connection with an audience over a set period of time.  The Greeks knew this thousands of years ago when they were using speechmaking to cement ‘democracy’ in Athens. And not being boring matters more than ever in the increasingly impressionistic digital age we now live in.

So, caveats aside, the speech was a game of two halves. It was beautifully crafted, with lovely soundbites, great numbers and sticky stories but delivered in such a flat and listless way that it made me want to put a biro through my eyeball.

Quite simply, you wouldn’t have known this was the make or break speech it had been trailed as.

juncker

Juncker’s well written State of the Union was undermined by his flat delivery

The Good

Beautifully written: lots of sizzling soundbites such as  ‘There is a lack of Europe in Europe and a lack of union in the European Union’ and ‘Europe cannot house all the world’s misery’. Chapeau to Juncker’s speechwriters, who have done a very good job in focusing the content on the audience.
Great numbers – such as 20mn Poles live outside Poland – helped create a strong narrative arc and context for discussing the refugee crisis.
Strong storytelling and examples to help make the speech visual and real. There was also very little jargon. Good, good, good.

The Bad

Just one major point: the delivery was flat with terrible energy  and no light or shade (in all three languages, not just English). This is not a language issue. It’s a performance issue. No speaker will be convincing if they do not seem interested in and engaged by their own subject. Most of us have to fake energy and enthusiasm when it comes to public speaking. It does not mean you have to be a fake to do it.
I am a broken record on the energetic delivery point. I cannot emphasize this enough. You can have the best or worst content in the world but if you have no ooomph as a speaker  then you will always fail to ignite or even connect with your audience.
A strong speech certainly helps. But performance, passion and conviction are everything

 

Brexit Creative Commons Kevin Friery

3 Stories the UK’s Pro-EU lobby should tell

Brexit Creative Commons Kevin Friery

The Pro-EU lobby in the UK lacks a great story

We’re less than three weeks into the shadow UK-EU referendum campaign and already companies and business groups have started drip feeding negative warnings about vague threats to jobs and growth into the public debate.

Airbus, JCB and Vodafone are just three of the big names adding their two cents but precisely, who these warnings are aimed at is beyond me given that negative campaigning went down like a lead balloon in Scotland.

None of these arguments are wrong but we need something more to get inspired. Even the most casual observer knows that a large chunk of the UK in EU discussion is about British identity and that ‘red tape’, ‘renegotiation’ and ‘Brussels decides’ are often trigger words to fire people up about the fear of British identity under threat.

They are also side lining the much bigger story about the EU and Britain. In her book ‘Acts of Union and Disunion’, the historian Linda Colley argues that throughout history British identity has periodically organised itself around a series of ‘constitutive stories’ that include liberty, monarchy, the sea, constitutional superiority, islands and (at times) Europe.  These stories have been particularly helpful during times of external pressure because they give the often fractious group of different nations a common identity to converge around.

Eurosceptics are great at exploiting these ideas which is why any campaign (and I use this term in the loosest sense) for staying in the EU needs to pitch its battle lines firmly around these areas.  This means looking at identity and beyond jobs, growth, reform, regulation, renegotiation, the national interest, immigration or, shock horror, caps on mobile phone roaming charges.

Fortunately, the signs are that the pro-camp is starting to see that economic arguments alone won’t be enough. Any successful pro-EU campaign needs to re-claim and re-frame these ideas by coming up with a better set of stories about why being British means being at the heart of the EU. It doesn’t mean its leaders need to chuck their studies about British jobs and influence out of the window. But it does mean understanding that people need more than a set of data and scaremongering soundbites about loss of growth and trade to get excited.

Whether we’ll get this kind of approach is debatable, particularly given the less than inspiring line up of big names tasked with leading the referendum discussion.

But I do think we need to see three kinds of identity-based stories doing the rounds.  I don’t claim to have them all fleshed out but they broadly fall into stories that address the questions – what do I want for me/my family, what kind of country do I want to live in, and what kind of world do I want to live in?
The first story needs to address the issue of ‘small values’ i.e. one that addresses what being in the EU means to people at an individual and familial level. This could be very much tied to the ambition and aspiration (whatever that means) agenda that everyone seems to be getting excited about in Westminster. If we are to believe that Britain is a place that rewards hard work then being part of the club that shapes the rules of the world’s biggest single market of 500 million people is essential. If people are personally ambitious then they need to feel personally invested in the club that is the gateway to that prosperity.  And they need to be able to explain that to other people they know.

Then we need one on big values i.e. what kind of country do I want to live in?  This story is the counterpoint to the perennial ‘red tape’ argument put out by businesses and addresses a lot of the good things that Brits want in their lives – such as holidays, better environmental and energy efficiency standards for fighting climate change and energy dependence and more control over working hours.

And finally we need one about Britain’s place in the world through the EU. And this is the one about taking a lead and setting common standards on climate change, equal pay, human rights energy security, scientific research and Russia. It’s partly about influence but it’s equally about pragmatism and also understanding why being part of a bigger group is key for economies of scale as well as influence.

Reclaiming and mastering the narrative for the pro-EU camp will be hard but essential not least because it’s starting on the back foot. It will require pushing back against the common garden way of talking about and framing the EU and making British people feel as though they are making an active, deliberate and inclusive choice about being British when they choose to be in the EU.

Will these tales be enough? Possibly not.  But Britain’s membership of the EU is about more than the national interest. It’s about our national identity and a vision we can and should be proud to be part of. Those who support it must make their voice heard and must not get side tracked by arguments over reform and re-negotiation.

In short, we must hear the kind of stories that show how the success and values of all Britons – not just Britain – have built and are built through Europe.