Informality - Johnson

The rise and rise of informality

Informality is taking over the world or at least that is my perception. If I Google this I find very few articles which makes me a little nervous about my own judgement but I have been mulling this for several months. Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and other successful political figures (love them or hate them), connect with their audience in part because they are seen as ‘one of us’.

Speakers connect to audiences by appearing to be
‘one of us’

All speakers want to connect with their audience and there are many ways to do this. But increasingly younger generations – and voters – are disrespectful of anyone who seems to set themselves apart. And they connect with people who are informal.

What do I mean by informal? Well here is a very short clip from Boris Johnson this week (3rd September). He is standing on the steps of Number 10 and looking fairly prime ministerial. But in this 40 seconds we get the phrases – ‘pointless delay’, ‘no if’s, no but’s and ‘we will not accept any attempt to…scrub that referendum’. Shortly before this clip starts he also said ‘I promised we would not hang about’.

In this case, it is the words that are informal but in other cases, it is the style of delivery.

It’s not just the words that can be informal

In this recent clip, we have a ‘fireside chat’ with our PM in the middle of a party!

Despite the fact that Boris occasionally includes obtuse references to the Classics (as mentioned in this blog) – he doesn’t behave as Theresa May, Gordon Brown, David Cameron or other Prime Ministers have done. And I think there are lessons to be learnt from this.

What is the place for informality business leadership?

In both presentation and media training, I am often urging people to be less formal. Some are formal in their choice of language – many of you will have heard me urge people to ‘come down the language ladder’. By this I mean use everyday language, not business language. But there is good reason to do more than strip out the jargon.

Part of the current distrust and disrespect of power translates into distrust of people who sound like they have power. So my advice to clients is to err on the side of informality. Generally to be a little more informal than they think they should be. That’s if you want to connect to your audience, and if you want to lead your audience. The younger the audience the more informal the approach we recommend.

But a quick warning: this is not the same thing as trying to be hip! Authenticity is important and suddenly quoting a rapper (unless you are a genuine fan) or sporting a T-shirt with an anarchic saying, is not likely to win many plaudits.

If you would like help planning for a media interview or a presentation call us to discuss what we can offer, tel: +44 (0)20 7099 2212.

2 replies
  1. Robert Matthews
    Robert Matthews says:

    I’ve been struck by the power and resilience (“stickiness”) of what Boris Johnson would doubtless refer to as “this use of the demotic” – especially in respect to Johnson himself.

    At the recent anti-prorogation rallies, both speakers and protesters have vilified his actions…while constantly referring to him as “Boris”, seemingly oblivious to the how this maintains his image as a cheery, benevolently eccentric “character”.

    It’s notable that the favour is not returned by his side, who constantly refer to the leader of the opposition as “Corbyn” (or worse).

    In the last few days, opposition parties seemed to have finally cottoned on to all this, and have begun to use “Boris Johnson”, “Johnson” (or even “Johnson- Cummings”). It’s just surprising that it has taken the spin-doctors so long to wake up to the power of the original moniker created.

  2. Lindsay Williams
    Lindsay Williams says:

    I completely agree. The name ‘Boris’ is, despite his many missteps, a very strong brand! It is similar to Prince, Berlusconi or Putin – a person famous enough to be referred to by one name not two. And yes but tacitly accepting this and using ‘Boris’ we are perpetuating and spreading the brand.


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