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The power of public speaking4 Oct 2018

The Dancing Queen!
What a difference a year makes – Key learnings from Theresa May!

If you ever doubted the power of public speaking surely the recent PM’s conference speech will have put you straight. Speaking matters. It’s why Churchill became PM and not Lord Halifax, Kennedy beat Nixon, why David Cameron, as a relative new comer, beat David Davis to the party leadership and why Teresa May has taken some of the immediate pressure off herself in the midst of this febrile Brexit environment.

Her conference speech was in sharp contrast to last years disaster that thoroughly undermined her leadership with her struggling with a cough and bits of the backdrop falling off. Neither of those things of course were her failings, however they just created a negative impression that really damaged her credibility. It was a stark illustration of how unforgiving audiences can be if it goes wrong, a cautionary tale to take care of your voice and ensure tight stage management for the big gigs!

So what did she do well to get a significantly better response this year?

She made plentiful use of humour. Now humour is a tricky one, it’s often-high risk – if you get it wrong it can fall very flat but Theresa May needed something special, a polished but dull speech was not going to do it for her. So she took a risk, went with some gently self-depreciating humour that played on the critical media commentary of her dancing with some South African school children. Coming on to the tune of Abba’s “Dancing Queen” and even busting some dance moves may not have scored her many points on Strictly but it made quite an entrance.

Her opening line “You’ll have to excuse me if I cough during this speech; I’ve been up all night super-gluing the backdrop” absolutely hit the spot and showed her rising above last years disasters.

And later in the speech she referenced the infamous dancing incident again, “In South Africa I was speaking to some inspiring young people, full of fire and hope for their futures. Some told me they wanted to be doctors, other lawyers. I think some might even have been inspired to become professional dancers. Perhaps not!”

Her vocal emphasis was skilled, light and laid back one minute … quiet and reflective in some passages, forceful and fierce in others.

Personalisation- It’s an innate human characteristic that we love stories and she told some particularly personal ones (her god-daughter who died of Cancer, her father’s cousin who died in Passchendaele) and they brought her speech to life and gave a human face to the points she was making.

Since the times of the Ancient Greeks certain Rhetorical devices have been shown to be effective and two that were particularly well used in this speech were “pairs and contrasts” and “the power of 3’s”

Pairs and contrasts

  • “a party of patriotism but not nationalism”
  • “a party that believes in business but is not afraid to hold business to account”
  • “when the many have the freedom to choose, they choose freedom”

The Power of 3’s

  • “For me they can be summed-up in three words: Security. Freedom. Opportunity”
  • “A party that is decent, moderate, patriotic “One that;
    • Puts the national interest first.
    • Delivers on the issues they care about.
    • And is comfortable with modern Britain in all its diversity”.

In summary she managed to come across as warm, human, even humorous but no less resolute in her defence of her conservative values and what she believes to be the right path for Brexit.

She’s certainly not out of the woods but she’s proved that the power of a good speech, well executed can make all the difference.



Women, Power, Presence and Presentation

The power of public speaking

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