Category Archives: Content

Who is swaggering now?

Only two weeks ago Ed Milliband’s body language was so poor that he seemed doomed to be one of those unfortunate politicians who must regret, as Nixon did, that radio is no longer the medium of voting influence. Body language fit for television? Or radio only?


That ‘two weeks in politics’ have worked wonders for him. He, not Cameron, is the one with the swagger, the one looking ‘comfortable in his own skin’. As the Observer commented, “The Labour leader sounded and looked different, more relaxed and more confident. Gone were the haunted looks of early summer”.

A lot of things have gone his way but full credit to the way he has seized the moment. (As he did when he knifed his brother!) Before the firestorm his messages were mixed and confused, exaggerating his hesitant body language.

 He now has a clear and compelling message enabling him to speak from the heart with passion and conviction.

Sweat and tears and toil…

An interesting article in the Telegraph by Nicholas Soames, his grandson, discusses the toil Churchill put into his speeches- “Sweat and tears made his name. Contrary to the popular view he was not, as his father Lord Randoplph was,  a natural speaker.”


“People are always surprised that this most articulate of men was so dependant on preparation, even for minor speeches. For him, every speech, however brief  had to be carefully prepared -an agonising process for everyone involved.”

A lot depended, of course, on the persuasive power of some of his speeches, particularly in war time. While the outcome of any pitch is not a matter of life or death, it is  for the participants all consuming. Despite this, it is surprising in practice that pitch teams, who sweat over much else, devote so little of their toil to finding words that resonate.

It is not enough to settle for  the minimum, content that is sensible and rational, ‘ticking  all the boxes’ of the brief. You need words that push the emotional buttons as well. These do not need to have a Churchillian ring to them but you should aim for some phrases, some descriptions, that are memorable, that fire the imagination and capture an attitude that sets you apart.

This may take a little sweat, and possibly some tears, but it will be worth it. As one observer at the time said “Winston has spent the best years of his life composing his impromptu speeches.”

What you say or the way you say it?

Invented in 1967 , not by Einstein but another Albert, surname Mchrabian, the long accepted presentation formula of  “7% words: 38% tone: 55% body language” is dead.

A  campaign, ‘Why the stickiest idea in presenting is just wrong’, is dominating the presentation blogosphere. Spearheaded by the admirable Olivia Mitchell,  it spells out the weaknesses.  Not least is the basis of the thesis, a limited study based on responses to single words such as ‘brute’ or ‘maybe’.

From this flimsy starting point the formula became ‘fact’.

Given that it cannot, when considered in isolation, make sense- words and content clearly are more than a mere 7%-  why has its use been so widespread?  My own non-scientific, non Albertian, view based on rehearsing teams for business pitches offers this explanation.

Once the invitation to pitch is received, the almost inevitable tendency is to focus every bit of effort to developing the words, the content, of the response.  Can the proposal be improved, is the fee expressed well, have we covered off our credentials and so on.

Too often, a feverish  determination to perfect the words, the content, means little if any time is left to consider the pitch performance. Rehearsal is ignored. No time is spent on assessing the likely impact on the audience.

This is where the “formula” can be a shot across the bows to  help a team realise that, no matter how good their words, they will suffer from poor performance. Words just aimed at an audience like bullets of proclamation rather than in, say, a tone of engagement and sharing, will backfire.

Words, however brilliant, expressed with poor body language will undermine any sense of teamwork and, worst of all, signal a lack of confidence.

Perhaps the “formula” should be replaced with this?  Words =good. Words+tone =better. Words+tone+body language =best.

Or, with these brilliant words  from Proverbs ch. 25, v.17:

 “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in  pictures of silver”.

The blacked-out rectangle, a brilliant visual aid!

When the Commons officials released their version of MP’s expenses, it is doubtful that they realised quite how powerful a visual aid they had created. It’s appearance across acres of newsprint resuscitated what had almost become yesterday’s story.  Almost.

The impact of the heavy black rectangles has been dramatic. They have given new life and drama to the story. They have added emphasis and stimulated fresh interest.

In fact, they have performed the way visual aids in any presentation should, adding to the communication takeout.  Too often so-called visual aids are crutches that only aid the speaker, little more than aide-memoire notes. They do not aid the audience.

Creating powerful visual aids takes thought and imagination. A striking emotional picture, a brutally explicit graph, product samples, a memorable quote or a redactive black rectangle!

“The Speaker”–pitches in 60 seconds.

The latest in a seemingly unending series of reality TV programmes is The Speaker on BBC2. The format is unsurprising.  A panel of three pundits chosen, presumably for their wit and expertise. In this case Jo Brand, not particularly funny here, Jerry Stockwell(who?) and John Amachi, very tall.

The contestants are teenagers who deliver the 60 second speeches they have sweated over. There are the obligatory cuts backstage to mums , who clearly know the words better than their offspring, and who suffer every forgotten line.

From a pitchcoach point of view , what was interesting was the way the pundits assessed the speeches.

Even though the contestants had clearly spent considerable effort in crafting and writing the speeches, the judges  made virtually no reference at all to the content,  the subject matter or the cleverness of construction.

They were looking for ‘inspiration’, ‘confidence’ and ‘conviction’.  The better performers were complimented on their ‘energy and passion’, their ’emotion and warmth’, ‘storytelling, light and shade’, ‘presence and manner’ and so on.

In other words, confirming the often repeated here, ‘it’s not what you say, its the way you say it’.

For the record, my tips for success from the second programme, are Kim, who was superb in delivering her Rosa Park speech, and the delightful ‘Geek’.