David Cameron’s last Prime Minister’s Questions: rhetoric and nerves

By | July 13th, 2016|Blog, Leadership, Nerves, Public speaking|

One of our most popular workshops at MSB Executive is “Communicating Brilliantly Under Pressure”. We often like to look at famous public speakers and see what we can learn from the times when they have had to speak under great pressure. David Cameron’s last Prime Minister’s questions is a great example of how despite great pressure his rhetoric helped him to overcome his nerves.

How much pressure was David Cameron under? Well, PMQs is an intimidating environment at any time. We can then add the issue of Cameron’s legacy. By all accounts this is something that is extremely important to our former prime minister. As it was possibly the last occasion when UK and much international media would be focusing solely on him, the pressure to give the right message about legacy must have been immense. Add to that a packed house and his family watching from the gallery and it really was a major test.

How did he start? Well at first he look tense and a little hesitant. The ice was broken when he described his appointments for the afternoon: “Other than one meeting this afternoon with Her Majesty the Queen, the diary for the rest of my day is remarkably light.”

He swiftly moved on to give a particularly assured performance. The balance was very much towards humour and mockery of the opposition. He still managed to balance this with a seriousness of tone on points such as the importance of the work of MPs: “People come here with huge passion for the issues they care about. They come here with great love for the constituencies they represent. Yes, we can be pretty tough, and test and challenge our leaders, perhaps more than some other countries. But that is something we should be proud of, and we should keep at it.”

By the end, no one remembers the tense, hesitant start. As an audience we are used to people warming into their speeches and presentations. If you feel like you are taking some time to warm up to your theme do not worry. People will give you that time just as long as you have something interesting to say and say it with conviction.

It is also worth noting David Cameron’s artful use of rhetoric throughout his answers. The rule of three works neatly with phrases like: “I will miss the roar of the crowd. I will miss the barbs from the opposition. But I will be willing you on.”

Perhaps most notable was how he followed the recommendations of the father of rhetoric Aristotle by balancing logos with pathos and ethos. Logos, the logic, may have been thin on the ground for some who would have thought he was dodging the questions he was asked. Pathos, the emotion, was there throughout and brought to a crescendo when echoing his phrase to Tony Blair, saying “I was the future once.” Ethos, his principles, were repeated through his praise for fellow MPs and parliament itself.

When we are speaking we do need to have strong logic, but the emotion and principles are often what stays with the audience afterwards. Whether David Cameron’s performance will help establish the legacy he wants, only time will tell.

Inspirational Public Speaking: Caroline Taylor

By | January 29th, 2014|Authenticity, Blog, Building Confidence, Leadership, Nerves, Perception, Personal Profile, Presentation skills, Public speaking|

Caroline Taylor, VP Marketing, Communications and Citizenship, IBM Europe.

Caroline Taylor, VP Marketing, Communications and Citizenship, IBM Europe.

b>Part 2: If you enjoy Public Speaking it can provide a great boost to your profile, plus some top tips for building confidence and overcoming nerves.

Q: What do you look at when you speak?

A: I always look at the audience. In the past at a big conference the lighting often made it look as if you were talking to a vast empty dark space. Luckily these days lighting is better and it allows me to look around at different people in the crowd. As I like to use a bit of humour in my talks I look to see if it has got a response or reaction. One of the hardest gigs I have encountered is hosting our annual “Bring Your daughters to work Day” which is a scheme we introduced at IBM to show young women that technology is a career option open for them. 12-15 year old girls are quite a hard crowd, and an adult trying to make them laugh is probably the last thing they want to hear!. So I made sure I shared eye contact around to encourage them to engage with me and see that I want to communicate with them. So your audience reaction can help you to adapt your style to be as effective as you can with them.  When you are doing a talk it is a great idea to go along to the pre-event dinner, lunch or coffee and mingle with the audience. Share what your topic is and sometimes they will give you a great opinion or example that you can share during your talk. This really makes your topic come to life as you are talking about something that one of their colleagues has shared. You can look for the people you spoke to beforehand during your talk and that gives you a friendly reaction which boosts confidence levels as well.

Q: What do you hear when speaking?

A: I hear myself saying “Slow Down Caroline” ! I’ve always been a fast talker, something which people have commented on for years. In my new European based role slowing down is especially important as many of my new colleagues have English as a second language. I also try and keep an eye on the time. Although I’m therefore conscious of being slower I still speak relatively quickly because that is who I am. At IBM we talk a lot about personal eminence and about being consistently authentic in every method of communication. For example if each of your digital personalities are in conflict with each other or at odds with your public personality you will not gain the trust of your audience. So of course it is important to adapt your style of speaking so that is clear and easy to understand but no-one wants to listen to a public-speaking clone so always remember to stay true to yourself.

Q: Does public speaking help you?

A: Definitely. Thanks to my public speaking appearances I’ve been invited to do extraordinary things. One of these was being invited to be a adjunct professor at a Business school after being spotted by the Dean at a conference where I was a guest speaker. Public speaking boosts your profile and offers another angle on you, which of course must be true to who you are and what your values are. It increases your network and introduces you to others who you can learn things from. It is extremely valuable.

Q: Do you think public speaking is important for women?

A: It is just as important for women as it is for men, perhaps more important as women often struggle to build their profiles to help them achieve success in business. But don’t try and ape the guys. Trying to be something you are not will back-fire as it isn’t authentic. If you are someone who has a quiet squeaky voice then seek out some voice training but only if you really want to improve your voice. If not you can make a name for yourself in other mediums like print or on digital platforms where you can still share your knowledge and expertise. Audiences welcome someone who is knowledgeable and enjoys sharing that knowledge. Find the subject you are passionate about and public speaking can be a really enjoyable and valuable skill.

My thanks to Caroline for explaining her public speaking experiences so openly and for sharing some great tips to help people take to the stage.

About Caroline Taylor : Caroline Taylor is Vice President Marketing, Communications & Citizenship, and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for IBM Europe. Based in London, Caroline leads the teams responsible for all aspects of marketing, communications and citizenship for IBM throughout Europe.With 28 years of professional marketing experience, Caroline is an Adjunct Professor at Imperial College Business School in London and is also a Business to Business Ambassador for the UK’s Marketing Society, to which she was appointed Fellow in September 2012.

Caroline is a passionate advocate for equality and diversity, particularly in the workplace. She is executive sponsor for Gender Diversity for IBM in the UK. In 2012 she was shortlisted for the Opportunity Now Champion Award, recognising her contribution to advancing, promoting and embedding a diversity culture within the workplace.

 

Are PMQs a good demonstration of Authority?

By | November 14th, 2013|Authority, Blog, Body Language, Leadership, Perception|

“PMQs are basically a modern form of cock-fighting, and not a show of great leadership”

So said Stein Ringen last week in a very lively Royal Society of Arts lunchtime lecture entitled “What is Power”. His talk centered on the misconception that power gets things done and reminded the audience that “there is more to the doing than the bidding it be done”; that power actually lies in the ability to persuade and authority is contained in the willingness of those who are led to be persuaded.

Stein’s talk was so good I even bought his latest book  “Nation of Devils – Democratic Leadership and the problem of Obedience”(nicely available outside the talk with a chance to get it signed). But the last mention he made before the end of his talk was the one that made me think the most.  He wondered aloud if party leaders ever looked back at the footage of PMQs after the Wednesday debate. If so he stated that they must be embarrassed to see themselves as two grown men shouting at each other. He likened it to a modern form of cock-fighting: a good spectator sport but hardly an impressive show of real authority.

We sometimes watch PMQs as the body language employed is fascinating.  It is an excellent barometer of leadership confidence and the swagger or display of the leaders can often look like two cockerels before a fight.  But in some ways that reminds us that the power of these leaders lies in the hands of those who carry out their decisions.

We would never advocate some of the bellowing and braying tactics as valuable transferrable skills to use in the boardroom. Shouting over others opinions and derisory guffawing at another’s suggestions are unlikely to increase your authority at work and thus will diminish your power of persuasion to get things done.  Are PMQs another reason why voters are often said to be losing faith in politicians because what it actually demonstrates is a lack of authority and control?

Thanks to the RSA for organising such a fascinating debate, looking forward to reading the book.

Stein Ringen’s book “Nation of Devils – Democratic Leadership and the problem of Obedience” is out now.

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