Public speaking lessons courtesy of PM Malcolm Turnbull

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As a major media outlet it is only fair that we devote equal time to the official campaign launch speech of our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. (Lessons from Bill Shorten’s launch speech can be found here.)

Start on time: do your utmost to begin your presentation as promised. Turnbull arrived late to his own party. At an event as scrutinised as this, beginning late can be interpreted as a sign of disharmony and dysfunction.

The setup of the room is simple with seating angled towards a barely elevated stage. The video screen behind the Prime Minister emphasises various issues in a word or two. Standing on the same level as his audience makes it easier for Turnbull to connect to them. The most awkward staging places you far above your audience with an empty space in front of the stage. Even the best speakers have difficulty overcoming this barrier.

public speaking malcolm turnbull

That’s him in two dimensions.

Video screens to the side of the room enable people at the rear of the venue to get a great view of the speaker. If you have the budget for this at your next event I recommend you make the investment. Do not expect people 60 metres away from the presenter to watch a dot on the horizon.

Pre-show: Local member Craig Laundy was given a prime opportunity to establish himself within his party and the electorate when he was selected to open up formal proceedings. His nerves were evident though understandable. he thrice used the adjective “amazing: to describe his locality, the event and goodness know what else. The word “amazing” is overused and under-specific so try to avoid it

Voice overs matter: the voice-over chap needed to inject more energy into his voice. Everything contributes to the overall mood of an event and he was far too reserved. It may have also injected some energy and diversity into the event to have a young female voice in this role. Or Senator Christopher Pyne.

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Joyce was in form.

Barnaby Joyce once exhibited far more nerves than Craig. These days he is as comfortable in the spotlight as he is on a tractor. Significantly, he chose to open with a humorous remark and personal observation. Joyce was positively poetic – positive, fluid and energised.

Name names: Ever since Presidential hopeful Mario Cuomo gave his famous address to the National Democratic Convention in 1984 it is common practice for politicians to weave in references to specific geographies and people. (Watch it all or from 6.50m in.) Joyce did that deftly, referring to regional locations and cabinet colleagues. You can do this too.

Slowdown: If I had one recommendation for Joyce it would be to slow down his tempo. A slower, more deliberate rate of speech conveys confidence and allows people to fully appreciate your content and humour. Perhaps he was trying to compensate for the late start.

public speaking tipsNotes: both Joyce and Bishop spoke without obvious notes, presumably using a Teleprompter. Certainly it is ideal to look as if you are speaking entirely off-the-cuff with light dependence on speech notes. Reading a speech word for word is unacceptable and will not impress people.

You have to look as if you mean every word you say and on that criteria Joyce defeated Bishop who looked as if she was remembering a speech she had learnt by heart.

Also; the use of humour makes you look more comfortable and real. Bishop has in the past delivered humorous and energetic introductions at similar events. Bishop has achieved a remarkable repositioning in the eye of the public over the last two years but missed an opportunity to further her brand today.

public speaking tips

Satisfactory but not her best work.

Proportionality and time management: at an event such as this there is only one speaker that matters – the Prime Minister. In such a circumstance it’s fair to say that Bishop could have shaved off a minute or two from her stage time.

Video: I regularly see high-priced keynote speakers use introductory videos as a form of preparation before they hit the stage. This may work if you are a global brand such as Tony Robbins or indeed Prime Minister such as Malcolm Turnbull but it may be asking a little too much if you’re a regular citizen.

And so to Malcolm

BTW: Be grateful you don’t have to make awkward small talk and handshakes with people you have knifed in the back in front of the nation’s media as you make your way to the stage.

Energy: clearly Malcolm opened up at pains to look happy, energised and comfortable among his colleagues. This is always a good look. The degree to which it is believable in this context is another issue. It is much easier for Malcolm to look comfortable and energetic as he is speaking largely off-the-cuff. Reading your initial formal welcome never looks sincere.

Hands: Malcolm moves his hands using them to emphasise the passion with which he holds his views. He probably doesn’t even know it does it. If you naturally use your hands when talking you should be sure to continue this habit on stage or in any public presentation. Using your hands as you would normally use your hands makes you feel more comfortable and look more comfortable.

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If looks could kill…

Malcolm down the middle: Though devoting most of his energies down the middle of the room Malcolm rotates 120° left and right on a regular basis making people in the cheap seats feel like they are a part of the action.

Whitespace: at one point Turnbull takes a pause asking the audience to “think about”. Don’t be afraid to make a point and ask your audience to cogitate on it for a moment or a minute. This creates a break, gives people the option take a breath and perhaps absorb your message.

No more lists: watching the two launch events has underlined to me the difference between reciting a laundry list of achievements or plans as opposed to telling a story, giving observations and presenting a narrative. There is simply no comparison between the persuasive powers of the latter to the former.

Turnbull is authoritative. But where does this authority stem from? Is it the smart suit? Is it his polished voice? Is it his relishing of the spotlight? Is it the familiarity with his material? Is it his energy? Is it his age, ethnicity or class? In truth all of these things and many more besides add up to authority.

Authority and persuasiveness come from many sources. This is good news for those of us without Turnbull’s natural advantages as what you may lack in one criteria can be compensated for in another.

There that was precious little humour or colloquialism in Turnbull’s speech. Reminding Australians that this was “not the time to pull the doona over our heads” was about as casual as it got. Shame – even a prime minister can utilise humour in a long speech.

It is clear that the coalition read my analysis of Bill Shorten’s speech last week. Thus they ensured the Prime Minister had something new to announce at the launch – in this case $48 million with the scholarships via The Smith Family. There were other announcements regarding digital literacy, mental health and so on. This isn’t a policy analysis so we will move on.

As with so many political presentations constant interruptions for applause grow tedious. The best presenters predict this and gather together a collection of points, working through them before receiving applause for them all. This saves time and energy.

Improvisation: the best and most comfortable speakers can improvise. Having placed babies in the front row for maximum visual impact it seems a shame that none of the speakers took the opportunity to refer to them.

Length: by 12.22pm this commentator was beginning to focus less on the Prime Minister’s presentation and more on the Sunday lunch. (Konkatsu ramen if you must know.)

Never overstay your welcome as Jerry Seinfeld says. Let’s face it – these events are rarely consumed whole but merely serve as fodder for television news which will take just moments out of the hole. This speech is too long which is an unforced error

The finish: like a gymnast’s dismount from the non-parallel bars, ending your speech in a way that feels elegant and energetic is vital if you are to score top marks. Turnbull fluffed his dismount somewhat as it had not been sufficiently signalled to the audience that the speech was about to wrap.

That’s a shame as it is this moment, along with the very beginning of his presentation that the most likely to be utilised by TV news crews. And TV news crews are in a sense the single most important audience for the Prime Minister.

Conclusion: very solid. Confident, fluid, energised. Turnbull by .75: 8 out of 10.

If you want to dramatically improve your public speaking talk to Brett about his Present Savvy workshop.

Here’s our lessons courtesy of Bill Shorten.

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