Blog Archives

Public speaking lessons care of Bill Shorten

Icon for Post #5402

Big entrance: it helps to have a few former prime ministers and prominent party officials in attendance. This is not an option for most of us. Entrance music instrumental music helps fill a gap and build emotion – use it if the occasion justifies it. A witty or memorable opening line helps. Shorten draws from former PM Gough Whitlam for his.

Emotional ups and downs. Shorten started on a high, indulging in some call and response then within five minutes attempted to reach an emotional depth by referring to tragedies in Orlando and Britain. Not bad. Presentations cannot be at one emotional pitch. You can still appear passionate and energised when the tempo is slow and the content sombre.

Energy is essential. If you’re not excited why would you expect your audience to feel that way? The best public speakers are energetic even when speaking slowly and deliberately. You can’t be in full flight all speech long. At some points Shorten sound a little shrill.

Too much acknowledgement of VIPs in the early moments can kill the energy of a presentation. Do as Shorten did and place this later in your presentation. Short, sharp personalised introductions are the best way to introduce VIPs and Shorten did this well.

If someone truly needs no introduction – Bob Hawke for instance – don’t weigh them down with one. If you are tempted to acknowledge more than a few issues or individuals in the room group them together as constant interruption for cheering gets tiresome pretty damn quickly.

Location, location, location: if you can pick a location that underlines your themes and priorities do so. By choosing Penrith, Shorten – like every other leader in recent memory – was squarely aiming at the swinging voter of Sydney’s west. Ensure that you aim as shamelessly at your target.

Backdrops & messaging: Shorten and his party were sending too many messages from the stage.  There was the small banner directly behind him repeatedly declaring:  Medicare, Jobs, Education. Plus a large banner stating: We’ll put people first. This is too much.

Applause: If you are wanting applause you must signal that there is the expectation of applause.  Ask poor Jeb Bush. As with telling a joke – it works best when you appear confident. Don’t timidly prompt applause. Signify that you expect it with your content, volume and intonation. Create the space for it and allow the time for it. But please – limit it. Too many ‘spontaneous applause pauses get wearisome.

Cliches and language: we at Hootville are not above the use of a cliche or two. If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times. But here is one phrase that none of us should use: “Fair go.” It needs to be retired from the lexicon. “Fair dinkum” which Shorten also used needs to find a place in an aged care facility for geriatric vernacular. And stay there. Few prominent public speakers in Australia refer to their audience as: Friends.

I versus We. This is a difficult choice that you must make as a speaker if you are a leader. Shorten began by emphasising the ‘we’ – the party. However this changed 15 or so minutes in when he began to say that: “I understand… “I know…

‘We’ is great but it’s hard for your audience to accept ‘we’ if in reality you are the decider.

Very broad terms: when Shorten talks about “hope and respect” for the electorate he is using very broad terms. “Investing in people” is similarly broad and vague. No doubt these phrases have been focus-group tested but to my ear they don’t mean much. Minimise the use of such terms.

Far better is: “Foreign aid for foreign companies” which is how Shorten described the government’s corporate tax plan. Not a bad turn of phrase and one that stands a chance of establishing itself in Australian public discourse. Wit, humour, alliteration and rhyme make your messages more memorable.

Indeed ABC 24’s new sticker quoted “Foreign aid to foreign companies” directly.

Announceables: anytime you can announce something (government funding for employment programs) do so as it adds real fibre to your presentation. That said; no matter how tempting it is to give the people what they want have the discipline not to overpromise.

Specify audiences: Shorten made a point to name various locations in Australia and various audiences – specifically unemployed Australians under 25 years of age and those 55+.

Just how many under 25s were spending their Sunday afternoon watching the launch is another question. 300,000 didn’t even bother to register to vote in a tight election. BTW: for this they are primarily accountable.

Name thy enemies: Shorten decided to name some of our largest companies by name – mainlky banks. He knows that public faith in these corporations is at a low and by naming names he helps gain more support for his argument.

Story time: It was 25 minutes or so into the presentation before Shorten told a story. It was about the visit to an Indigenous and remote school that he had visited during the campaign. He told the tale of a little boy who didn’t have a television as a way to highlight education spending.

The preceding 10 minutes had been nothing more than a laundry list of pledges and promises and spending. These lists become monotonous and generic rather quickly. Some overarching narrative, personal observations and stories hit a different mark with the audience.

Address the negative perceptions around you and your issues. Shorten did this when he referred to people who feel that politics is a cynical game and that their vote does not matter. I recommend to all clients that they do something similar. It gives you a fighting chance of getting the attention and consideration of the right people at the right time.

Repetition: Shorten used repetition towards the climax of this presentation ending multiple sentences with the phrase: “Vote Labour.” Perhaps you use this too. It is a common tactic used by gospel preachers and Presidential candidates such as Barack Obama. (Watch it from 10m in.)

Repetition adds theatricality to your presentation – even more so if the audience chimes in with the repetition. Shorten needed more confidence to make it work. Repetition is worth considering, particularly if you’re trying to excite and inspire.

Let there be music: Shorten used music which immediately chimed in upon finishing his speech. This is good and continues the emotional uplift. Or perhaps everyone is just happy that it’s over.

Score: 7.25 /10. Not bad but not memorable beyond this campaign. Mind you, truly memorable speeches are harder to conjure in this cynical, information-drenched era.

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

And read what you can learn from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s launch speech.