Blog & Articles

Three Months Of Mentoring

“Roger must be one of the best political speech and presentation coaches in the business. He is superb at adding those final finishing touches to transform your speech from standard and mediocre to stand out and exceptional.

“His techniques for taking control of the Q & A session to enable you to get all your best points across are also vital in a highly competitive process.

“Most of all Roger is one of the nicest coaches I have ever come across. With authenticity so much the order of the day, his 100% affirmative and confidence giving approach, is invaluable and I recommend him unreservedly.”   – Anna Firth, MP for Southend West

A number of the candidates I have worked with have suggested that a longer term mentoring commitment would be valuable when it comes to progressing with their action points and would allow a more flexible approach to take advantage of vacancies and other opportunities as they arise.

In response I have created a three month mentoring programme with regular face to face sessions and access to the additional services that I would normally charge for separately as individual sessions.

There are other trainers available but I believe that this is the first offer of a medium term mentoring partnership. I’m able to do this because I focus EXCLUSIVELY on the political market and use examples and experience from my own political career and the MPs and Ministers who I have helped since 2006.

The programme will run for three months and it comprises 12 face to face meetings on Zoom – one each week, where we can complete exercises and you can raise questions. These can include as necessary:


Goal setting and progress – to keep you focused on the important goals you have set.


Interview Planning – before you have been invited to a selection and in greater detail when the interview is imminent.

Assessment Board practice – including the public speaking exercise and the interview.


Mock Interviews – for crucial selection finals


Application Forms – review content and layout before submission.


Speeches – high level advice and line by line reviews


Media – raising your profile and including crisis management if necessary

As this is a new initiative I’m offering the first tranche of clients an attractive rate all in for three months.

I really believe that this approach will boost your chances of selection so please do contact me if you would like to take part.

Three Essential New Year Resolutions for Councillors

In 2022 a lot of attention will be lavished on candidates for Parliament as the next general election approaches. There is an inevitable danger that the good work done by other elected representatives will be overshadowed.

In particular, councillors are often taken for granted by their own parties. Beavering away at casework and leaflet delivery can often seem like an unappreciated effort. Their hard work to often goes unsung.

As a young councillor in a big London Local Authority, I faced the challenge of standing out and getting myself noticed. So I understand that It can be really hard to secure the recognition and responsibility you deserve.

So here are three New Year resolutions for councillors seeking to raise their profile in 2022:

FIRST, Be Curious. Learn new things, whether these are your own skills or specialisms within the council. Politics is full of rejections and when opportunities arise they can come in unexpected areas. You need to be prepared to take on new challenges and climb the learning curve rapidly.

SECOND, Promote your activities. In politics if you achieve something but nobody knows about it then you might as well not have done it at all. Your newsletters and the local media are both great platforms for getting your message across. Don’t overlook the power of social media. It gives you absolute control over the messages you promote, although you will need the hide of a rhino to handle some of the replies from trolls and political opponents.

THIRD, and most importantly, you should resolve to do more speaking at big meetings and community events. Delivering a speech is always a challenging experience for everyone but in just a few minutes you can boost your image and do more for your reputation than hours of casework or campaigning will achieve.

For councillors looking to improve their speech writing and delivery, I’m launching a new service in January. I’m looking to work intensively with a small number of clients over the month to help them get noticed by writing and delivering memorable, star quality speeches.

Does this sound like something that would help you? If so, contact me for a free consultation to discuss the challenges you face and how I can help you to build your political career in 2022.

Three New Year Resolutions for Candidates

As 2022 approaches, Candidates will be preparing for an important year.

Despite recent opinion poll turbulence an election in the Spring of 2023 is still very likely. Governments generally dislike going to the polls in Winter, when turnout will be lower, and they also avoid going the full five year term unless they absolutely have to because they lose control of the agenda as the final election deadline approaches.

A 2023 General Election means that candidates will need to be in place well in advance so we can expect 2022 to see selection contests ramped up as the major parties prepare themselves. Candidates need to be dusting off their application forms.

But what else should they be doing? Here are three good resolutions for the next generation of MPs in 2022:

Catch up with Politics – I know you are busy. There’s the day job and the family to occupy your time but you do need to get back into the political mainstream and find out what has been happening. A favourite selection committee question asks you what you would have done differently to your party in Parliament in the last few years. Saying it’s all been fantastic and you agree with everything they did may burnish your loyalty but it also shows that you haven’t been paying attention.

  • Hone your Political Brand – For safe seats, word gets around about who has been shortlisted. Selectors and your competition will not miss the opportunity to google you and find out more. Because bad news sells, they will be directed towards less than flattering stories unless you take the trouble to curate your image. This means a quick clearout of old social media at least. You will also need your own website if you want to promote yourself in a way that you can control.
  • Develop an Interview Plan – Selections are unpredictable and that’s part of the fun. However you do have a fair idea of what attributes they are looking for and which questions they will ask. You need to be thinking about your responses and gathering the supporting experience you will need to answer those questions. At least have an answer to the question Why are You the Best Candidate for This constituency? Also have a clear description of your Political Values and a solid plan for how your life will change if they select you.

I’m expecting a busy year supporting candidates and I’m looking for more clients. I don’t take everyone on but an initial consultation is free so contact me to book a session.

The Power Of Advocacy

Advocacy is an incredibly powerful tool for boosting your presentation skills. For politicians, salespeople and lawyers it is essential but it can help anyone who has to present to an audience.

Barristers learn this skill and it is taught by many top fee paying schools as an essential for leadership  but anyone can learn the techniques, so here are five steps to turbocharge your presentation:

FIRST – FOCUS ON THE ACTION

First, you need to focus on the steps you want your audience to take. This is about so much more than just imparting information.

Perhaps you want them to vote for you, or buy a product, or join a movement for social change. Or maybe you want to impress your colleagues and advance your career – a good ten minute speech will build your reputation more effectively than months of unrecognised desk bound effort.

You also need to know your audience, so you can understand how they feel at the start of your performance and what you will need to achieve in the time you are in front of them.

SECOND – CONTENT IS KING

Presenters can get over anxious about body language or nerves. But think of the great speakers that you have seen in action – do Boris Johnson, Tony Blair or David Cameron worry about body language? Many of the personal traits you might think you need to eliminate actually make you look more authentic and less rehearsed. Once on stage it’s much more productive to be thinking about what you will say next than worrying about having your hand in your pocket or how many times you have said ‘erm’.

So you need really good content and it should be assembled in a way that makes your case. It is important to understand causation – why will doing what you recommend achieve this result? And why will this result benefit your audience? Those are two key questions that you need to address.

Also consider the possible objections and how they can be neutralised.

THIRD – BUILD AROUND A CLEAR STRUCTURE

All the content should be assembled in a structure. Every speech should have an opening, a middle and a closing – like a game of chess. The Opening is where you build rapport, the Middle is where you make your case, and the Close is where you call to Action. Having a structure ensures that you remember all your key points and that you make them at the right time.

FOURTH – USE DEVICES APPROPRIATELY

You can use a range of devices in your speech but they must be deployed at the right time and in the right way for maximum impact:

Data – used to back up your arguments with facts and build authenticity. Don’t do too much of this, just select a few impactful figures and focus on them. A blizzard of stats will lose your audience. Data should be used in the Middle of the speech.

Experiences – it’s become fashionable in management circles to describe these as Storytelling. Their value is in their memorability. Your experiences are unique to you and they are the part of your speech that most people will recall. Use them to build rapport in the Opening and to illustrate your case in the Middle.

Humour – can be tricky as it depends on good timing so thorough practice is needed if it is going to work. Use it to break the ice and build rapport in the Opening and perhaps to break up a lengthy Middle. Avoid anything that will cause offence. If you aren’t sure a remark is funny, that is because it isn’t.

Emotion – creating an emotional response is a great way of building support but you mustn’t over use it. In particular, your case should rely on logic and causation, not emotion. I suggest that you save it for the Closing where you can boost your call to Action.

FIFTH – PREPARATION BUILDS CONFIDENCE

It takes time but an important speech should be rehearsed until you are comfortable with it. Initially this is as easy as writing it down and reading it aloud, possibly recording your efforts and playing it back.

You will be able to spot words that you trip over and these should be changed. Longer sentences should be broken up to give you space to take a breath – otherwise you will rush and stumble.

Bear in mind that practice always takes less time than the real performance. You need to leave space for applause and laughter but even if there is no audience reaction it will still take a bit longer, so shorten your speech to create some spare time.

Capitalise key words in each sentence so that you lean into them and emphasise them.

After several practices you should be familiar with the phrases so that you can present without notes or at least not falter if you lose your place on the big day.

FINALLY – THE BIG DAY

Arrive early so you can get a feel for the room. Do the microphones work? Are there strange echoes you need to get used to? How do the audience feel? Are there any distractions?

And when you finish, take stock of how it went and what you can do to improve next time. Perhaps over a glass of wine – you will have earned it!

My blog contains a lot of useful tips for speakers and they are available for free, but I also work one to one with clients, ensuring they can Be Their Best when it really counts. You can Contact me for a free consultation.

Making Amends – how to Apologise Effectively

We all make mistakes. In politics it has become all too easy to cause offence. Apologising is difficult but it is often necessary and it needs to be done swiftly and professionally.

OFFENCE TAKING AS A MEDIA TACTIC

Unfortunately taking offence is now often used as a vehicle to raise issues. A leading campaigner once told me that if he could get the name of a celebrity or a politician into a story it was much more likely to get media attention. In newspapers and broadcast studios Conflict Sells.

So an individual claiming to take offence may not be offended at all. They may be quite pleased to have the opportunity to promote their demands or products, albeit at another human being’s expense.

In a situation like this you may not need to apologise at all. It may be best just to keep quiet until the story burns itself out. Responding will only create another round of bad publicity.

APOLOGISING FOR OTHERS

A recent tactic, pioneered by Tony Blair and copied by many politicians, is to apologise for things that are historical or express shame for what somebody else has done.

That is not a real apology.

It’s actually a devious way to criticise others and distance yourself from their actions.

Real apologies concern your own faults, not other peoples’.

EMPTY APOLOGIES

Political apologies are often couched in the ‘Sorry You took offence at what I said’ style.

This is an Empty Apology. It is Victim Blaming and is so worthless that you might as well just keep quiet.

REASONS TO APOLOGISE

Apologising is difficult but there are often good reasons to bite the bullet.

First, you may actually be wrong. When you are in a hole you need to put away the shovel.

Second, you may need to work with the person you offended in future. You might need their cooperation or even their votes in a tight contest. The sooner you start to build bridges, the better.

Third, you may need to avoid legal action. An unpleasant feature of modern politics is the speed with which some people reach for their lawyer. If you get to court and are found to be in the wrong it will be expensive and humiliating. If you are vindicated in court it can still be expensive and humiliating. My advice is to avoid getting dragged into the legal quagmire.

So what does a Genuine Apology look like? It needs to contain two elements – genuine contrition and concrete steps to make amends.

GENUINE CONTRITION

This requires an understanding of why the other party has been wronged. You might have to read up about them and their circumstances so you can see the issue from their point of view.

Equipped with this knowledge, you should produce a statement that demonstrates and understanding of and empathy for their situation. This does not mean that you have to execute a U turn and agree with them however you do need to recognise and acknowledge their experiences.

MAKING AMENDS

You also need to take some concrete steps to show that the apology is heartfelt. At it’s simplest, this might mean meeting with the other party and hearing their story at first hand. You may need to visit somewhere with them or even become an ally if they have a convincing case.

Famously, Boris Johnson once travelled to Liverpool to deliver a personal apology and meet people after publishing some disparaging remarks about the city. The episode attracted a lot of publicity.

However as he was required to do this by The Party Leader, the apology lacked authenticity. He was the politician who took the credit and Boris just got the grief. Apologies should be done on your own terms whenever possible, not as a result of somebody else’s orders.

Genuine Apologies are sometimes necessary. Everyone makes mistakes so a degree of public humility does not go amiss if the situation is handled swiftly and with sensitivity.

And everyone needs help at some time so contact me for one to one advice.

Devolved Government – What Qualities do Candidates Need?

It is over 20 years since the first elections were held for the devolved assemblies in Wales and London. Conservatives with an eye on a Westminster seat once viewed them as poor relations but times have changed.

There is now a greater interest amongst Conservative candidates. With the party gaining so many Westminster seats and planning a boundary review to cut their number, opportunities for a career at the House of Commons will be more limited in the coming decade.

Several London Assembly Members who came to prominence during Boris Johnson’s Mayoralty have gained safe seats and swift promotion to senior ministerial posts. The Assembly is no longer seen as a political backwater or a glorified local council.

With stronger competition for places Conservative HQ is reportedly reviewing the process for approving and selecting candidates. Many of the attributes required by MPs are valuable in other political roles but there are some differences that aspiring candidates should be aware of:

COMMUNICATION

If anything, communication skills are even more important at this level. The number of politicians is lower than at Westminster – even if the Welsh Parliament implements plans to increase the number – and that makes the roles more exposed. Regional media are more likely to approach Members for comment so the ability to present a strong argument on television or radio is vital.

For list Members the most effective way to reach a large but widely dispersed audience is going to be social media and this is also the case for larger rural constituencies in Wales. A strong presence on Facebook and Twitter will be a big bonus.

INTELLECT

A lot of the day to day work involves scrutiny of proposals in committee. The ability to swiftly understand, question and explain complex material will really boost a Member’s performance.

In both Wales and London it is a hard fact that Conservatives will often find themselves in opposition. The role provides far more scope for questioning and amending proposals than the tightly whipped corridors of Westminster. Experience of legal drafting, taking part in and chairing high profile committees will be valuable right from the start of a Member’s term of office.

In opposition there is time to devise, test and promote alternative policies and this can also generate valuable publicity. London Assembly Member Andrew Boff has pioneered the use of the Conservative team’s platform and expertise to road test alternative policies for the capital.

ABILITY TO RELATE TO PEOPLE

Larger constituencies with a tighter field of responsibility have reduced the interaction with constituents in London. Welsh constituencies are more manageable but the List Members will still face this problem. It is often useful to interact with resident associations and representative groups who can help to raise a Member’s profile. With so much ground to cover every encounter needs to be leveraged for maximum effect.

A key aim of devolution is to develop tailored solutions to local problems rather than relying on a Whitehall driven universal approach. Candidates who can identify with local people and concerns have a better chance of success – as long as they don’t fall into the trap of lazily blaming the government in London for everything that doesn’t work out.

LEADERSHIP

Westminster MPs devote a lot of time to leading campaigning activity in their seats. It is important for devolved politicians to lead in the same way but it is also more challenging. The Conservative Party is organised around Parliamentary constituencies which are not an ideal fit for other representatives. The party’s culture also places a higher value on its MPs. For List Members the challenge is even greater.

Being seen during election campaigns and leading from the front is really important. Each Member will need to be able to build relationships with several MPs and Westminster candidates because they will need their help to retain their seats.

RESILIENCE

Resilience is vital in all political roles. There will be many disappointments and candidates need to be able to bounce back from adversity. At devolved level the limited powers of the position are even more restrictive than for MPs. To get things done requires lateral thinking and an enthusiasm to try new solutions to long standing problems.

CONVICTION

Political beliefs are always key – without a guiding philosophy it is all too easy for pressure groups to influence decisions. All politicians will face judgement at the ballot box eventually.

The devolved bodies are different because proportional representation is designed to give smaller parties a disproportionate influence. Members will need to be able to reach compromises and build alliances to implement their proposals. The ability to understand where other people are coming from is valuable in this environment, which is less confrontational than Westminster.

Experience at local council level counts for more in devolved bodies than in the House of Commons and it should be viewed as a positive by candidate assessors as well as a good proving ground for their skills.

KEY SKILLS

The party should be looking particularly for candidates who can handle mass communication, who have demonstrated good influencing skills and who can take a thoughtful and innovative approach to policy development and scrutiny.

But candidates who see London or Cardiff as steps on the road to Westminster need to be aware that their performance will be highly visible and this could break their reputation just as easily as it has the potential to make it. Every speech they deliver and every meeting they attend will be recorded and publicly available so they had better be on top of their game. If they can’t give the job their undivided attention, they would do better to seek another route to the Green Benches.

If you think you would be suitable for a political role in devolved government contact me to find out more.

Mountaineers v Astronauts at the Summit

The weekly Prime Minister’s Questions has become more ill tempered and abrasive. On the face of it this seems odd, as Boris Johnson is closer to Keir Starmer on policy than he was to Jeremy Corbyn. Could the tension be about more than policy? Could it reflect the strongly opposing personalities and political strategies of the two men?

I spend a lot of my time coaching politicians and people who want to build a political career. A key element of my program is to work with what a candidate has, to play to their strengths and help to make a challenging task easier and more enjoyable. Essential to this is understanding their political style.

Successful politicians use different strategies to reach the top but they break down into two groups – the Mountaineers and the Astronauts. Starmer is a classic Mountaineer and Boris is a very successful product of the Astronaut strategy. Regardless of policy differences the two men are like chalk and cheese and it shows when they face off each Wednesday.

KEIR THE MOUNTAINEER

Background

Sir Keir Starmer has risen slowly and carefully to the top, first in his profession and subsequently in the Labour Party. Each step has been carefully planned and executed with the support of an influential network. When he arrived at the top many in the media and establishment were already on his side. This was clearly not the case for his predecessor.

Professions

Political Mountaineers usually have a background in a large organisation. They are comfortable within a framework of rules and they are prepared to do the legwork needed to impress superiors. They thrive in large corporations, the public sector, trade unions and academia.

Strategy

The most important tool for the political Mountaineer is their Network. As they climb towards the next ledge they identify and cultivate the powerful influencers who can throw them ropes from above and sponsor their rise.

Strengths

The key strength of Mountaineers is teamwork. They will be good negotiators because they can empathise with others and they have an appetite for detail. They are loyal to colleagues and people they work for – notably Keir Starmer was able to serve in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet even though he had little in common with the Leader and they disagreed on policy and campaigning decisions.

Weaknesses

On the down side, Mountaineers are boring. They take time to reach decisions – indeed to many of them this is a virtue. They will often be seen working late as they believe that ‘Who Desks, Wins’. They are usually risk averse and at junior levels they can be accused of toadying to the boss.

BORIS THE ROCKET MAN

Background

Boris Johnson has risen in unpredictable leaps and bounds, recovering from various setbacks and grasping opportunities when he saw them. In the process he has become an instantly recognisable figure and has built himself a loyal following. It’s an approach that has far more in common with Corbyn than Starmer.

Professions

Political Astronauts reach the top in big leaps, flyting past the Mountaineers crawling on the rock face. They tend not to be team players so they have a background as successful entrepreneurs, barristers, entertainers and of course, journalists.

Strategy

Political Astronauts build a platform for their success. They need to devote a lot of time and effort to raising their profile and attracting a following. The best of them have a recognisable political brand which makes it easy for voters to understand them. Whilst they are less reliant on networks, they do need a loyal support team to help their rocket get off the pad and make sure it lands in the right place.

Strengths

The key strength of astronauts is their charisma. They are good at attracting followers and they develop an ability to delegate. They are original thinkers, risk takers and they will make decisions swiftly. They don’t like to have their time wasted.

Weaknesses

Astronauts in politics are often mistrusted by colleagues. They are seen as unpredictable – although some of this can be attributed to professional jealousy. They are dismissive of detail, a weakness that often comes back to bite them. They can also be seen as mavericks and viewed as disloyal. Both Johnson and Corbyn caused problems for their own party leaders before they reached the top themselves.

Recent years have been good for political Astronauts – Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage have all risen to prominence as voters demanded a move away from the managerial status quo to more ideological politics.

This move may reverse as we emerge from the COVID lockdown, with a reduced public tolerance for risk. However prolonged absence from the office has not been good for Mountaineers, who have seen their networks stagnate. Astronauts have struggled to find the live audiences they thrive on but some have learned to build followings on line, teaching themselves some valuable broadcast and technical skills in the process.

For now, both Leaders look secure. Potential successors need to decide if they will climb or fly to the top.

Seven Rules for Handling Political Conflict

Politics is an adversarial profession. The whole essence of debate is conflict between two or more points of view. Cases are made with passion and often the winner takes all. Social media allows the conflict to be played out in real time. It is very tempting to respond immediately in the hope of brutally crushing an opponent but this can be unwise and you will have plenty of time for regrets.

RULE 1 – STOP AND THINK

A clear head and understanding of the situation will give you the option of a better response. Avoid the temptation to just get stuck in.

RULE 2 – DEFINE YOUR OBJECTIVE

Having paused to collect your thoughts and emotions it is time to consider the situation. Why are you having this conflict in the first place? What do you hope to gain from it? Is your opponent preventing you achieving an objective?

If so, why is the objective important? Will achieving it get you power, money, recognition, position or the satisfaction of achieving something for yourself or others?

Or perhaps there is no objective and you are just fighting for the sake of it. It is good to be aware if this is the case, before you proceed. Some people go through life continually looking for fights – they are best avoided.

RULE 3 – AVOID UNNECESSARY CONFLICT

Discretion is often the better part of valour. With a clear understanding of your objective you can decide if it is worth the time, energy and cost of the likely battle. So save yourself the effort if the game isn’t worth the candle.

Of course I have known politicians who gladly pick fights at every opportunity. It is a strategy that raises their profile and builds a following – but it also builds a cadre of aggrieved people seeking revenge. In politics you will make enough enemies without adding to them with gratuitous conflict. Eventually you will stumble – everybody does – and you want people gathering around to help you to your feet, not to stick their own knives in. Julius Caesar is probably the most famous leader to learn this lesson the hard way.

And as you walk away you can take some comfort in the knowledge that your opponent has revealed themselves over something so insignificant. You are forewarned for future conflicts when the stakes are higher.

RULE 4 – FIND ANOTHER WAY

So you need to achieve the objective? Fine, but why not do it a different way? Often you can have it without a fight if you can grasp the bigger picture.

In the late 2000s Boris Johnson had risen to become a shadow minister and MP for the safe seat of Henley. He wanted more but David Cameron wasn’t prepared to promote him to full shadow cabinet status. Boris adopted a circuitous route around this intractable obstacle, becoming Mayor of London before returning to Parliament in triumph. The rest is history.

RULE 5 – GET SOMETHING SIMILAR

If there is no conflict free option, can you get something similar without a fight. This is easier to do if you have defined what you are actually seeking. You may find there are other ways to achieve the same basic result.

Another politician who was frustrated by lack of preferment was Buckingham MP John Bercow. After a short stint as a shadow minister it became clear to him that personality conflict with the Conservative Leadership meant he would progress no further. At Westminster there are other ways to progress and Bercow managed to charm MPs from all parties on his way to becoming a controversial but long serving Speaker of The House.

RULE 6 – NEGOTIATE IF YOU HAVE TO

Senior managers and consultants will often advise negotiation as a first step in resolving conflict. That’s easy for them to recommend because they won’t be making the concessions. For that reason I leave this option to a later stage.

But be careful. Successful negotiation requires detailed planning. You need to understand what the other side wants and what you are prepared to give up. At this point it is useful to seek the advice of other people who may be aware of factors you haven’t taken into account.

The most famous political negotiation took place in the Granita restaurant in Islington in the 90s between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Brown agreed to let Blair run for the Labour leadership without opposing him and again, the rest is history.

Arguably Brown got the worst of that bargain – somebody usually does.

RULE 7 – FIGHT LIKE YOU MEAN IT

So we come right down to the line. You can’t avoid the conflict or negotiate your way out of it. The only option is to fight and because it is important, the only option is to Win. It’s time to Go Big or Go Home.

You need to have a detailed knowledge of your opponent – what are their strengths? What are their weaknesses?

And it’s No Holds Barred until hostilities are over.

But always try to leave a way out for the other person. They need to be able to walk away without losing too much face even though they lost the battle. That way you won’t leave foes behind who might give you trouble in future.

Managing your approach to Conflict is an important element of political goal setting and long term planning. I can offer individual advice so do get in touch if a neutral and objective point of view will help.

Resetting Your Goals After COVID

2020 is going to be a special year in many ways… There will be highs and lows…

I concluded my blog on goal setting with these words as the year began. Little did I know what would transpire and where we would find ourselves in the summer.

The restrictions around COVID have changed life for everyone and plans have been altered or put on hold completely. As we struggle to return to normality in August, it’s worth taking time to consider how we have been blown off course and where we have drifted to.

This is particularly true for politicians and candidates who find themselves six months closer to the next election with as much or even more to do.

It’s time to brush off those goals we set and revisit the six categories that I laid out as the year opened:

HEALTH

Your physical health is your greatest asset – as the COVID crisis has reminded us.

There seem to be lots of people on line who have set a fine example with their Lockdown diets and exercise regimes. But for many of us the experience has been less uplifting. With little to enjoy beyond food, drink and sedentary activities and restrictions on travel and going out, a lot of people will be less fit than they were in February.

For candidates, good physical health is particularly important because fighting campaigns can be a long grind. You also need to look your best at selection interviews so now is a good time to get back to the gym, control your diet and shed some pounds.

WEALTH

Having more money removes limits on your personal choices so whilst maybe not an end in itself, it can only help.

The Lockdown has had widely different effects on people financially. For some, with their incomes covered by furlough money and less to spend on, the period has actually enabled some saving. Banks and building societies have reported that people are putting more away for future. But if you are self employed and outside the furlough net or if you have lost your job, the financial picture could be catastrophic.

For candidates, financial security is very important. Some years ago, Conservative Home estimated that contesting a seat in Parliament cost each candidate an average of £40,000 in travel, accommodation and lost earnings. This sum is unlikely to get any less so candidates may need to urgently assess their resources and take steps to replenish them.

CAREER

Career targets tend to be longer term, so whilst COVID will have put them back for many people there will be opportunities to catch up. For those who are able to work remotely, the Lockdown might even have provided an opportunity to progress. Nevertheless, with companies announcing job losses every day, options are likely to be more limited in the recovery period.

Time in Lockdown has also given people the opportunity to reassess their career priorities. Do you want to keep doing the same thing? Is returning to commuting an attractive option? Or is it time to make a break and try something new? In the current climate you should take time to plan ahead before contemplating career changes.

RELATIONSHIPS

Relationships will have really suffered during Lockdown. A lot of people have lost contact in recent months.

For would be politicians, good networking is absolutely vital – so now is the time to get out there and re-establish the links and contacts you were building before the crisis hit. Campaigning for the delayed London elections is getting started again, so get involved!

SKILLS

Good politicians never stop learning. There’s always something you need to know about.

Lockdown has provided an opportunity for people to learn new skills on line and many have taken it up. For candidates it is particularly important to consider where your skills gaps lie and how you will bridge them before the next election and the selection round that will precede it.

One skill you may have acquired is communication via video conferencing. Many political meetings have taken place remotely and I even found myself delivering a 20 minute speech from my own home, via the camera on my laptop. It’s an unusual experience, not least because you can’t see your audience or judge their reactions. You also can’t warm them up easily because they won’t see one another’s reactions either. So in many ways it is more akin to broadcasting or video blogging – you might have a very useful new skill to add to your political armoury.

EXPERIENCES

Those experiences you were planning for the coming year will have been put off. It’s time to reassess their importance and decide when and how you will do them.

For candidates, some experiences can be very useful as a way to illustrate your skills on the application form or at the hustings, so you should prioritise them as time is running by.

As always I’m available to help with goal resetting face to face or on line, so do contact me.

And my friends at Barndoor Strategy are now running a network for Tory Candidates to gain skills, build useful contacts and swap best practice. We look forward to working with you as we set out on the long road to recovery.

Meetings On Line – From Living Room to Boardroom

With the UK on Lockdown more and more people will be working from home. Meetings will no longer take place in person but via Skype, Zoom or other communication packages. The slow drift to change has taken on a new life in times of crisis.

Yet there is nothing new about home working. Almost a decade ago I produced a London Assembly report with Transport Researcher Jon Hollis extolling the virtues of remote working as a way of relieving the overloaded transport network and rocketing property prices in London.

And in the late nineties I led a project to introduce video conferencing at the Spring Group, a company with UK wide sites that it was seeking to bring together.

Beyond the advancing technology, on line meetings require some changes to interpersonal skills that can present a challenge. I’ve dusted off some recommendations from the past:

ROOM

At home you should ideally set aside a separate room for home working. It needs to be free from background noise which can be a distraction as well as having good natural light for the camera to operate.

If you do need to share a room, make sure it isn’t the bedroom. As far as possible you should keep your sleeping space free of other uses and concerns.

CAMERA POSITION

In most cases you will be using the camera on top of your computer screen, so it needs to be level with or slightly above your face when you are sitting comfortably. Remember that the screen is not in the same place as the camera so you need to look into the camera when making your point and into the screen when listening – the further apart the two are, the harder this becomes.

In films dramatic footage is often taken from the desk top, looking up at a speaker. The intention is to make them look sinister or dominating. Be aware that the camera will create this effect if it is pointing up at your face.

BACKGROUND

Check out what is behind you and in shot before you go on line. Politicians and academics often like to be interviewed in front of a bookcase because it makes them look more educated. If you do this, you should remove any titles that might not reflect your personal or company brand.

If you do have items with the company logo on them, consider placing them in the background where they will be visible. Actual products are even better. There’s nothing wrong with some free advertising if your efforts go viral.

INTERRUPTIONS

Avoid interruptions during conference calls and meetings. Noises from outside can be distracting. Children and pets should be kept out of the room.

OFF SCREEN

Remember that your colleagues can only see what is on the screen. If you have more than one person taking part in the room, you will need to move the camera or the people to ensure everyone can be seen when they make their point.

DOCUMENTS

Waving documents in front of the screen doesn’t work. If you are sharing complex information you need to send it to everyone beforehand or invest in some document sharing software.

When I work with clients on speeches, I find it useful to number every line on a draft before I share it with them. That way, we can quote line numbers if we want to make changes, ensuring that everyone is on the same page.

NUMBERS

Meetings with a large number of participants are bad at managing detail. My own experience is that six participants is a good number but more tend to lead to less focus on the key objectives. This is even more the case on line where screen size will restrict the number who can participate at any time.

You need to be clearer than ever about the roles of each team member and why they are taking part.

CHAIRING

Good meetings require some preparation beforehand and this is even more essential on line.

Have an agenda and agree who is going to chair the session and how long each item will take to discuss.

Cue each person in. Speaking one at a time is vital on line as it is easy to overlook contributions if several people are speaking. Take time to make sure everyone gets a say because it is also easy to overlook the quieter, more thoughtful members if they aren’t in the same room.

Circulate notes of the meeting with action points soon afterwards. On line it is easy for misunderstandings to occur or action points to be overlooked, so an accurate agreed record is essential.

It is tempting to record the meeting but make sure you get everyone’s agreement. Remember that you are intruding upon the private space at home and they have a right to know if the footage is going to be circulated more widely.

Going on line for meetings can be a daunting prospect so please contact me for advice on making meetings work for you.