Blog & Articles

Is It Time For More diversity in Public Appointments?

One of Boris Johnson’s early achievements was to appoint a Cabinet featuring more Members from Britain’s diverse communities than ever before. This is great news for young black people who seeing these role models will know that they can make it to the very top.

This should in turn herald a change to the wider Public Appointments environment, where too often the same old faces from the Blair days are recycled into new roles. It’s time for greater diversity – of opinions as well as backgrounds.

Many people would benefit from a Public Appointment and they would be able to make a great contribution, but unfortunately the process is shrouded in mist for the average applicant. It’s difficult to know where to start or what the recruiters are looking for. That’s where I can help.

A good place to begin is the Cabinet Office website, which publishes regular updates to the jobs available. You can also sign up for a Newsletter ensuring the opportunities drop into your in box as they become available.

Applications are initially by CV with a covering letter which requires candidates to set out how they meet the job and person specifications.

Shortlisted applicants will be called to interview where they will face a barrage of questions and usually a short presentation task to test their communication skills.

You will need to be able to demonstrate strong Communication skills, an ability to Understand other viewpoints, evidence of Teamwork that is needed if you are going to be part of a senior non executive board, and an awareness of good Ethics and integrity.

If this is you – I can help by offering:

  1. Advice on your own personal strategy, setting goals and working towards securing your first appointment – and those that will follow.
  2. Application Letter and CV support, presenting you at your best on paper.
  3. Interview Planning, to prepare you for the crucial 30 minute assessment.
  4. Presentation Skills Training and Speech Writing, to make your initial presentation really shine.
  5. Mock Interview, covering the usual questions that always crop up and the tricky questions that can trip up the best candidates.

If you have already built a successful career then you probably have the skills and experience they are looking for.

An initial consultation is free so contact me today.

Borisology – The Downing Street Speech Reviewed

There were some concerns that Boris had drifted a bit since his time at City Hall, that he had lost his edge and his mojo. As he strode into Downing Street last week, he will have known that these fears needed to be put to rest.

Standing at the lectern, in bright sunlight, he had just over ten minutes to do the job.

So how good was that speech?

STRUCTURE

Like any good chess match, a speech should have an opening, a middle and an end game. The purpose of each section is different but the structure can be applied even to very short speeches. Ten minutes provides the opportunity for a two minute opening, six minutes of message packed middle and a barn storming two minute closing.

The Opening should be used to build rapport with the audience. In this case there were three audience elements – the media, the gaggle of enthusiastic supporters and staffers, and of course the viewing public. The first two groups had already made up their minds and the third would probably only see the broadcast highlights.

It’s polite to recognise your predecessor, so Boris did this in a very perfunctory fashion. Reasonable, as longer might have looked like hypocrisy and would have been counter to the public mood. Instead he used the opening to attack the Gloomsters and Doomsters who were going to ‘Lose their shirts’ for betting against the UK. He also made his position on Brexit crystal clear.

The Middle should be used to lay out memorable messages. Boris stated a commitment to policies claiming each of them as ‘Our Job’. Convention states that three is an ideal number but he went against it and stated four key pledges – 20,000 police, 20 new hospitals, resolving the social care crisis and improving school funding. These are all big tasks which are likely to be ‘work in progress’ when the next election is called.

He returned to Brexit in more detail, with pledges to unite the country, reopen talks with the EU, but to prepare seriously for No Deal. There was some nice positioning of values around what the UK flag stands for. The pledge to safeguard 3.2 million EU Nationals currently in the UK is very welcome – it is the right thing to do and recognises the real fears that people have lived with since 2016. He thanked them for their Contribution to the UK and their patience, in an approach that echoed the speeches we used to deliver to community festivals and conferences around London.

And he added that in the case of No Deal we would be keeping the £39 billion that Brussels has demanded – money talks.

Boris also spoke about The UK’s future with science and technology at the forefront. This felt very much like the work we did in Shoreditch, Old Street and the other tech hubs that developed around London. The same approach is on the cards for our neglected Northern towns and cities. His reference to GM crops might alarm some Green campaigners.

The Ending stressed the need to overcome self doubt and ‘change the record’. This optimism was a key theme of the whole speech and aimed to leave the audience on a high.

STYLE

There were no jokes. This was more like his speech at the 2012 Olympics, stressing the positives and building self confidence. One of our strengths in the UK is a free press that can print what they want, but of course negative news sells better and the big danger is that we come to believe that everything is bad and that our country and institutions are incapable of delivering our ambitions.

After years of managerial politics, this upbeat approach is well overdue.

In defiance of his reputation for overlooking detail, he made quite a lot of detailed policy commitments. Can he deliver them all? Only time will tell, but as London’s Mayor Boris also had a reputation for making good on his promises.

His body language was confident, as you would expect. Purists would criticise him for moving around a bit too much but it didn’t get in the way of his message and with only ten minutes, there are better ways to use your concentration than focusing on detailed body movements.

He had a written speech which is wise on big occasions but he hardly seemed to reference it and the speed at which he turned the pages suggests that he wasn’t reading it word for word, but instead using key bullet points as a general guideline. I have seen Boris deliver a 30 minute after dinner speech from six lines scribbled on the back of a menu, so he won’t have needed copious notes.

CONCLUSION

Boris made a good start to his premiership. He rightly eschewed the jokes that many will have expected and delivered a serious but upbeat performance. His aim will have been to enthuse his supporters whilst reassuring the many undecideds in the audience.

The readiness to take responsibility was well summed up in the line – ‘Never mind the Backstop, The Buck Stops with me.’

In some recordings the baying of the demonstrators outside the Downing Street gates was intrusive. This is becoming almost a ritual for the usual suspects. Perhaps it is time to erect a large screen in Parliament Square and televise the speeches so that the crowd can have their ‘Ten Minute Hate’ at a safe distance, without spoiling the performance for the majority.

The Conservative Leadership Race

Four years ago, I was invited to a meeting with Boris Johnson. It’s fair to say that my hopes were not high as I rode the lift to the ninth floor at City Hall.

I had just completed a demanding year chairing the monthly Mayor’s Question Time, during which we often had our differences.

I think you have been admirably even handed – perhaps too even handed was how he opened the conversation. He then went on to offer me the fantastic opportunity to be his Statutory Deputy for the remainder of his term of office. This included the possibility of filling his role, should he leave office before the election – in effect I was to be the Spare Mayor.

Boris doesn’t hold personal grudges, as he demonstrated that day. In the following twelve months, I learned much more about him.

Mayors of London stamp their personalities on the culture at City Hall. Ken Livingstone created a bureaucracy motivated by power and fear. Staff were reluctant to be seen even talking to political opponents and during the 2008 election they were encouraged to believe that victory for Boris would see them all out of a job.

In the event, only a few people left City Hall and they did so at their own insistence. Nobody was pushed out and the culture quickly became much more positive. If Ken had been about Fear, Boris was about Optimism. In the eight years of his rule at the GLA there was never a shortage of applicants to join the organisation and be part of the vibrant, outward looking, world city that we were building.

An early example was the 2012 Olympics. We had been openly critical as the costs piled up but Boris would have no more of that Gloomadon Popping as he described it.

We weren’t seriously going to stop the athletes at Heathrow and tell them it was all off. So we had to make it a dazzling success, despite our budget being dwarfed by the giant Beijing extravaganza four years earlier.

It was brilliant, showcasing London to the rest of the world. Many people, across the political spectrum, contributed but Boris set the tone – he even got a cheer from the stadium crowd where other politicians fared less well.

The same outward looking, optimistic vision is what Brexit now demands. We are going to leave the EU, so let’s do it with a spring in our step and an eye on our future. The establishment foot dragging and longing backward glances must end now – they should have ended in June 2016.

Boris is a strategic thinker, he wants to see the big picture when he takes decisions. I soon learned to brief him in five minutes, a useful discipline that really made me think about my subject matter and come to terms with it before offering an opinion. That approach wouldn’t go down well in parts of the Foreign Office and the EU – where the longer you speak and the more you write, the more important you think you are.

Cameron and Blair were not great on detail either, but they were good leaders.

Conversely, both Gordon Brown and Theresa May were obsessed with detail, sometimes to the extent of not trusting their ministers to do their jobs without constant interference and second guessing. Details freaks do not always make good Prime ministers.

Boris appointed a team who were great on detail and on delivering policy. The late, and much missed, Sir Simon Milton joined us from Westminster and was instrumental in creating a City Hall administration that was effective and got results. He was succeeded by the equally effective Sir Edward Lister who came to us from Wandsworth Council, a beacon of Conservative success in local government.

Some of his best lieutenants have followed Boris into Parliament where they have carved out strong reputations. James Cleverly and Kit Malthouse should find key roles in a Boris administration and a return for Sir Edward Lister would be a wise move.

Members voting for Boris will also be voting for an outstanding management team.

The Left like to paint Boris as a hard right winger, yet I always found him open minded and enthusiastic to learn new ideas. This enthusiasm led him to work with Kit Malthouse on diversifying London’s economy beyond an over reliance on financial services.

In eight years, we helped to develop exciting tech hubs, with the largest based in Shoreditch and around the Old Street roundabout, a district that had been looking tired and left behind.

We also worked on a life sciences hub at Kings Cross and a creativity hub based in Hackney Wick. Boris had an upbeat vision for London that sadly is not shared by his Labour successor.

The 2016 Brexit vote was also a cry for help from regions of the UK that feel left behind and threatened by the forces of globalisation – as Shoreditch and Kings Cross were for many years.

Too often, change is celebrated for no good reason. It needs to be harnessed and used to make peoples’ lives happier and more prosperous.

Our country desperately needs such an optimistic vision. Not every goal can be achieved – but surely we can make the effort.

Regardless of who we choose as Leader, inevitably we must eventually face a General Election and we need to be prepared. Corbyn’s Labour Party is a deeply unappealing prospect and we owe it to the country to offer a more attractive alternative vision.

Boris is the only candidate who can stem the loss of our traditional supporters to the Brexit Party. At the same time, he has a proven ability to reach beyond narrow party loyalties and gain backing from Labour and Lib Dem voters.

Winning London in 2008 was a huge challenge and keeping it in 2012 was even more of an uphill struggle. We weren’t helped by the government unveiling Osborne’s infamous Omnishambles Budget right in the middle of the campaign. Nevertheless, we prevailed against the odds.

To win London, a Conservative must appeal to traditional supporters and to political opponents. Only Boris could walk that tightrope all the way to the end.

I have seen what Boris can do at his best, and I believe that with the right team around him, he can do it again. That is why he will have my support.

Public Appointments – Time For You To Apply?

Every year, dozens of public appointments are advertised by government departments. They offer a great opportunity to contribute to the governance of the UK as well as a way for ambitious leaders to enhance their CVs. Many are also very well paid.

Despite efforts to broaden the recruitment base, the appointments still struggle to reflect the diversity of our society with a shortfall in the number of women and under representation of the varied communities that contribute to our economy and culture.

There is also a worrying lack of diversity of background and opinion, with successful candidates reflecting the values of previous governments. If politicians lag behind public opinion, their appointees are even slower to change. A recent survey by Conservative Home demonstrated that over 70% of appointees were current or former Labour party members. Much of this state of affairs was due to a selection process that over valued previous experience and consequently kept recirculating the same people.

To new candidates, the world of public appointments can seem like a closed shop – so I will try to shed some light on it:

WHERE DO I FIND OUT MORE?

The Cabinet Office regularly publishes a newsletter listing upcoming vacancies – it is available here.

The April newsletter includes a wide variety of opportunities including:

Law Commissioners

Chair of the Financial Reporting Council

Chair of the National Institute for Clinical Excellance

Charity Commissioners

There is usually a wide range of opportunities on offer. Appointments to NHS Boards, magistrates and other posts can also be found on the Public Appointments website.

Many of the more senior positions are well paid but it can be a good strategy to secure an unpaid role first. This will establish you as a potential candidate for other roles whilst growing your network and building your experience in this sector.

DO I HAVE WHAT IT TAKES?

The good news is that public appointments exist in all fields, so specialist experience and knowledge are invaluable. There is likely to be something for anyone who has excelled in their own profession.

Most of the roles also require the following ‘people’ skills:

Teamwork – particularly experience of working as a member of a board or committee. Having chaired such a board is even more useful and specialist knowledge of audit procedures and compliance is widely respected.

Understanding – you need to work with people who hold different – often opposing – points of view. So you need to demonstrate how you can understand and accommodate differences. Examples of negotiations or agreements where all parties gained something are worth mentioning at the interview.

Communication – these are public bodies so you need to be comfortable dealing with the media, pressure groups and customers. Experience of speaking on radio, television or to large audiences is highly valued.

Integrity – it should go without saying that appointees will be carefully scrutinised by the press and political opponents. If you have a history of dubious activities or extreme views, public service may not be the best place for you.

HOW DO I LEARN MORE?

The first place to look is the public appointments website – and make sure that you sign up for the regular newsletter.

When you find a role that fits, I can help with advice on your application form and a mock interview which can really focus your attention for the big day. Contact me for advice and assistance.

So You Want To Get Selected?

Last month I published an article for Barndoor Strategy, looking at the prospects for candidates in the coming elections. Authenticity is going to be in demand as voters become disillusioned with slick, over rehearsed ‘clone’ candidates:

Nobody quite knows how the Brexit impasse will end.  But whether we leave on the 12th April, stay for a short while or have a further long extension, one thing is clear.  The UK will be heading for a General Election a lot sooner than 2022.  Parliamentary parties and structures have broken down in an unprecedented way.  Never mind the whips losing their authority; the whole principle of cabinet collective responsibility has been holed below the water line by recent events.  The shattered pieces of parties elected to form the 2017 parliament will never be put back together.

With an increasingly divided and fractious parliament the inevitable conclusion is that sooner or later there will be an early general election.  It might happen by accident or design but an election is the only thing that can heal these wounds.  In this context, many people will suddenly scramble to get themselves a seat.  2017 has many grim lessons for those who left it too late or worse still turned up to an Association as the ‘central office candidate’.

This time things will be different because of members’ expectations.  In all parties there is a growing disdain for the professional political class.  Members won’t be fooled again by people in flash suits claiming to be ardent advocates of one cause or another, only to see their principles fall away as they ascend the steps of Palace of Westminster.  Associations are being more assertive about what type of candidate they are looking for and the type of MP they will support.

The next general election is also likely to throw up a disproportionate number of safe seats.  As many MPs relations have broken down with their Association.  The days of MPs being selected by their local party on the basis of telling them one thing and being able to continue in office while doing the complete opposite at Westminster are coming to an end.  We’ve entered a new age of localism and authenticity.  With the rash of “remainer” defections and near defections at Westminster, Conservative associations will be on the lookout for candidates who genuinely share their world view.  These safe seats are likely to be particularly wary of so-called “carpet baggers”.  All the more reason for serious contenders to make sure they have built their ties with a prospective Association early.

Applicants will need to be aware of local issues that may affect the vote as well as past voting trends over the long term. Once safe seats like Kensington are no longer such great prizes but the shift in political loyalties is creating some good prospects north of Watford Gap. The views of local activists are also important – there is little point in a remainer applying for a seat who have just removed someone with similar views from office.

In this context, early engagement with a seat and the building of genuine ties and rapport are vital.  Candidates with a history of local contacts and supporters are far more likely to meet with the approval of this more discerning audience.

One thing is for sure, whatever the result of Brexit UK politics will not be the same for a long time.

If you want to learn more about campaigning or public speaking Barndoor Strategy can help.  Contact us for more information.

Fear Cuts Deeper Than Swords – Controlling Your Nerves

For a lot of people, standing up and performing in front of an audience is a worrying prospect. Even experienced presenters will feel that rush of adrenaline as the moment approaches. The key is to use that adrenaline for fight rather than flight, to let it give you an edge without allowing it to undermine your performance.

Remember that phrase from Game of Thrones – Fear Cuts Deeper Than Swords.

It’s time to conquer your fear.

PREPARATION

Without a map you will get lost and without proper planning, your speech is more likely to go wrong. On a strange journey, a map helps your confidence. You know the route and you expect to arrive on time.

Before you stand up and open your mouth, you need to understand some basic facts. Who are the audience? What do they want? What do you have in common with them? What do you want from them? How are you going to make your call to action? Most importantly, What is your key message?

You should take the time to write out your speech line by line and practise delivering it. If there is a time limit you must make sure that you don’t run over it. This is particularly important for presentations during interviews or competitive pitches, or in quasi legal situations like Council planning committees. Assume that you will be stopped if you exceed your time.

But in other situations it is also wise to avoid rambling on and trying the patience of your audience. A good rule of thumb is that you should never speak for longer than twenty minutes without at least breaking for some questions or perhaps a video.

Time spent before the speech will pay dividends during it. Practice until you feel comfortable with your speech and use each successive delivery to weed out difficult sentences, obscure concepts and words that cause you to stumble. Each iteration should be better than the last and if you keep a written record, your speech should improve continually.

Be particularly careful with humour. A joke or humorous story needs to be delivered using precise words, voice tones and timing. Avoid it if you have any doubts about your ability to make them laugh.

Your final speech should be so familiar that you can deliver it on autopilot but now is not the time for hubris. Keep your notes with you for the occasion, preferably somewhere close to hand, in case you dry up. It is unlikely to happen but the presence of your notes will give you some reassurance if things get difficult.

OPENING

A speech is a bit like flying a plane – the most dangerous parts are closest to the ground. Your take off and landing should be planned meticulously.

When you stand up, expect an initial rush of adrenaline. You are facing a sea of people, some familiar, some strangers, all expectant. The good news is that they all want you to succeed. So, pause for a moment before you deliver your opening line.

Those first moments are vital. Like a plunge into a cold swimming pool, the initial shock can throw you but you will quickly acclimatise to the new situation. You should memorise your opening line, word for word so that you know what to say even if you face a momentary blankness.

Opening lines can vary. You can state the purpose of your speech, or your key message. You can use humour to warm them up. You can talk about something you all have in common – people warm to presenters who are like themselves. If you are following another speaker, you can thank them and invite applause – this will encourage them to respond during your own speech.

The important thing is to build rapport right from the start. The old adage before you sell anything, you have to sell yourself, always applies.

CLOSING

As your speech approaches its conclusion you can be forgiven for feeling some relief. But this is not the time to relax. Think back to the flying analogy – you want to land with wheels down, not nose first.

It can be difficult to conclude. I have seen people trapped on conference platforms as their time runs out, unable to find a clean way to close their speech. It is not a pretty sight.

So, make sure you learn your closing lines as diligently as the opening ones.

The close should repeat your key message and include a call to action. What do you want from them? It could be their votes, their sales orders, a job or just their support. It feels very un-British to ask them but trust me – it works.

And whilst you are delivering your call to action, take the opportunity to make it as inspiring as possible. You want to conclude to applause if possible. You want them to want to hear more from you.

BODY LANGUAGE TIPS

Generally, your body language should be as open as possible. This is more likely to come with confidence, which is why I want you to put in the hard yards of preparation first. It takes a lot of practice to look this spontaneous!

But don’t obsess about your body language or posture. As long as you aren’t doing anything that distracts from your message, you should be fine. In particular, try not to hold notes or other items as these will tend to limit your arm movements. If you are short – I’m 5ft 5ins so I share your pain – then try not to get hidden behind lecterns. For questions it is often better to remain on your feet even if a chair is offered.

Eye contact can be a problem, particularly with smaller audiences. It is too easy to get fixated on one pair of eyes, wondering what they are thinking, or even clinging to them for support. Try looking at the foreheads of the audience instead. From where they stand or sit, you are still meeting their gaze, but without the danger of looking overly hostile or fearful.

When I coach speakers, I try not to get too hung up on things like posture. Most great speakers have their own tics and peculiarities which make them more memorable. I’m not in the business of cloning super slick presenters or making people look over rehearsed.

If you need advice do contact me – I’m here to help.

Weddings – A Challenge for Inexperienced Speakers

This time there’s no escape!

Even if you don’t need to speak in public professionally, there will come a point where you have to address an audience. For many people this happens at a wedding. You want to be at your best for the people you love on the most important day of their lives. No pressure then…

The good news is that the ordeal needn’t be too long. As a rule, wedding speeches should never go on for longer than ten minutes. The audience will be on your side, willing you to do well. On the other hand, there are pitfalls that you must avoid.

As usual, I recommend speakers work with a structure: An Opening, which builds rapport and relaxes the audience, a Middle which contains the meat of the speech, and a Conclusion which leads up to the toast.

Usually there are three speeches – although some weddings may have more.

FATHER OF THE BRIDE

The Father of The Bride has the pleasant task of welcoming all the guests. He might talk a bit about the arrangements for the big day and of course some kind words about the Happy Couple are in order.

There is room for a couple of amusing anecdotes which should be tailored to the audience.

The speech should conclude with a toast to the Bride and Groom.

GROOM

The Groom gets to reply to the Father in Law’s toast on behalf of himself and the Bride.

He should take this opportunity to thank the guests, the Best Man and anyone who has contributed to the success of the day including both sets of parents. This can be quite a long list so it needs to be broken up with a few keen observations.

There is also an opportunity to say something amusing about the Best Man who will be speaking next.

The speech should conclude with a toast – this time to the Bridesmaids.

BEST MAN

The Best Man replies to the toast on behalf of the Bridesmaids, however he has the toughest job because a lot more is expected of him.

In effect, he introduces the Groom to the audience, dwelling on amusing incidents from his past. These should be carefully chosen so as not to cause offence and there should be no more than three in a ten minute speech.

Humour is very challenging. You need to be spot on with your timing and have all your words in the right place. Humour is to speaking what the dressage is to three day eventing. You cannot prepare too much for this moment.

The good news is that the audience are on your side. They will laugh at anything amusing, though there should be nothing too racy or controversial.

OTHER SPEAKERS

The advent of same sex marriages and the empowerment of women have created some interesting possibilities. I have known weddings where the Bride will also say a few words to break up the traditionally male dominated speeches. And in a same sex partnership, both partners may wish to say something.

Social occasions are a challenge because the speakers may not have a lot of experience. Help from an experienced speech writer and coach can be invaluable – so do contact me for more details. If the day goes smoothly and the audience enjoy the speeches, it is money well spent.

Preparing For An Interview

Here is a piece that I wrote for Barndoor Strategy on interview preparation. It’s surprising how much of the interview process can be anticipated and controlled with some thorough pre planning:

Most interviewees don’t look forward to the ordeal. They view it as a series of hurdles – an opening presentation, an easy first question, a tough question, a sneaky question, some final questions, then they are over the finishing line. The problem with this approach is that everyone makes it through the interview, but only one person gets the job.

That’s why I teach my clients to look at the interview not as a series of hurdles, but as a series of platforms on which they can proclaim their greatness. This needs careful planning – it takes a lot of preparation to look spontaneous.

Key to this approach are the job description and the person specification. These should clearly state the attributes that the interviewers are looking for. The first step is to list them.

You now need to compare your own experiences against this list. There should be plenty of matches – if there aren’t then why are you applying?

So, for example if ‘Working in a Team’ is specified, think of a time when you did this well. For a particular project the team worked on what was the problem? What did you contribute? What was the result?

If ‘Resilience’ is required, when did you face a setback? What did you do to recover? What was the outcome and what did you learn?

These examples not only prove your case, they also make your interview a unique and memorable experience for the panel.

With the examples listed, it’s time to anticipate the questions. These are likely to address the requirements in the job description. You should be able to match your evidence to the expected questions.

For the above examples you could expect:

Tell us about your approach to teamwork.

How do you respond to setbacks?

If there are some examples which are particularly strong or which don’t easily match the set questions, you should consider putting them in your initial presentation, or referring to them at the end of the interview when they ask if you have anything to add.

The aim is to leave the interview having given them every piece of important evidence on your list. A planned approach takes time but ensures that you won’t be kicking yourself after it is all over and wondering ‘Why didn’t I mention that?’

I can help you to plan for an interview, create a strong opening presentation and anticipate the most challenging questions – contact me for more details.

Goal Setting for Candidates

In December I wrote a piece for Barndoor Strategy about goal setting for political candidates. With two months of 2019 behind us already, it is worth revisiting to check up on progress:

POLITICAL  GOAL  SETTING  FOR  2019

The New Year stretches ahead, filled with excitement.

2019 promises to be as turbulent and unpredictable as its predecessors with Brexit expected in March if the current timetable can survive attempts to extend Article 50 or stage a second referendum. A period of uncertainty is likely to follow as the UK and the EU adjust to our new relationship – a relationship of friends and equals rather than master and servant.

Looming over everything is the possibility of another General Election. Whilst it looks unlikely, the political parties are gearing up for a campaign and putting candidates in place.

For ambitious would be MPs the coming year could see opportunities to build their reputations, enhance their skills and achieve their dreams. It’s worth devoting a few hours to planning for the coming twelve months.

EXPERIENCE

Campaigning experience is a must have for all MPs. From the Prime Minister to backbench councillors, everybody puts in those hard yards of leafletting and door knocking. A solid track record is required before selection so now is the time to be putting the work in and keeping a record of achievements.

Parties often look for candidates with an interesting back story so it is worth considering your career path and how the things you learned and experienced can be brought to life in your CV and personal publicity.

Three dimensional candidates are sought after so some solid experience outside politics and work is useful. Volunteering is a great way to keep your feet on the ground and demonstrate the ability to reach out to people and understand their problems.

And it is worth remembering that success in business on its own very often doesn’t translate to success in politics. Your campaigners are volunteers who can walk away if they don’t like your leadership style and you need the support of elected colleagues if you are going to get things done once in office.

PROFILE

Over 100 applicants regularly send in CVs for the best political roles so you need to stand out from the crowd. Already having a profile can provide a flying start at the initial stages of selections and of course it helps to be recognised by voters.

So you should be grabbing opportunities to write pieces for political magazines and websites even though these are rarely paid. Likewise those very valuable radio and television interviews. Social media makes it much easier to build a profile from scratch, using blogs, Linked in and even Twitter but there is also the potential to make mistakes in public and these can haunt you on the internet.

Opponents will often look for historical statements which can be presented in a bad light so you need to overhaul your social media profile before stepping into the political limelight. The good news is that these attacks don’t seem to impress voters who focus more on what candidates can do for them, but they can provide reasons for risk averse parties to sacrifice candidates at a more junior level.

SKILLS

Politics is a varied activity that requires lots of different skills. Most people will have some of them but very few politicians can claim to have them all. So a skills audit and some coaching from Barndoor will probably be in order.

Communication skills including speech writing, public performance and media skills are all essential to successful MPs and councillors. Remember that a politician who claims the public don’t understand is really admitting that they can’t explain – and a politician who can’t explain should find another job.

Committee work is also a valuable skill particularly if it has not featured in your professional environment. Being able to recognise the agendas – official, political and personal – of fellow committee members will help to make your own contributions much more effective. Of course actually chairing a committee can be very challenging particularly if it is taking place in front of a large audience or it is making contentious decisions.

Some grounding in law is also useful for would be legislators. There is a reason that so many lawyers become politicians – the skill sets are very similar. These include advocacy, negotiation, client meetings, case preparation and a basic grounding in constitutional law and the principles of natural justice.

Modern politicians operate in the spotlight so mistakes are accentuated and they remain to haunt your history. They also need to be able to embrace variety, dealing with different specialisms, demanding situations and people from all backgrounds. Politics is fun and there are great opportunities to achieve results for constituents and the country.

But good politicians never stop learning and they know that it is never too early to start.

In a single session, I can work with you to plan your political goals for the coming 12 months – contact me for more details.

Tips For Speech Writing

The following article was written by me and appeared in the most recent edition of Vaahan Magazine – it provides some useful advice on writing a structured and effective speech:

Almost thirty years ago, I experienced one of those moments that change our lives forever.

I was in a fairly junior sales job and, if I am honest, not making a great fist of it. I was simply too young and too new to London to have the confidence to close deals. However I was great at sales presentations which I got to practice during training but never got to deliver because I lacked the seniority that was so important in 80s business.

Being unable to use a skill was so frustrating!

There I was, sitting in the London traffic, when a politician came on the radio, speaking to a big conference. I immediately thought I could do that!

This light bulb moment launched a 26 year political career which saw me using my speaking skill to address all kinds of audiences all over the capital as well as in other countries. I also took time to study law and was Called to The Bar in 1997, winning a debating award at the prestigious Middle Temple.

I have written and performed hundreds of speeches and coached aspiring politicians and managers through this unfamiliar and often daunting process.

Now I use my experience to help people facing the ordeal of public speaking. For many successful individuals only rarely speak in public and view the prospect with worry and even panic. A great speech can really enhance your professional reputation and boost your career in a very short space of time, so it is worth doing and it is worth taking the time to get it right.

PREPARATION

It takes a lot of planning to look this spontaneous!

We tend to fear the unknown, so detailed preparation really pays off.

Most important is to know your audience. A group of professionals will expect you to be well informed and authoritative. A large audience at a festival will just expect to be entertained but gaining and holding their attention could be tough. Friends and family at a wedding will want you to be your best for them and in some ways that makes the pressure even greater.

Familiarity with the venue is also vital. I always tell speakers to arrive early and check out the room. Are there any distracting echoes? Does the microphone work effectively? Can you actually use that Powerpoint presentation that you spent so long crafting?

And of course you must understand the purpose of your speech. Why did they invite you and what are you hoping to achieve? With this knowledge you can craft a really well aimed message that holds their interest and leaves them wanting more.

STRUCTURE

Every speech must have a structure to ensure the message is delivered and to cut out pointless waffle. Good speeches have a clearly defined opening, middle and ending – like a successful game of chess.

For a very short speech you might just memorise opening and closing lines and aim to make no more than two points clearly and persuasively. The start of your speech is the most difficult moment, a bit like the initial plunge into a cold swimming pool, so a memorised line can help you through this initial barrier. A closing line is also important as you want to avoid becoming stranded on stage, groping frantically for the words that will end the ordeal.

OPENING

For a longer speech, you need to grab the attention of the audience and get them on side. This rapport building is very important at the start as without it the vital content may go unheard.

In some cases rapport is built by stating a joint purpose or objective that everyone can agree on. In others a little bit of background which shows you share the audience’s views and life experiences may be appropriate – people generally warm to speakers who are like themselves.

Humour is also a good ice breaker – but only if you are actually funny! Previous UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown would start speeches with jokes which came across as very wooden. This was a shame, as his later material was always well informed and passionate when he talked about skills and training. Bad jokes can even cause offence so it is wise to be cautious.

MIDDLE

This is where you develop your arguments and make your case.

Statistics can be used to lend authority to arguments but they should not be over used. In my view there should be no more than three statistical references in a good speech so they need to be chosen carefully. They are a tool to be used sparingly, not a magic wand to wave around.

Examples from real life can flesh out an argument and make it much more memorable. This storytelling element helps speakers to stand out from the crowd particularly when they refer to their own experiences, which will be unique to them.

CLOSING

All speeches require the audience to do something. Politicians want their votes, salespeople want their business, interviewees want the job. So, the speech should conclude with a call to action. In the UK actually asking for things can look a bit un British, but my success rate as a politician was hugely increased once I started asking people to campaign and to vote.

The call to action needs to be delivered in an upbeat tone, closing the speech on a high note and leaving them wanting more.

LENGTH

A prominent businessman was asked to speak at a civic lunch in London. Wisely, he asked how long he should speak for and was told “not long, only four to five minutes.” He prepared carefully and stuck to time, sitting down after a speech lasting Forty Five Minutes, much to the audience’s relief.

That was a case of poor communication, but I have an iron rule that my speeches should last no longer than thirty minutes. Anything more is wasted as attention wanders and so do some of the listeners. Some organisers expect longer, so it is a good idea to break a speech up or to conclude with questions which can go on for some time and should maintain interest.

CONCLUSION

Delivering a speech can be a scary business but it is also a great opportunity to showcase your skills. There is no need to panic if you take time to plan and follow a basic structure.

Whatever your speechwriting needs I can work with you to plan your presentation and to Be Your Best for this important event – contact me for more details.