Tips and Analysis
Thu 11 Oct 2012

Cameron at conference 2012 Subscribe Email Print

Written by Richard Matthews. Categories: Presentation analysis Tags: Cameron, Political presentations

David Cameron's speech to the Tory conference in 2012 showed once again the difficulty in delivering the two "c" s of public speaking - content and communication.

David Cameron

Content-wise, this was a very impressively structured speech. It mixed a sober assessment of the state of the country with an underlying positive message that said, effectively, the only way had to be up. And this was through aspiration and providing the right social and economic climate in which aspiration can thrive. It gave the right amount of time to each of the pillars that would do just that. Cameron set out why he believed his party were the ones to deliver this - backing up each point clearly. The message was simple - and therefore effective - essentially that of personal and national fulfilment. In terms of length, it was well judged.

Communication-wise, Cameron is a mix of the comfortable and uncomfortable. He can be very effective and convincing. He has a seriousness that at times borders on intensity, but that can work to his advantage. His diction is excellent. Yet he's weak on humour - he delivers it almost as an apology, as if - in this speech - he was coerced into it. Number one rule in a speech and a presentation - don't use humour unless you are absolutely certain you can pull it off.

For a speech which essentially sought to raise morale, Cameron's initial delivery was markedly under-energised, apologetic almost. He seemed inhibited, tense, staring fixedly at the cameras before, eventually, making eye contact with his audience. Maybe the audience were already in thrall. But for the television viewer, he had yet to draw us in to what he was saying, In a strange way, he over-compensated in the last third of the speech: his energy was at times too much, so that he rushed key high points of the speech, losing impact as a result, almost as if he was in a hurry to get to the final punchline. It felt a strange and uncomfortable imbalance. As uncomfortable as the final, open embrace gesture was to watch.

Cameron's performance underlined that it really isn't as common as you might think to find great content matched by great delivery. So, what's the key? Rehearsal is crucially important - not just in drafting, re-drafting, and re-drafting the text again, but also in the delivery. And when you are rehearsing the delivery, you shouldn't be tempted to be something that you are not. In Cameron's case, he's great looking serious - so don't have him cracking jokes. He's a little awkward physically - so keep his body language as neutral as possible and avoid overt gestures: they look scripted and sometimes embarrassing, especially if you finish with one. Above all, know which are the key lines in your speech or presentation that you want your audience to recall - and make sure they are heard properly.