As we all know, last week the UK voted to leave the European Union in a historic referendum.
From political leaders at home and abroad, singers, actors and sports personalities, it seems that just about everyone was ready to share their views on the matter in public. Given the significance of the decision and that fact that the majority of voters made their decision based on the myriad of contradictory speeches it is worth reflecting for a moment on what we can learn from those who presented their views to the public.
Here are 4 big public speaking lessons we can learn from the campaign on both sides
Lesson 1 – Craft a Message That Sticks
Anyone can present and idea or share information, albeit with varying levels of confidence, charm and success. Whether you are the Prime Minister of the UK or a parent representing to your PTA the one thing you need above all else is a clear and powerful message.
That message also has to be totally relevant to your audience; it has to be concise, easily understood and memorable.
Politics aside, which of the following messages would you tick as:
Clear and concise
- The UK cannot control the number of people coming into the country while remaining in the EU
- Leaving the EU would free up £350m a week extra to spend on the NHS
- We need to take back control over sovereignty, democracy, trade deals and immigration
- You will be worse off if we leave
- The UK is stronger, safer and better in a reformed EU
- We get to trade freely
Regardless of your nationality, political bias or whether you had a vote in the UK last week, which of those messages do you believe is more likely to ‘stick’ with you?
Lesson 2 – Nothing is More Potent than Passion
It’s all well and good having a clear and compelling message that is relevant to your audience and hard to challenge, but if you can’t communicate it with passion you may as well not bother.
As much as I respect David Cameron as a speaker, on this occasion it seemed to me that the one missing ingredient was his own personal passion for the need to remain. Many would argue that he appeared to be on ‘autopilot’ as he continually restated his view of the economic risks of Brexit.
For all their eccentricity, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage on the other hand were vibrant, colourful and completely animated each time they took the platform to persuade their audience to leave.
Lesson 3 – Help your audience to see the future
I’ve never forgotten a profound pep talk that one of my very first bosses gave to me as I began to climb the ‘corporate ladder’ over 30 years ago.
One day whilst discussing the ever increasingly important topic of motivation he said to me: “Maurice, the only thing you really need to know about motivation is this: the only people who need to be motivated are the people who can’t see the future and it’s your job as their leader to help them to see it.”
What has that got to do with public speaking and presenting?
Whether you are giving a quarterly update, selling widgets or calling for a historical vote, all your audience really wants from you is for you to help them to see, feel and understand the future.
In the EU referendum campaign here is how the respective speakers described the future to a nation:
“Just imagine that the EU had never been invented and the history of the last 60 years had been entirely different. It had been all about free trade and economic cooperation between our friends and partners in the European Union, with peace guaranteed by NATO, as indeed it has been.
“Where we take back control of £350 million per week, take back control of our borders.”
“We can see the sunlit meadows beyond. I believe we would be mad not to take this once in a lifetime chance to walk through that door because the truth is it is not we who have changed.”
The central theme of the ‘remain’ campaigns argument was the economic risks of Brexit.
“Nothing is more important than the strength of our economy.
Upon it depends the jobs and livelihoods of our people, and also the strength and security of our nation.
If we stay, we know what we get – continued full access to a growing single market, including in energy, services and digital, together with the benefit of the huge trade deals in prospect between the EU and the United States and other large markets.”
Lesson 4 – Know your audience
Addressing the economic risks of leaving the European Union is of course critically important as much of our strength, security and success does depend on our economic stability and growth.
However, the gap between the richest and poorest in the UK has dramatically widened in the past decade and far more people are struggling financially than they are flourishing. The harsh reality of the financial climate that most people live in today was likely to ‘deafen’ voters to the risk of a further decline.
Given that for many it feels as though things couldn’t get much worse anyway it was perhaps easier to imagine the upside and benefits to voting to leave the EU.
It seems to me that the least wealthy amongst us who rely heavily and care passionately about services everyone uses and experience first-hand and the adverse financial impact of ever increasing immigration are issues likely to trigger greater concern.
The ‘leave’ campaign’s empathy for so many of the British Public’s feelings of hopelessness enabled them to craft far more impactful speeches
The 4 Lessons
Whatever happens over the next few weeks and months it’s very clear to me that these are 4 very significant lessons we can take from this historic referendum. What I find even more interesting is that these aren’t new lessons; all the great speakers throughout history have taught us that:
- Your message is absolutely critical and you must make it ‘stick’
- Passion is beyond doubt the speakers greatest asset
- ‘The only people who need to be motivated are those who can’t see the future’
- If you don’t really know and understand your audience then you are likely to fail.
Is it all in the message?
Despite the value of these 4 lessons the one that stands out for me as a key one to consider which drove this campaign is the message.
Isn’t it interesting that since the results of the final vote were announced it has been alleged that a key element of the ‘Leave’ campaign’s message was a fallacy.
It’s since being suggested that it is unlikely that the £350m we would free up each week will be given to the NHS.
It has also been suggested that despite the power, relevance and clarity of the ‘leave’ campaigns message they don’t actually have a plan to see it through.
That means that the greatest lesson for public speakers in this historic campaign is that whilst it’s your message that counts above and beyond everything else, it doesn’t have to be completely true and you don’t even have to have a plan to make it happen.
That of course is where I would draw the line and insist that despite the success of the leave campaign whatever you speak on it must be true and you must have a clear plan of action.