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Thursday, 21 June, 2001, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Public speaking tips for new MPs

Don't be scared - the other boys and girls will like you
There are 92 newly-elected MPs, anxiously waiting to make their maiden speeches. Here experts suggest some tips for making their first outing a success.

William Hague used one of his final appearances as leader of the opposition on Wednesday to read a letter sent by the Labour party to its new members of Parliament.

The letter, he said, gave new MPs guidance on how to make their first speech, and even had part of a model speech they could make.

But he added: "It does however require honourable members to insert the right name of their constituency, so look out for this pitfall.

"It refers to 'Real improvements to our schools in ANYPLACE', 'Real improvements to our hospitals in ANYPLACE', 'Here in ANYPLACE unemployment is falling by XXXXX'."

blair speaking
Not every audience is friendly - but they're not as mean as you fear
Making a maiden speech is inevitably a nerve-wracking occasion for novice MPs - indeed any sort of public speaking holds terror for many people.

But there are things you can do to make you feel more confident, and even make better speeches. Here some experts give their tips.

Remember that everyone else there has either gone through it, or is yet to go through it. Public speaking trainer John Harriyott says: "The other MPs may not express it but they will be feeling a certain degree of sympathy. It's easy to say, but try not to be nervous. Try to relax."

Peter Martin, who runs speaking courses for company directors says it's crucial not to be too hard on yourself. "We've all got things we don't like about ourselves. But the reality of public speaking is that the audience doesn't see them."

It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practise either of them

Mark Twain
They need to know their subject, says Mr Harriyott. "They need to feel passionate about it, and they need to know the details. Now they may be asked by the whip to make a speech on something they don't know about. But they need to make sure they get to know about it. "

Don't waffle, apologise, or thank people for listening - they all distract from your message. "Really the most important thing is to get straight in to what you're going to be talking about," says Mr Harriyott. "You've got to get past the first minute - that's the big challenge. If you can do that, then you will start to feel more confident."

So far so good. But how should MPs go about choosing their words? By carefully analysing decades of politicians' speeches, Max Atkinson, author of Our Masters' Voices, identified the things which make up "clap trap" - i.e. the tricks which will make people applaud.

These include all sorts of rhetorical tricks, such as speaking in lists of three. "'Education, education, education' is the corniest example of this in the last decade," he says, "but it's easy for people to grasp because in conversation they already do it. Think of things like 'this, that and the other', none of which actually mean anything."

People forget too easily that there is a difference between written English and spoken English, Mr Atkinson says. So when they start to write a speech, they actually write an essay. In speeches and business presentations, he says, "people try to get far too much material across. The written word is brilliant for dealing with complexity. The spoken word is not."

Major imagery: "Long shadows on county grounds"
Don't forget imagery and anecdotes, he adds. "The reason they work so well is that they pre-date writing. In pre-literate societies the only ways to store knowledge was in verse and fable."

Thus memorable political phrases use imagery to the full: John Major leaving Downing Street for the last time: "When the curtain falls, it's time to leave the stage."

Or Geoffrey Howe, saying that serving under Mrs Thatcher was like "being sent out to bat only to find the bat had been broken before the game by the team captain". Or even Martin Luther King: "[W]e have come to our nation's capital to cash a cheque... America has given the Negro people a bad cheque which has come back marked 'insufficient funds'. But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt."

And if anyone should doubt the power of short anecdotes, Mr Atkinson says, just count the number of words in the parable of the Good Samaritan. There are 165.

Your comments:

Before speaking publicly, run through the entire topic top to toe, speaking out loud. Reading through your notes silently does not prepare you fully in terms of flow or "natural" sounding speech. There's nothing like bellowing the subject matter at your cat the night before a big speech!
David Godden, UK

Remember your breathing. Take deep breaths and you will be able to sound more confident and will have less tendency to rush your delivery. Take it from a singer - breathing is critical.
David Smith, UK

Speak slowly and put humour into it. "I know you lot are really only here for the grub, and if the truth be told, so am I! But so that this affair cab be tax deductable I just need to say a few words... It's been a great year. That was five. Bon apetit."
John Morris, UK

It is also important not to send the audience to sleep by using a monotonous voice. Try and vary the tone and volume.
Nick Thompson, England

Know when to stop. It's better to leave the audience wanting more, than to start repeating yourself.
Alistair Brett, USA

Before going on stage to 600 people, someone said to me "Think of them as cabbages, don't see faces, just rows and rows of cabbages." Imagining my parents garden worked !
Luke, UK

In addition to the "list of three", try comparing your group or self favourably to an adversary. "They say they will do this...but we will do that" putting stronger emphasis on the last few syllables.

You can cobimne the list of three with the "opposing position comparison" by comparing position on three things, saving the most emotive for the last comparison. If you can muster any character in your voice while using these techniques then your audience will respond...if they don't, check whether you've accidentally stumbled into a morgue...
Stephen Davey, UK

Eye contact is important with your audience, but if this makes you nervous or uneasy, don't look directly at them, but instead fix your eyes on the back wall a few inches above the head of the person. They think you're looking at them, but you're not actually. Works for me!
Andy, UK

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