Michael Gove’s first public speech – 3 Lessons

Michael Gove, the newly appointed Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, gave his first public speech at the Legatum Institute in London last month and if you’re about to give an important speech yourself it’s worth learning from Mr Grove exactly what not to do.

Whether you’re the CEO, a senior Politician or a project manager, giving your first public speech is not for the feint-hearted and will always present a formidable challenge. Whenever anyone speaks in public it’s a given that their absolute priority is to look good, speak with impact and make a memorable connection with their audience.

When you do so for the first time the stakes always feel really high.

It’s worth keeping in mind that this may have been his first public speech in his new role but he is of course no stranger to public speaking and his many years of experience should have taught him by now to at least focus on the following 3 key areas.

1. The opening

Beginning with a rather meek and subservient thank you to the Legatum Institute Mr Gove then spent his first 60 seconds acknowledging the ‘fantastic work’ and ‘inspirational’ leadership of the Institute.

Ordinarily that would be considered a wise start when trying to instantly gain rapport and ally with a prestigious organisation. That said, the learning point for all of us is that the first 60 seconds are crucial in gaining attention and arousing interest and curiosity and so we have to make every one of them count.
Beginning with a few customary compliments and a thank you is all well and good but it needs to be given with energy and passion which certainly wasn’t evident in this case.

As you will see the attention grabber in this speech was:

“I’m here today to talk about how we can make the justice system work for everyone in this country”.

Again that sounds reasonable but for me it wasn’t sufficient to get my attention as I had assumed that justice system already works for everyone in this country. Of course those at the Legatum Institute listening to him probably knew differently but even so I’m sure it’s a line they have heard hundreds of times before.

He then proceeded to list his objectives under the government’s reform agenda.

Another way

If I were coaching Mr Gove for his first public opening in his new role I would have encouraged him to make the traditional thank you and compliments secondary and to have reached for a more compelling opening. What he did was fine of course, however it was traditional, predictable and boring.

A suggestion would be to make a provocative statement telling the audience why he believed the justice system wasn’t working for everyone in this country. Alternatively, at least something a little more creative and compelling.

I’d also get him to work on his vocal variety, pitch, tone and volume.

2. The message

It’s really challenging to speak for 30 minutes without the use of visual aids or notes but nevertheless it’s a challenge all speakers need to face and live up to if that’s the position they find themselves in.

It doesn’t matter how clear, powerful or insightful your message is if all you are going to do is read a script and look up occasionally to see if your audience is still there. You may as well just sent them the script and schedule a Q & A for later once they have read it.

It doesn’t matter who you are, it really is inexcusable to read a script whilst clasping a lectern in the year 2015, especially if you never make any genuine eye contact.

Another way

Craft your speech yourself and practice it until you understand and believe every word you have to say. When you think you’ve practiced enough then do so again. No audience wants to see a speaker hide behind a lectern reading a script; it stifles energy, eye contact and engagement.

If it’s within your gift, get rid of the lectern too.

Ditch the script and use note cards with your key messages highlighted if you have to, but a speech should be about you and your message, not you reading to your audience.

3. Make it memorable

When you have the platform entirely to yourself and are speaking non-stop for 25 minutes as Mr Gove was, there is only so much your audience will remember when you finish speaking. In this case, as you will see, he spoke very articulately and intelligently making point after point for the full 25 minutes but I had no idea what he really wanted his audience to remember or how he wanted to leave them feeling.

After just 10 minutes of listening to his monotone delivery without a solitary meaningful pause to emphasise his point and allow his audience to absorb his message I found myself wanting to hit pause and head off to cut the grass.

Another way

If I were coaching Mr Gove I would have respectfully suggested to him that he should attain far greater clarity on his key message that he wanted to get his audience to remember and how he wanted them to feel. That could have been achieved by cutting his speech in half, focusing on his core message and supporting points with emphasis and injecting some personality into his words.

Most importantly I would have encouraged him to take a break every now and then and to simply pause.

In conclusion, Mr Gove certainly isn’t a bad speaker, he is just like a lot of professionals we see every week who spend a great deal of time crafting the written word and losing the impact of the spoken word by reading.

It’s easy for anyone to critique another speaker’s public performance as I’m sure Mr Gove would be able to do so with me. However, it seems that whoever we are there is always something to learn.

If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and presentation coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.

Image courtesy of: Flickr.com

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