BRAIN FOOD: Speaking Out - Michael Howard, QC MP, Conservative Party Leader

Once elected nem con leader of the Conservative Party, you have to bash the rubber chicken circuit. Only this time it was turkey, and the audience a group of self-appointed goodfellas - the Saints and Sinners Christmas Dinner. Howard had everything going for him. As he was announced, 400 pairs of male hands came together with a noise that said they were in the presence of a saviour clad in samite.

by Khalid Aziz, chairman of spoken communications specialist The Aziz Corporation -
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

So how did he do? Well, he had a hard act to follow - Dickie Davies, a seasoned hand; Gary Lineker, who knows how to appear indiscreet without risking his Mr Nice Guy image. Howard spoke for just 13 minutes. He realised that people wanted entertainment, not politics. And that's how he started.

String after string of self-deprecating stories warmed him to the audience.

Eleven minutes in, though, the Howard brow furrowed and he looked down and then up. Alas, it was to deliver anodyne stuff about a party/government united to deliver for the nation.

Some in the audience felt short-changed. He should have known that they, the prosperous middle classes, were putty in his hands. He could have delivered something more substantial, something they could have trotted out at dinner parties. But we were still very much in the honeymoon period and the old smoothie got away with it. Next time, though?

Key moment: There wasn't one. To be effective in a top position, you have to give people a special fact or insight that they can retail to friends.

Key lesson: If you're a serious speaker, lighten up, especially after a run of funny speakers.

Silver tongue.

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