Speaking Out - Alastair Campbell

The former Downing Street director of communications and strategy has certainly written a speech or two, but can he deliver one?

by Khalid Aziz
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

He has certainly written a speech or two, but can he deliver one? Alastair Campbell, bete noire of, well, just about everyone, stood before several hundred delegates at the Marketing Society's annual conference to speak on 24-hour media and the elements essential for a consistent communications strategy. He started well. He had us rolling in the aisles with a string of self-deprecatory jokes: 'My kids used to ask: "When is Daddy coming home?". Since I left Downing Street, they ask: "When is Daddy getting up?".' A life guru suggested he do a washing machine ad: 'I've given up bad spin for good spin.' We were in for an entertaining time.Or so I thought, until Campbell dropped his head and went on-script.

You could feel the energised post-lunch audience losing their oomph. He writes well, but has obviously never mastered writing 'speak speak'. His sentences were too long and complex.

His central thrust was that Britain was being crippled by a cynical press that failed to celebrate world-beating 'brands', from Shakespeare to JK Rowling. The press was worst when it dealt with politicians - though they share much in common - with both institutions facing a crisis of trust.

Although we had to listen hard, he did keep his audience with him, but only just. Campbell could be in great demand as a speaker, but he needs to polish his act. Hope this isn't too cynical for him!

Key moment: When a mugging victim realised who his rescuer was, he apparently said: 'Are you Alastair Campbell? I f***ing hate you!'

Key lesson: If you can communicate ad lib, throw away the script.

Silver tongue or foot in mouth? Silver tongue.

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