Here’s how Ed can improve his speeches

Everyone has a view on how Ed is doing but there hasn't been much analysis of his actual speeches. There’s no question he can be a great speaker but...

Asher Dresner is an independent speechwriter; his MA was in Political Communications, with a dissertation on leaders’ party conference speeches over the last 30 years

Everyone has a view on how well Ed Miliband is doing so far. But I haven’t seen much analysis of his actual speeches. There’s no question he can be a great speaker; if you’ve seen the video of his speech at his old school you would know that. But he could be better. The speechwriting literature is full of insights which he could use.

For example, neuroscientists have shown that people make most of their political decisions based on their emotions. Brain scans show that when people make political choices, it’s the parts of the brain which regulate emotion which light up, not the rational part.

That means that to be good, a political speech has to have some emotional resonance. Ed’s speech earlier today at the Royal Festival Hall missed some good opportunities to do that.

In this post, I’ve just picked three ways he could have improved it: more pictures, fewer points, and a story structure.

1. More pictures

To get an emotional reaction, you need to explain things in terms of sensory information. I could talk about poverty by telling you that 2.6 million children lived below the poverty line in 2009. Or I could talk about the disgusting smell of urine in the lifts that the landlord won’t fix, or seeing your block blackened by fire damage, just because the housing association wouldn’t stump up for an alarm that actually works.

Ed missed some clear chances to ‘paint some pictures’.

Here’s what he said:

“Hundreds of millions of pounds, which should be being used for patient care, is being wasted on handing out redundancy notices to staff from primary care trusts who may well have to be re-hired.”

But he could have said this:

“Tomorrow, someone in Britain is going to be told that they have diabetes. They’re going to be told that the NHS can’t afford as many diabetic specialist nurses as it needs any more. And they are going to have a doctor look them in the eyes and tell them that the lack of diabetic specialist nurses means that the very worst case scenario – amputation – is more likely.

“And all this because this government would rather spend money firing staff than training diabetic specialist nurses. Staff who, by the way, will probably only have to be re-hired under the new system.

“I’m sorry, but that is wrong.”

2. Fewer points

In a recent book, two experts researched why some ideas stick with you, and others don’t.

Here’s a memorable snippet:

“A successful defence lawyer says; “If you argue ten points, even if each is a good point, when they get back to the jury room they won’t remember any.”

Ed’s Festival Hall speech made so many points, that it ran the risk of diverting the listeners’ focus from the main point of the speech.

Fixing this is pretty easy: he just has to focus down on one or two central ideas per speech. Even if that feels like he’s not saying enough, people will hear more.

3. Story structures

I think the central bit of the speech was about care homes. That’s an emotive subject for many people. But to tap into those feelings, you need to shape the comments into a story structure.

You could start by painting a picture of ordinary people who just wanted their mums and dads to be well cared-for in their homes. You then move on to say that that is what the care home company had traditionally provided: a good hot meal, someone there to help if grandpa had another fall, or if grandma was cold at night and needed someone to get another blanket.

You then describe how the company sold out to a private equity firm, which started gambling with the firm’s assets, and left the company where it is today: in trouble.

He might have said:

“And today, in 2011, in Britain, the sixth richest country in the world, ordinary grandmas and grandpas might have to be kicked out of the care homes in which they put their trust.”

Only then should Ed have introduced the points about how he was going to stand up for these people, how he was going to fight their corner.

By giving the event a story structure, you give it much more emotional resonance.

Many great politicians come to be defined by their speeches, and many of these speeches have been at party conference:

• “The lady’s not for turning”;

• “The white heat of technology”;

• “Fight, and fight, and fight again, to save the party we love”…

It’s also worth remembering that many came to be good speakers only through hours of practice, thanks to coaching, and with the help of good speechwriters. Chances are that at the coming party conference, one of Ed’s phrases will define him in the popular imagination for a generation. Let’s hope it’s a good one.

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30 Responses to “Here’s how Ed can improve his speeches”

  1. Cllr Mark Bennett

    Here’s how @Ed_Miliband can improve his speeches: by @AsherDresner

  2. Simon Francis

    Excellent article. RT @leftfootfwd: Here’s how @Ed_Miliband can improve his speeches by @AsherDresner

  3. Alan Simpson

    Somone give this man the job now: RT @leftfootfwd: Here’s how Ed can improve his speeches

  4. neilrfoster

    Interesting advice from @AsherDresner on political speeches – all communicators could learn from these points

  5. Natan Doron

    Brilliant piece of work from @asherdresner about how @Ed_Miliband can do even better with his speeches via @leftfootfwd

  6. jonomarcus

    Written by my 2nd cousin @asherdresner for Ed Miliband, but great advice for all speechmakers / marketeers

  7. Optimismsaturation

    Seriously, is this some kind of joke?

    Is this really what politics has become now?

    A MA in Political Communications and a few pointers on how to talk like a management consultant?

    Apparently the electorate isn’t made up of rational people to be engaged with your political vision. It’s just a bunch of morons who need to be handled by well-briefed experts.

  8. Alex

    What a bizarre comment from Optimismsaturation. Surely the whole point of this article is that he needs to speak *less* like a management consultant?

  9. Anon E Mouse

    Perhaps if this tax avoiding millionaire toff who hasn’t done a single days work in his life didn’t make speeches where he compared stopping some necessary government cuts in such hysterical tones he might be taken more seriously. At the TUC march he said:

    “The cause may be different but in coming together today to realise our voice, we are standing on the shoulders of those who have marched and struggled for great causes in the past.”

    The great cause?

    To appease his union dinosaur paymasters – the only branch of the Labour Party that actually voted for his election as leader.

    Miliband needs to be ditched by Labour and the only speech he should be giving is regarding his immediate departure and an apology for leaving no opposition and the party in such a terrible state.

    He has left Labour tanking in the polls and the party suffering it’s second worst election defeat last year under the manifesto he personally wrote. After losing so badly in Scotland and being unable to win outright in Wales there can be no valid reason to keep this hapless schoolboy leading a once proud political party.

    The man’s a dud and the sooner he’s gone the sooner this country can get an official opposition capable of challenging this government.

  10. Ed's Talking Balls

    The least popular Miliband in the Labour Party could take some pointers off his mentor Neil Kinnock. He knew how to win an election.

    ‘Well alright!’

  11. Ralph Baldwin

    I think I can do better 😉

  12. sunny hundal

    This is spot on LLF: "Here’s how @Ed_Miliband can improve his speeches" –

  13. Matthew Rhodes

    RT @sunny_hundal: This is spot on LLF: "Here’s how @Ed_Miliband can improve his speeches" – > gd constructive criticism

  14. Owen Jones

    Interesting piece by friend @asherdresner on Ed M and communication (tho I'd always argue 'it's the policies, stupid')

  15. Max Atkinson

    I’ve already offered him three free tips: (1) (2) (3) but don’t know whether he’s taken any notice of them yet!

  16. clark

    david milliband would of had cameron on the ropes by now and preparing to deliver the knock-out blow!!

    Times up are leading our party in to the wilderness where we will likely bump in to kinnock!!

  17. Kevin leonard

    The only speech I am interested in listening to from this muppet is the one where he resigns to allow a grown up to take charge.

  18. Jamie Wright

    Interesting piece by friend @asherdresner on Ed M and communication (tho I'd always argue 'it's the policies, stupid')

  19. mr. Sensible

    Mr Mouse I’m afraid that’s beginning to get a bit dated.

  20. Jezz

    I think that his ‘phrases (that) will define him in the popular imagination for a generation’, could well be a ‘quiet man is here to stay and TURNING UP THE VOLUME’ sort of toe curler. Ed is a lovely man, passionate in all the right ways but his oratory can not be rescued from the orator. Even if Asher’s excellent advice is followed.

  21. Shaun Harley

    Here’s how Ed can improve his speeches #in

  22. dm

    Here’s how @Ed_Miliband can improve his speeches: by @AsherDresner

  23. Anon E Mouse

    Mr.Sensible – Being dated doesn’t mean it’s not true…

  24. Selohesra

    Seiously though Ed could improve his speeches by actually having something to say – whilst his policies are still just a blank sheet of paper no-one has any reason to listen to him. He has got things the wrong way round – firstly he needs to decide what he believes in and only then try and pursuade the country that these ideas are what the country needs.

  25. Gareth Jones How to improve your speeches #publicspeaking

  26. Jon

    This is the worst political advice I’ve seen in my life. Mr Dresner’s comments achieve the impossible – they make Ed Miliband’s speech worse. Do people really pay this man to write their speeches? If so, who? I think we should be told.

  27. SlideShare

    Here’s how Ed Miliband can improve his speeches @leftfootfwd

  28. SuritDas

    Here’s how Ed can improve his speeches

  29. Oliver Woods

    Great advice from @leftfootfwd for political leaders (& UK Labour's Milliband) on how to improve their speeches

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