Tony Abbott Could Be A Better Presenter If He Fixed 3 Habits
It might be too late but, just in case he emerges today (Monday, 9 February) as a continuing prime minister, here are three things Mr Abbott should fix about the way he talks to an audience.
I know that he’s well regarded up close … people like him. And, at that range, so they should; he’s a thoroughly decent man. But his public image is the one that hurts him. Many commentators exist who are far more qualified than I to talk about his political stumbles (a knighthood for Prince Phillip???), so, as a presentation skills advisor, I’ll concentrate on what I see as damaging in how he presents.
1. Mr Abbott should know when to reflect the spirit of a question. At his speech to the National Press Club last week, he took his first question from the ABC’s Chris Uhlmann. Chris asked, “You were trained by the Jesuits, so you would be familiar with a particular examine. So, in good conscience, are you the best person to lead this government and prosecute its agenda? And have you considered resigning?”
Mr Abbott started well enough; in fact, he started very well. His answer was, “Yes and no.”
Better would have been, “Yes! No!”
I cannot find the reference, but I recall many years ago that Sir Robert Menzies (who was known as a brilliant speaker – simply brilliant), to a particularly long-winded question, replied in like fashion to great effect. He said no more than three words.
Mr Uhlmann’s question was polite, but sharp and to the point. Had he chosen, Mr Abbott could have just as politely and just as pointedly uttered those two words to confirm a moment of certainty. Surrounded by silence (verbal white space) the words would have stood proud.
Instead, he chose to add another 163 tortuously delivered words.
A winning moment was lost.
2. Mr Abbott should stop repeating complete sentences. From #1, part of Mr Abbott’s reply was to say, “… we were elected in 2013 because the Australian people rejected chaos … because the Australian people rejected chaos … and we are not going to take them back to that chaos. We really are not going to take them back to that chaos.”
He repeated two different sentences on the trot just above, i.e. “… the Australian people rejected chaos …” and “… are not going to take them back to that chaos.”
There are two problems with the way he repeats sentences. They are:
i. He tends to repeat the line exactly the same way he uttered it the first time – the same speed, the same emphasis, the same tone of voice. The lack of vocal variety causes us to mentally suggest to ourselves, “Yes. Yes. We’ve heard that. What’s next?” and
ii. The lack of variety, too, does not reflect how we speak to one another, i.e. verbal language as opposed to written language. How Mr Abbott repeats rather feels like he’s reciting words from an essay. Not good! Here’s how we could freshen – say – the second example (the line first), “We really are not going to take them back to that chaos.” Now, the back-up, “We’re not going there. Chaos belongs to the Labor Party; not to us. Australians want steadiness. We can provide it.”
There’s more energy in that back-up, too.
3. Use shorter sentences. This follows on from sub-para ii (above): Mr Abbott’s final question came from Paul Osborne from AAP who asked him about child-care payments.
He replied, “Now, what we have in mind will be very much based on the work of the Productivity Commission and the recommendations that the Productivity Commission has made, and Scott Morrison, the Minister for Social Services, is about to engage on a detailed process of consultation, on a detail piece of work and within the next couple of months you will see the result, but what we are determined to ensure is that we have a more productive economy, we have more fulfilled people, we are better and more prosperous families.”
Work that one out. I can get six complete sentences from that 90 word piece all of which would increase both interest and understanding immediately.
Presenting well requires technique. All three instances are simply that
Until next time.
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