Huffpost UK Politics uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Bruce Daisley Headshot

Boris Shows Us That With Communication, Tone Wins It

Posted: Updated:

It's a well established tradition that every working Brit has been on a course that told them that the most important part of communication is given off by our bodies. We're told something like "184.5% of the message is body language". Normally by a tired looking trainer whose own body language reeks of a broken soul wittering the same words for the thousandth time.

Aside from the fact that the source material for this assertion doesn't actually stand up to any scrutiny, this fact is evidently not the case.

The last month has witnessed two remarkably different public reactions to political figures. George Osborne's medal giving appearance at the Paralympics was greeted with such voluminous booing that the din was only marginally less than that the record levels celebrating the heroics of Usain Bolt and co. Complaints were received from residents on the Essex coast. If politics truly is "celebrity for ugly people" then George must have felt like a villainous evictee from the Celebrity Big Brother house.

Just a week or so later Boris Johnson stood on the Mall and bid a passionate farewell to the London Games. While I've seen American friends, do it this was the first speech by a politician that I've seen Brits post on Facebook.

What was the difference? Well tone wins the day. Yes, Boris has a delicious mastery of the English language. His previous evocation of female Volleyball players at Horseguards Parade "glistening like wet otters" was playfully vivid without being lascivious. Clearly spending the national debt of a Baltic State on your education pays a handsome dividend.

But it's not Boris's words alone that make the difference. Put that speech into the hands of the enviously watching David Cameron and it would have perished in the September sunshine. Boris knows that to be a Tory politician cheered everywhere he goes he needs to be authentic and conversational. This is a man who went to one of the most elite schools in Britain. But he doesn't hide it. He has a astonishingly patrician name. But unlike Gideon Osborne he didn't change it. He delivers lines about medal success leading to amorous celebration which sit squarely in the "dad joke" file, but we find ourselves roaring our approval.

Real and honest works. And to be truthful maybe it has taken the deconstruction of Britishness that Danny Boyle delivered to remind us but without one part humour to what we do it simply isn't British. We just don't really trust anyone who is taking life too seriously. Boris does this brilliantly. He projects a constant sense of suppressed mirth. We Brits warm to it. He's hopelessly, spectacularly bumbling and we welcome it like Trigger from Only Fools and Horses standing up to lead us.

A PR consultant told me during the Murdoch appearances at Leveson "It's not remotely what he says, all viewers will notice is the tone he says it in".

It's not dissimilar to the tone that brands adopt in advertising. O2 were rightly heralded this summer for dealing with a network outage with humility and a human tone. Their self-deprecating tweeted responses to terse customer frustration illuminated the human at the heart of every interaction. One fascinating part of the event was watching the reaction from other companies. One rival mobile network executive told me "we could never do that, our brand has a more serious tone". Sure enough, when deciding your tone there's a balance to be struck. Being real without being frivolous. Being amusing without being pantomime. But the right tone that connects with Brits may not be the corporate, august style of days gone by.

It's the biggest challenge facing communications today. How does a brand bring warmth, humour and humility into its tone. How do *you* channel the Boris factor?