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Corbyn And May: Communication Top Trumps

14/06/2017 12:03 | Updated 16 June 2017

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So the votes are counted and the results are in. Corbyn and May have been dissected by sharper minds than ours. We're not political here at Great Speech Writing. But we're endlessly fascinated by political narrative and dialogue.

Over six weeks of campaigning, barring one rather high-profile U-turn, the parties remained consistent in terms of policy. So what changed? How did the rank outsider, who the Prime Minister planned to extinguish entirely, end up winning more seats and votes than Gordon Brown (and Tony Blair in 2001)? In our view, the answer is simple: Communication.

Every speech we write and review works from a very simple philosophy: Make the content relevant and clear. Deliver it with energy and impact. And those four criteria explain in an instant why the fortunes of the two main protagonists took such different campaign journeys.

Relevance
Means understanding your audience and talking to them in their own language. Corbyn knew who he was talking to. He focused on them. He understood them and rallied them. Young people flocked to the polling stations and turned the map red in unexpected places. May seemed less sure. She seems to have targeted those who had previously voted UKIP, but failed. Her language was distant and Presidential. The constant use of the word 'I' grated. Great speakers (Obama, Clinton and Aung San Suu Kyi) are empathetic. May was not.

Clarity
The Prime Minister's message was incredibly clear. 'Strong and Stable' has become the punchline to a thousand jokes. But there is no point talking the talk if you can't back it up. A simple, clear message becomes a millstone if the speaker constantly contradicts it. Her policy U-turn, her absence from the debates, the perception that she was removed from her own public, gave a very different impression. 'For the many not the few' was equally clear. But Corbyn stuck to his guns. His speeches were made in front of many, not just those invited to attend. After much deliberation he made the wise decision to attend the live televised debates. And spoke to the many. Two clear messages - one leader who followed through.

Energy
What is energy? It's not all about arm waving and shouting. This is politics, not pop. And yet we want our leaders to bring a room to life. To convince us with their passion and enthusiasm. To use language in a way that makes us believe - or at least question our own instincts. Corbyn became increasingly energetic. His tone became more forceful and confident. He dressed a little sharper. He held himself with more gravitas. May was grey. In every sense. Monotone, repetitive, uninspiring. Her voice became increasingly strained under pressure. The eyes looked heavier. The words appeared tied to a script. And at crucial moments, when the country was watching, she disappeared entirely.

Impact
When we first speak to a client, we ask how they want to be remembered. If a member of their audience was asked the following morning what they remembered about their speech, what would it be? Understanding that enables you to create impact. Corbyn's election campaign will be remembered as one based on a firm set of principles, articulated consistently and clearly, and in language that his target audience 'got'. Forget the policies; the politician became increasingly articulate and clear. May's was less clear. Shrouded in sound bites and focus-group cliché. Ultimately, she asked us to vote for her rather than her party. And the election result is the clearest mark of the impact she made.

PS
There was a female Tory leader who ticked all these boxes and whose Top Trump ratings make hers the most popular card in the playground. What odds Prime Minister Ruth Davidson at some point soon? In the meantime, the Corbyn and May show seems set to continue.

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