Everyone must have something special - even the Prime Minister

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The Independent Online
SHORTLY after he became Prime Minister John Major announced that he would never let the image-makers alter him. If by image-making he meant the kind of tinkering that improves your hair and helps you to come across as something other than yourself, he was right. Mr Major badly needs not image-making but straight help with his presentation.

That may seem a strange assertion in the light of Norman Lamont's charge that the Government gives too much attention to short-term presentation at the expense of long-term policy. But presentational skills are just what Mr Major himself needs help with.

So how would a professional presentation trainer help him to improve his personal impact? The first message would be entirely affirming. It is all right to be yourself. Given previous 'adjustments' achieved with some of his predecessors, Mr Major is wise to be cautious about training in presentation. But such training focuses on identifying what you possess that is unique. Everyone has something special which makes them potentially attractive to an audience - you just have to find it and maximise its use. Mr Major appears to fear letting his true spontaneity shine through. This is absolutely suitable for professional help.

Mr Major's strangulated voice is something else he could easily improve. When he is relaxed he has quite a pleasant voice. It comes from not realising where the tension in his body is going or knowing quite what to do about it. Guidance on breathing exercises and coaching on leaving more space in delivery of words would work wonders for his gravitas.

He could also curb his repetitious style. Politicians are wedded to repetition as a means of getting their messages across. But there is a difference between saying the same thing in half a dozen different ways and saying it several times in identical words. Major needs to learn the full-stop principle: say what you have to say, then, full stop. The impact is not necessarily increased through exact, and usually stilted, repetition. It is easier to gain effect through adding variety. That needs practice and help.

The Prime Minister might also be encouraged to understand the difference between the literary and the speaking style. The second is what he should be aiming for, yet he often uses certain expressions exactly as they are written - 'it is' rather than 'it's' or 'that is' instead of 'that's'. By modifying his approach he could actually achieve a more natural delivery.

Mr Major also has yet to learn the importance of paying close attention to your audience, rather than to yourself. He remains highly self-conscious when responding to attacks in the Commons. He jumps up like a jack-in-a-box, plunges straight into his answers, making no attempt to engage his audience.

Kenneth Clarke, in contrast, seldom hides behind notes, looks straight at the audience, and seems to defy one not to listen to him. He is using not a special Clarke method, but an approach that anyone can learn to adapt to their advantage.

Mr Major has yet to tap into his power to demand a hearing on his own terms. He does not need to hurry, he can afford to pause before starting to speak, and he has the right to look around and engage his audience. Even a limited attempt to acknowledge other people would be an improvement.

Nearly everyone can learn to increase their personal impact, and Mr Major is no exception. For the moment his job is secure, but perhaps not for long. Like millions of others he may soon be job hunting, which could mean going for an important interview, where even how you enter the room can make the difference between success and failure.

The writers are authors of 'The Perfect Presentation', published by Century Business; and run Maynard Leigh Associates, a presentation skills training company.

(Photograph omitted)