As she reflects on her keynote party conference speech, Prime Minister Theresa May might console herself with the thought that none of what went wrong was actually her fault.
A prankster using her moment for his own ends, a nasty cough, and some letters falling off the wall…she can’t be blamed for any of that, can she?
Actually, I think she can. And here’s why.
Because while she’s giving that speech, she’s disrespecting the audience in the room and trying to manipulate everyone else.
That prankster was only able to hand her a P45 because the space at the front of the stage is given over to media and the team who handle the accreditation didn’t bother checking who he was. Laura Kuenssberg, Buzzfeed, a Blue Peter Press Packer – come on in, we’ll treat you like shit the rest of the time but if you do a piece on this big speech we’ll treat you like royalty. The party – which she leads – bends over backwards to accommodate anyone who might possibly give them any amount of the coverage they crave. And the Tories aren’t alone in this. For as long as I can remember major political party conference speeches have been far less about what goes on in the room and much more about the headlines it all generates on the 10 o’clock news. And so just like Calvin Harris with a pineapple on his head on XFactor, this ‘event’ has become a magnet for anyone who fancies trying to upstage the host.
Those letters on the wall aren’t there for the benefit of the members who attend. They look ridiculous from the back of the room. They exist because May and her team know that their message is so weak and disjointed that they have to hammer it home so that newspapers running pictures of her speaking and TV news channels showing short clips have no choice but to run pictures of her and the key slogan or strap line they want to highlight side by side. What does that say about the quality of her speech – that the key point has to be rammed home in big letters above her head. It makes Blair’s ‘education, education, education’ look inspired. At least he had to remember his line and deliver it with conviction.
And that cough..well, by her own spokesperson’s admission, that’s the risk you take when you give 19 interviews in a couple of days. She should have treated her audience with more respect and saved herself, but no, she wanted the media headlines, she wanted the coverage, she wanted to control the story and manipulate the wider audience to try and save her job.
I can just imagine her. ‘This is my chance to get my message across!’ – you’re leader of the damn country, you should be getting your message across every day of your life. And if you’re not, it’s going to take more than a conference speech to sort things out.
Theresa May deserves all she gets. And Corbyn, Sturgeon, Blair, Brown, Hague, Salmond, Davidson and the rest should count themselves lucky it didn’t happen to them. They’ve all been guilty of using what should be speeches to their party members to compensate for the fact that a chunk of the general population doesn’t like them/understand them/listen to them…whatever.
The first rule of any presentation, any speech…any situation where you have an audience and a message is respect the audience. And for a conference speech, that means the audience right there, in the room.
Put them first and focus on them. Don’t bother about letting all the media in at the front. Forget about the branding and strap lines. Spare us the bright lights and pounding music. Concentrate on the message.
And for God’s sake…demonstrate some leadership.