Friday, 12 December 2008

In praise of Dr Max

A long, long time ago, I worked for Paddy. I was in my gap year and he was Liberal Education Spokesman. I wanted to work in Parliament for the experience (or, as my mother put it, to do something other than lie in bed seeing as how I had taken a year off) and Olly Grender, who worked for my own MP, Matthew Taylor, managed to get me a place with a really interesting MP (I'm sure she didn't mean it as a dig against MT).

As these things go, halfway through my time there, the merger happened and the new Party was in search of it's first leader. Paddy duly stood and the office expanded rather alarmingly. Having been myself, Alison (now Mrs Adrian Sanders) and a wonderful bloke called Tony who worked for the teaching union AMMA and who did research on the Education Bill, there were now lots of others. These included the late, great Harriet Smith, Tim Clement-Jones, Virginia Morck, Cathy Bakewell - who went on to lead Somerset CC - and several American interns.

Also on the scene, although not in the office, were the two people who helped Paddy with his speeches. They were Liz Lynne - who helped with the vocal side of things - and Max Atkinson. Max is a truly wonderful speechwriter. Not only are his speeches fantastic, but he had a great way of explaining why one thing would work and another wouldn't. He was the exact opposite of the 'because I say so' person who is all too prevalent in politics.

Fast forward a few years and I was asked by a company to present a training course on speechwriting. In the course of bringing together my own thoughts and researching what others had written, I came across Max's book Lend Me Your Ears. It is one of the best guides to how to put together a speech and why some things work and others don't that I have come across. Particularly strong is the section on rhetoric. Max explains that rhetoric is not a dirty word but the science of crafting speeches that appeal to the listener. In ancient greek times, rhetoric was taught as a subject to students (so it really ought to be an -ology). In simple language, it's about how to put together soundbites (except that this too is now a dirty word).

So I would advise any politician, aspiring or existing, to do two things:

First, read Lend Me Your Ears - it's quite cheap and available on Amazon (don't forget to go there via the LD link)

Second, read Max's blog. It's a fascinating dip into the science (and art) of speechwriting and speech making.

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