AS Britain's top politicians gear up for the forthcoming General Election, their public-speaking skills will be pushed to the very limits as they try to persuade voters with their velvet-toned rhetoric and grand gestures. Frank Elson takes a look at the art of public speaking.

WHEN party leaders visit Bolton in support of their candidates they will not be relying on natural talents - they will have been very carefully coached.

Robin Chandler, partner at Impact Factory, a professional and personal development company specialising in tailor-made public speaking and communications said it was not necessarily what the politicians said, but how they said it that would win the votes.

He said: "Every trick people use when they are preparing to speak in public is tied up with sound bites, gestures, tone of voice and focusing on grabbing people's attention rather than giving them information.

"Tony Blair for example uses a certain 'look' when he pauses in speaking, which acts as a stopper and gives you a poke to make you wake up and listen."

Another great technique, according to Chandler, is to ask rhetorical questions during your speech to make sure that your message is communicated as clearly as possible.

"For example, 'So, why are we doing this? I'll tell you why', which has challenge in it as well as a question," he explains.

When planning your speech - whether it is a Best Man speech or a work presentation - you also should be looking to use gestures which you know are your own, he says.

"The only decision you have to make is whether to make the gestures big or small, and it is important for people to remember that they don't have to learn new stuff.

"If you want to really affect people, work out what your natural style is and then alter it slightly - so if you're a chatty, smiley person then take your smile away, become less chatty and slightly monosyllabic at certain points, and that 'No More Mr nice Guy' approach really grabs people's attention.

"The most important thing to remember is that repetition is death in terms of public speaking, Repetition of a gesture is guaranteed to upset people and repetition of vocal tone will make your audience fall asleep.

"If you do something that others can actually see you doing, they will no longer listen to you or take you seriously, but if it just stays below the level of their conscious awareness, then it works."

Politicians tend to talk a lot about being on or off message, and Chandler says deciding on your own message is vital - something that many amateur public speakers overlook.

"Decide exactly what you want them to be thinking and saying when you stop speaking."

You should never attempt the use of humour if you are usually a stoical, un-smiling person, Chandler adds: "If you need to inject some humour bring someone else on who can make people laugh - there is no shame in just bussing them in."


Move around:

Do not get stuck in one place - there is nothing worse than seeing somebody rooted to the spot with terror

Get territorial:

If you simply take something with you, such as notes or a glass of water, and put it down somewhere it demonstrates that you occupy the space and it is yours

It also gives your body something else to do - when standing on a stage often people suddenly become super self-conscious and find they have hands on the end of their arms which they have no idea where they came from

Bend your body:

One of the most important ways to relax is to bend in the middle of your body beforehand - what this does is release the muscles around your midriff and lower back, which are the ones that are stuck. You will physically loosen up and you will be off and running

Stand off to one side:

Never go centre stage - you will be in trouble as everyone will look at you and you will feel like a rabbit in the headlights

Concentrate on your opening and closing:

Do not over-rehearse but do make sure you get your opening and closing right - this will make a lasting impression on people and ensure that you do not just dribble off at the end

Say thank you and take a bow:

Whether you think you have done well or badly, always take a bow and say thank you - you can actually fool people into thinking you have done better than you have by doing a good walk-down

Always test out technical equipment beforehand - for obvious reasons