Perception – it’s been said – is the only reality.
It’s far less important to the audience what’s happening than what appears to be happening.
If we can keep inside our heads all the things that appear to be going wrong, the audience will follow what they see.
But what happened at the Conservative Party Conference was a string of unrelated incidents which – put together – illustrated a Prime Minister under great strain.
First there was the persistent cough.
That can be caused by feeling under the weather – but can also be caused by tension and nervousness.
I know because I suffered from that at times early in my broadcasting career.
At least Theresa May’s off-the-cuff jokes during her presentation about free sweets from the Chancellor lightened the mood.
Then there was the lettering in the slogan falling down behind her.
It seemed symbolic of a party less than stuck to its task.
But the two most damaging images were related to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
Firstly, the prankster who handed a joke P45 to the Prime Minister – supposedly from Boris.
Then the sight of Boris apparently being reminded by Home Secretary Amber Rudd to stand up to applaud his leader.
Now on the presentation skills courses we run at our Glasgow headquarters we concentrate on how the presenter should react to the adversity they face.
Here’s three of our simple rules that could have helped the Prime Minister:
When you have a cough, put so much enthusiasm into the parts of the presentation unaffected by the cough that they remain long in the memory.
Emphasis, passion and enthusiasm will swamp the minor setbacks in a major speech.
If someone in the audience, a heckler or prankster, attempts to steal the limelight, grab it right back.
You get bonus points for quick-wittedness, but you have you be quick.
When you leave the stage, act as if all went smoothly instead of looking apologetic for the bumpy bits.
That’s again where Theresa May could have done so much better in Manchester.
We tell clients also on our presentation training courses that there are incidents and attitudes.
Incidents – such as the P45 – will happen.
But what attitude will prevail?
What will we say and do next to recover?
If our attitude is right, we consign the incident to a distant memory.
Unfortunately for Theresa May, the incidents may outlive the attitude in our memories.
Bill McFarlan is the Executive Chairman of Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.
You can view his full profile here…
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