With the Labour Leadership contest hotting up with as many surprises, plot changes and startling character developments as a heart-thudding novel, we thought it was time to put the spotlight on the four contenders to see what’s great and not so great about their skills as communicators.
The bookies favourite before the onset of ‘Corbynmania’, Burnham is perhaps the most polished and credible candidate for PM. However, while he has some real communication strengths; he is confident, articulate and energised, he is often accused of being too polished. When he speaks, it seems like he is speaking a carefully crafted script, which contrasts to the raw and bristling energy of Corbyn. One imagines a team of spin-doctors pontificating about the perfect word and phrase, as he spins off a clever line in which the alliteration overrides the sentiment.
Fundamentally, what Burnham lacks as a communicator is what we at LSW hold so dear, Authenticity. Andy’s sloping results in the polls is likely due to a lack of this first principle, and the more he spins, the less authentic he seems.
If one is truly passionate and connected to what they are saying, it is reflected in the body, the hands, the eyes and even the eyebrows. In fact, our eyebrows are really big clues, as they tend to dance along to the tune of our emotions. A clue to Andy’s inauthenticity, is that while he delivers some very complex and well crafted phrases, his eyes will be hooded and his eye brows still, indicating a lack of connection with his words.
He could take a leaf out of some of Obama’s early rhetoric, the simplicity of ‘yes we can’ is a sure indicator that simplicity can be more powerful than a sophisticated one liner. Powerful, clear and polished he may be, but simpler speeches with less spin and more heart, would work in his favour.
Perhaps the most surprising front runner in recent political history, the bookies new favourite and the champion of left, oozes passion and authenticity in every facet of his speech. He has the compelling characteristic of a politician with fire in his belly, something that so many of his parliamentary colleagues appear to lack. There’s a dynamic and intelligent quality to his speech and his body engages naturally, with gestures and facial expressions backing up his passion.
However, despite all this energy and authenticity, he lacks a little in regards to connection with his audience. His energy pours out of him, but isn’t placed with precision at his target. We see this by the speed of his talking, and his somewhat busy non verbal communication. He talks very fast, his gestures are animated, but it can feel like there is a lack of control, and intention. As if his energy lacks a destination point. One can see him being incredibly effective in a small room, in fact, he would hold his audience entranced as his energy bounces off walls and back again, however, in a much bigger audience, thousands lets say, he could get lost because of the lack of clear intention. Our advice to him would be to place his ideas with the same passion but increased clarity into the audience, using pauses, gesture and eye contact.
Yvette Cooper’s presentation of herself as a communicator creates the effect, planned or not, of smarts with heart. In other words, she has the authentic piece down, she seems to really care, both about what she is saying and about her audience. And she delivers it well. As a communicator, she is a firm favourite in the LSW office. How does she do this?
The smarts—the articulation of her thinking is clear and crisp, her delivery is consistent and full of dynamic energy, and she really seems to place her ideas with clear intention to her target. She uses her voice and her eyes to do this. Her voice is firm, clear and full of energy, but not flying about energy, contained, dynamic and focused energy. All of this is hinting towards a well ordered mind. She also communicates with an air of discovery – as if she is discovering her ideas as she goes along and then presenting them with digestible clarity to the listener.
The hearts—Cooper uses a number of communication skills to demonstrate that she really cares about what she is saying. Unlike Corbyn, she moves at a pace that is very much in line with her audience, making sure ideas are delivered and moving on, rather than storming in a blaze of passion and hoping people can keep up. She uses her eyes to really build on that connection, showing empathy and compassion in her face. Rather brilliantly, she will often take a moment before she speaks, to connect with her audience, which, although it may be no longer than a second, sends a powerful message that this talk is for them, and to them.
Yvette uses her eyes, her pausing, her vocal tone, to communicate a message of compassion and connection. This is brilliant for communication, but does she have the power and presence to be prime minister? Cooper’s softer touch hints at her aptness for many of her previous ministerial roles. She is smart, and good with people. Her real challenge will be to extend her warm energy to be bigger, grander, so that all those she communicates feel not only the depth of her empathy but also her strength.
Liz Kendall possesses many of the tenants of good communication—passionate, intelligent, she connects with her audience through emotion and delivers her ideas using strong eye contact.
However, subtle parts of her presentation can have a slightly adverse affect for her. For example, she has a tendency to cover her neck with her chin—making her energy as a communicator smaller, more confined.
In contrast to Cooper, Kendall relies too heavily on the heart without acknowledging the heady, weighty stuff too. She plays small, and while this is intimate, it feels more like a sweet and very passionate teacher than it does a potential prime minister. Her stories although honest and authentic, are small, and lacked substance. This plus a small body language, her tucked in chin, her eyes looking slightly down, meant she lacked presence on the stage.
For Liz to step up, she needs to keep hold of her caring side whilst breaking into a bigger physical space, and use her body, her posture, and her tone to open up and be more dynamic and energised.
So we have four interesting contenders all of whom bring different qualities to the table. Perhaps they give us the opportunity to pause and reflect on what we really look for in a leader. Is it the polish and range of Burnham, the sizzling passion of Corbyn, the gentle caring of Kendall, or the brain and compassion of Cooper? Or some kind of combination of the above? As we watch this play out, we shall see who steps up and who steps down in the next few days.