Category Archives: Principles


This is the 150th  anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, arguably the most important speech in American history. It is rightly eulogised and numerous writers have examined and extolled its many virtues. One of these is Sam Leith in his entertaining book on rhetoric, “YOU TALKIN’ TO ME?”

gettysburg 2Many of Abraham Lincoln’s skills are not easily acquired or applied in the average business pitch apart from two, both highly practical.

The first is to keep it short.

Lincoln spoke for a little over two minutes, his speech 272 words.

In 1863 people expected lengthy speeches. The speaker, Edward Everett, who preceded him spoke for over two hours .Lincoln defied the protocol of the day, he wanted to make an impact and his words to be listened to. Being brief was a strategy.

Most business pitches if the prospect has allocated, say, 40 minutes take 40 (or probably over-run) minutes, cramming in as much content as they can.  Few take a strategic decision to pitch in half the time, to be more explosive, more surprising and more rewarding for the audience.

Few heed  Shakespeare: “Where words are scarce, they are seldom in vain.” (Richard II )

gETTYSBURG 3The other practical lesson was the trouble he took to check out the venue, for this two minute ‘pitch’.

“The care with which he was thinking in advance is evidenced by the fact that a few days before, he asked the man who landscaped the cemetery to bring him the plans, so he could familiarise himself with the layout of where he’d be speaking.” (Sam Leith)




“There is no such thing as perfection” said Steve Hansen, coach of the All Blacks, the ‘best sports team in the world’. “But that doesn’t mean you stop striving for it.”

steve hansenIn an interview in the Guardian he went on to say: “Our aim as a group of players, coaches and managers, right down to our baggage man, is just to want to be better than we were the week before.”

These deceptively simple words capture what most might aspire to in their own work related performances and they should be the aim in pitching. Continue reading


The Observer today had this headline to an article on its Comment page, “When government propaganda is disguised as fact.” It argued that propaganda is a damaging and divisive tool, referencing  the currrent ‘health tourism’ dispute.

jeremy hunt 2 Last week an official government report announced that the NHS is spending up to £2bn on foreign visitor and short-term migrants with Jeremy Hunt saying we couldn’t afford “an international heath service” with fewer than 50% of ‘chargeable’ foreign nationals. Continue reading


leadlikeants  Leadership, or lack of it, is in the news right now and rhetoric lacking that leadership is less persauasive.

obama 3In America a war-weary public is no longer responding, as many of them did, to his often soaring rhetoric. The reason being they do not see him as a decisive President, one who leads. As Max Hastings writes “His rhetoric remains as impressive as ever, but his conduct of office is hallmarked by weakness and indecision.”  Conversely, while David Cameron demonstrated a specific lack of leadership over his Party when the ‘war’ vote went against him, he is still seen according to the polls as a strong leader. His defiant “I get it ” front foot approach hits the right note.

Britain's Labour party opposition leader Ed Miliband arrives at a polling station in north London

Meanwhile Ed Milliband, who is not without eloquence and subtlety as a politician, has not had the greatest success in taking his ideas to the TUC conference. His argument for a changed relationship, and promises that a Labour Government would stamp out ‘Victorian’ employment practices, failed to sway the Union bruisers.

He did not come across as a strong confrontational leader worthy of their attention. In the latest IPSOS MORI poll  58% rate Cameron as a capable leader and only 28% rate Milliband (same for Farage, ahead of Clegg.) He is seen as less good in a crisis, with less sound judgement, all aspects of leadership.

All this is, of course. a question of perception as it is in the business pitch where leadership is operating on two levels. The first of these is the corporate. No matter how open-minded they aim to be anyone on the recieving end of a pitch will already have an opinion of the company they are seeing.

amazon 1

This will be partly based on facts of market share and business performance but as much on the intangibles of innovative thinking, decisiveness, positive attitude- characterisics of leadership. If you are pitching a company without some level of perceived leadership you are going to have a problem. However, by the time you are invited to do battle you must assume your rivals are as good as you, with similar corporate reputations, or they would not have been short-listed. In other words, in battle parlance, their troops are your equal in numbers and weaponry and disposition.


The winning difference is leadership. In preparation, in the signals of a meeting well managed, with clarity and certainty, but above all in the intangibles of attitude.

Spirit, desire, courage, camaraderie. These are what win battles, hearts and minds.

Shakespeare said it best:

“..But when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood..” Henry V,


It has been a good week for rhetoric. It started with Stephen Fry on BBC Radio 4, with his English Delight series, hosting an entertaining and informative programme under the heading ‘Rhetoric Rehabilitated.’ This reminded us that despite the popular dismissal of rhetoric as political spin, it is in fact alive and well and underpins most persuasive communication, whether we realise it or not.


It has been a good week because several public figures have demonstrated rhetoric at its best, not least of course Martin Luther King in various anniversary programmes. In different ways they have brought to life the art of rhetoric, built around the five canons or parts; invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery. All are as relevant to developing  the political address as they are to the professional business pitch. Continue reading