Category Archives: Staging


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)




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


As the idiom goes, “Don’t Judge a Book by its Front Cover.” The reality of course is that most of us do just that. The look of the cover alone is a big factor in the buying decision and even influences our enjoyment of the read.


We ‘should’ be judging on intrinsic values such as the writing, the story and the characters but in the main we respond to the visual clues around style, genre and subject. The look alone is a significant communication. It acts powerfully to raise our expectations and to influence our enjoyment, and experience, of the real thing. Continue reading

Please miss, tell us a story, pleeease…


Most failed pitches will share the characteristic of too much content. They fall into the  irresistible trap of more is best, cramming in every salient fact,  compelling case-histories, blinding statistics, unique reasearch findings, unassailable track records, irrefutable claims of superiority and differentiation.

This ignores the simple truth. It’s not what you put in to a pitch that matters. It’s what your audience takes out. At best this will be three or four key messages and an emotional response that will always outweigh the rational one.

storytelling 5  This is where storytelling comes in.  Since that famous time, immemorial, stories or narratives have been shared in every culture. Booker Prize writer, A.S.Bryant: “narration is as much a part of human nature as breath and the circulation of the blood. Indeed as human beings we are all natural storytellers…. some more innately skilled than others, but we all have stories to tell”.


So the moral of this particular tale is to sacrifice some content and tell a story. As long as it has some relevance it can come from personal experience or be a formal case history described anecdotally. Just as they did when children, your audience of hardened business professionals will listen and engage with your story, with their imaginations coming into play. They will remember the stories long after they forget the rest of your important argument.

The other plus side of the story is this. It is much easier in the heat of a pitch to tell a story naturally, and with confidence, than it is to present the compelling arguments.  And the sooner you bring in your stories, the sooner you and your audience will relax.


Build on this confidence by acting the story, as you would for children. Pause for dramatic effect ( the wolf  dressed as grandma), expansive open gestures (the beanstalk reaching the sky)  and smile (the happy ending).  All are aspects of your performance that  can say ‘you are delighted to be here’.

Remember, in any pitch, storytelling is the way to make the emotional connection and that you, the storyteller, are the most important element. It’s all about you and your team.

“Best ever exhibition in Parliament”.

The recent exhibition on Modern Day Slavery deserved a “best ever” accolade for three good reasons. The first of these being  that it  was in was the right place.  After all where else would you be, if you want to reach MPs to alert them to slavery in Britain, than the House where the slave trade was abolished in 1807?  Continue reading