Tim Farron’s second leader’s speech should be a very different leader’s speech

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron is a great speechmaker. Indeed, for many people in the audience for his last conference speech – his first as party leader – it was the best speech like that which they’d heard.

But the conference speech format not only for Tim Farron but for all British party leaders is old and very traditional. Being daring and modern means showing a video first or sticking a hashtag on the podium where the cameras might sometimes pick it up. In other words, not being very daring or modern.

Even as venerable a tactic as mentioning a web address during a speech to encourage people to donate or join was new back in the last century (see the run-up to the 2000 US Presidential election) and yet is still a rarity here in the UK, in the Liberal Democrats or any other party.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Tim Farron speaking at Liberal Democrat conference

Modern politicians giving contemporary speeches don’t have to be locked into the old-fashioned approach.

Although I’m often a sceptic about saying ‘Oooh, US politics is lovely and shiny – let’s copy that’ (in part due to major legal differences), this is one thing Barack Obama gets right.

Obama’s final State of the Union speech may have been very old and traditional in its immediate format, constrained by venue and tradition, but the overall operation was modern and fully embraced the digital world.

The modernity was based on a simple yet powerful strategy: “At the White House, our digital strategy centers around meeting people where they are. This decentralized approach, in response to the proliferation of social media, aims to provide the American people with a multitude of ways to engage”.

In other words, don’t expect the public to come to you. You go to the public.

So here is what Tim Farron should do differently when he gets up to speak at the Liberal Democrat conference in York (advice applicable to other party leaders too).

First, go where the audience in the hall is during a speech. Sat in front of you but often with eyes down on a tablet or smartphone. Have a schedule of visual content lined up to share in real time across social media channels as the speech unfurls, allowing the audience to show their appreciate with both their applause in the hall and their sharing online.

Second, as in the Lib Dems the leader’s speech closes conference, shortly after the speech finishes most of the audience will be travelling for several hours (or more) back home. So give them something to do.

In this case an interactive version of the speech online which for each key point provides either extra depth and interest (mention the Syrian refugee crisis? link to the video of Tim Farron meeting and helping them) or a simple campaign action (mention housing? give people a petition to sign). And so on.

Third, reach the audience which isn’t in the hall. Hello video. But not just the staid video on YouTube that hardly anyone watches. Live stream with Periscope and follow up with native uploading of the video to Facebook (as native uploading performs far better than links through to videos hosted elsewhere).

Not just video either. Animated gifs too. Animated gifs are the Justin Bieber of digital content. If you are not a Belieber the whole thing may seem atrocious. But if you are, you really love the whole thing. And lots of people do.

Finally, make the speech live on. The best speeches still have an impact long after they have been made – and the very best are still worth a watch or listen decades after. Pitch your plan accordingly and have a fully search engine optimised plan for a long-term home for the speech, the associated assets and a collection of the best social and media reactions.

Now all that is left is the little matter of writing the thing…


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