Here it is. The hardback version of my book on leadership and public speaking. Speeches for Leaders.


As with the earlier ebook edition, this has been published by Diplomatic Courier in Washington, one of the world’s best magazines for diplomats and diplomacy. As a result the book is available via Amazon only in North America for the time being.

However, I now have a goodly supply of copies here in the UK so anyone in the non-North America part of the planet who wants want a copy or a bulk order for learning purposes should get in touch quickly and we’ll sort it out.

The book is an expanded and improved version of the ebook. It includes significant and substantial new passages in many places, not least a full discussion of ‘risk’ in public speaking and speechwriting:

Public speaking for leaders is different. Why? Because it pushes issues of risk and responsibility right to the fore.

When I am asked to coach someone to improve public speaking technique or prepare a significant speech I ask two questions. First:

I’ve watched some of your speeches on YouTube. Do you want me to be honest with you in saying what I think? [They of course answer in the affirmative.]

The second question, much harder than the first, is:

How good do you want to get? Do you want to be the best speaker on the day? Or the best in your organization? Or an industry thought-leader? Or one of the best speakers in the world, a TED Talks star performer?

This second question prompts a long pause. It’s one thing listening privately to someone being honest with you. It’s quite another thing to be honest about yourself.

How far do you really want to stand out from the crowd? What if your close colleagues and best friends start to think you’re showing off? What if you try something new and risky but it fails and leaves you embarrassed? What if you try something risky and it works triumphantly, so that you get offered that top position—are you ready for that new responsibility? These are genuinely difficult questions for anyone. They go right to the heart of a person and his or her private risk-taking instincts, ambitions, and hopes.

Many prominent leaders are risk averse. Did anyone mention Hillary Clinton? They aim patiently to build up a credible public persona that offers as few as possible new areas of attack. A few bland but positive headlines are far better than negative stories and awkward photographs presenting words or gestures in a speech as inappropriate, even if in the room on the day they worked pretty well for the audience concerned.

Let’s look at four speeches that deliberately took risks, and succeeded …

Here are some other ‘soundbites’ by way of a taster:

On tone

Speeches tend to fall flat or even end up being disastrous failures when the speaker misreads the tone of an occasion, causing offense or just sheer bewilderment. The speaker perhaps is trying to be solemn but sounds flippant, attempting to be too serious when the occasion requires light touch, or making an effort to be amusing but fails (e.g., telling smutty or otherwise insensitive jokes at a wedding or funeral) …

On ‘welcoming’ what others do

Loftily “welcoming” what other countries or cultures believe, or are committed to, or see as their ambitions, almost invariably leaves a leader sounding like a benevolent but tedious schoolteacher handing out small candies to children for good work

On speeches at Auschwitz

Leaders: If you’re making a speech at Auschwitz when elderly concentration camp survivors are sitting a few yards away in the icy cold, it’s never about you 

On rehearsing a speech before delivery

She was startled when I said that not only did I not rehearse, I found it hard to imagine how anyone could rehearse. Would orating mightily to oneself in front of the bathroom mirror really help?

On being useless

How to be a poor speaker? Let’s count the ways. Looking uneasy or pompous or disengaged. Having a monotonous delivery. Getting words, tone, voice, and hand gestures slightly out of synch. Getting bogged down in detail. Coming across as someone concerned more with demonstrating iron seniority than with saying something engaging

On business speeches

Political leaders face elections every few years, if they face them at all. Business leaders face elections every day or even every minute: who’s voting for my company’s products by buying them?

On culture

Likewise, in many parts of the world a leader who is verbose or condescending or aloof (or ideally all these at once) is often considered educated. If the audience can’t follow or understand what is being said, that shows just how far above the audience the wise leader soars. The audience is humbly grateful merely to be in the presence of such manifest superiority

On storming out from a gala reception you’re hosting

It sent a baffling message from the minister to the diplomatic corps audience: You’re my official guests on this famous state occasion, but my self-esteem is far more important to me than you are!

On e-heckling

It gets worse. Imagine a woman leader giving a serious, substantive speech about global inequalities but not realising that the screens in the room are carrying a caustic stream of live edemolitions of those very words. The Tweets undermining the leader may be sexist or racist, or sharp and quite funny, or utterly untrue, or all of these and more at the same time in fewer than 140 characters:

HAHAHA hot socialist black babe lectures us on world poverty but wears a FAT ROLEX COSTING $10K!!!!  LOL #hypocrite #stringemup #sexylegs

On clothes

When you start talking, the audience is not interested in your knees or your clothes or hairstyle. However, the audience may become keenly interested in your knees or clothes or hairstyle if you are giving them a dull or silly speech, and their minds start wandering

On using Norwegian proverbs

Blind hǿne kann og finna eit konn. [Even a blind pig may occasionally pick up an acorn.]

On ending with a famous quote

Nowadays an ending of that sort, unless done perfectly, is a lazy cliché. The speaker emits a feeble message: I’m not smart enough to finish with something interesting or original, so I have rummaged in a book of famous quotes and found this …

On jokes

After-dinner speeches need extra humor. In Britain a goodly slice of an after-dinner speech has to be humor, perhaps even with some light risqué innuendo

On Bill Clinton in Sarajevo

Corny? Clichéd? A cynical tugging of heart strings? Oh yes. But on the day there was tumultuous applause, and scarcely a dry eye in the house

On expressing disappointment with someone else’s policies

There is something paternalistic or patronizing about the language of disappointment. It’s the sort of thing a parent or teacher says to a naughty child, or a boss might say to a subordinate. It’s not the way two equal grownups talk to each other. It suggests that the relationship’s expectations are defined by the side expressing the disappointment, not by both parties together. And (worse) it betrays a curious lack of shrewd professional judgment: “I thought that you would be nicer to me than you are!”

And lots lots more where all that comes from.

If you have any interest in or responsibility for any form of leadership or public speaking, you really do need to read this book.If I say so myself, there is nothing else like it in terms of sharp examples and insider insight. Get it here.