public speaking techniques - david cameron

Political Public Speaking Techniques – Secrets To David Cameron’s Speech Uncovered

There’s a lot to be learned from studying political public speaking techniques. Here we take a closer look at a speech by then British Conservative Party leader David Cameron at the Conservative Party Conference in October 2009.

By Olivia MacDonnell, ConfidentSpeak

political public speaking techniquesDavid Cameron’s pitch at the Conservative Party Conference of 2009 was “high on rhetoric, scarce on policy”, or so the critics said.

But I’m not so interested in the policy of the politics. I study politicians for their communications techniques.

And I believe that as a piece of communication, Cameron’s 2009 speech, or several elements of it at least, certainly worked for me.

When it comes to political public speaking, here’s the thing.

There is a formula that Cameron and many other politicians use.

Therefore I thought it would be useful to share ten public speaking techniques Cameron used in this 2009 speech to enhance the success of imparting his message to his audience.


1. The Three-Point List

By structuring his messages into three-point lists he strengthens and amplifies his message.

A three-point list gives the audience time to recognise and react appropriately.

An audience can easily remember lists of three hence there are many three-point statements throughout the speech. Listen, for example, to his use of “family, community, country”.

(Barack Obama was another famous exponent of the three-point list technique.)

2. His Use of Contrast

By using contrast in public speaking, it provides a puzzle and it arouses curiosity. As such it opens the way for a punch line.

For example:

We all know how bad things are, massive debt, social breakdown, political disenchantment. But what I want to talk about today is how good things could be.

Of course, Cameron was leader of the Opposition at this point, so talking in this manner was easier in Opposition than it would be in Government.

3. Similarity & Repetition

He uses similarity and repetition in the language he uses, in the length of his sentences and even in his grammar. This helps an audience remember and adds weight and emphasis to his message.

For example:

None of this will be easy. We will be tested. I will be tested. I’m ready for that – and so I believe, are the British people. So yes, there is a steep climb ahead. But I tell you this. The view from the summit will be worth it.

4. Use of Metaphor/Analogy

He  uses metophor and analogy throughout his speech.  This is done to evoke people’s imagination.

The “steep climb ahead / view from the summit example” above also fits the bill here.

5. Rhetorical questions

He uses rhetorical questions to stimulates thinking, it evokes curiosity.  It also qualifies the point he wishes to make.

For example:

Yes, we need to change the way we live. But is that such a bad thing? The insatiable consumption and materialism of the past decade, has it made us happier or more fulfilled?

6. Personal Language

He uses a conversational style, and people automatically connect with that.

They will feel they are being talked to as opposed to talked at.

He also uses  “I”, “we” and  “our” throughout this speech.

Involving the audience as if they were with him on the journey will engage listeners.

For example:

The problems we face are big and urgent. Rebuilding our broken economy … because unless we do, our children will be saddled with debt for decades to come.

Mending our broken society … because unless we do, we will never solve those stubborn social problems that cause the size of government to rise.

Fixing our broken politics … because unless we do, we will never reform public services, never see the strong, powerful citizens who will build the responsible society that we all want to see.

7. He Uses Story to Great Effect

By embedding honest and personal stories into the speech brings a human touch which again connects with people immediately.

For example:

I know how lucky I’ve been to have the chances I had.

And I know there are children growing up in Britain today who will never know the love of a father. Who are born in homes that hold them back. Who go to schools that keep them back.

Children who will never start a business, never raise a family, never see the world. Children who will live the life they’re given, not the life they want. That is what I want to change. I want every child to have the chances I had. That is why I’m standing here.

8. Commitment to every word

I felt he was connected and committed to his message.

He gives each word appropriate time and appropriate weight. It feels like he has thought about every word he spoke. There is no rushing, no great urgency and this draws the audience in.

9. He Has a Strong Vocal Delivery

Pretty good use of pace and timing, and both emphasis and energy are well used at the appropriate times.

10. His Overall Presence

Standing there, composed and grounded with no movement adds weight to his presence. It gives the audience confidence in the speaker.

Some Areas Where Improvement is Required!


Research has uncovered that the average duration of an enthusiastic applause is 7-8 seconds.

However, instead of moving forward with a well-timed restart, Cameron waits for the audience to finish clapping and hence he loses the momentum of the message, and with it too an element of charisma.

Never Wait for the Applause!

Pausing and waiting for the audience to clap is a faux pas which he did a number of times.

This removes the sense of spontaneity. A great public speaker needs to be even more committed to his message than to accepting praise.

Here are some links to the speech in full.

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ConfidentSpeak is a specialist S.T.E.M Communications & Coaching Consultancy based in Dublin, Ireland. We work with leading Irish and international companies and executives at home and abroad. Contact us for details on our range of  corporate/private programmes for executives, sales teams and technical professionals.

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