Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lesson: Don't Change a Winning Formula

It's only natural that I have been giving a lot of thought to what happened yesterday and why I underperformed at the East Surrey selection. Without going into a rather long tedious saga of self analysis, I think two things were at play.

One is that I broke the habit of a lifetime and wrote a full speech and tried to memorise it. Normally when I have to give a speech I think about what I want to say, jot down a few notes and then go and do it off the cuff. It's a formula which works, but I changed it for yesterday, believing I needed to give a more formal speech. Sometimes I can be a little too conversational when I make a speech, but I felt this needed to show a bit more "weight". On the day, although I said a lot of what I had memorised, some of it was in the wrong order and I missed out a whole section on 'trust' and 'expenses'. As it turned out, that didn't matter so much as the subject came up in the first question, but even so, as I was speaking my brain was telling me "this is rubbish". Had I made the speech from the full written text I think it would have been OK, as I know I can deliver a speech from a written text without appearing to read it.

Secondly, unusually for me, I was quite nervous. As Nick Skellett, the East Surrey Chairman, walked me from the holding room to the hall he said to me: "You're not nervous, are you?" I looked at him incredulously and said "Of course, I am. This is a potentially life changing half an hour." "But you do TV all the time, how can you be nervous about something like this?" he responded. He had a point. Giving a speech to several hundred people is something that doesn't normally fill me with nerves. Bizarrely, I don't get nervous about going on Newsnight against Paxman, even though I tell myself I should. But facing Surrey East Conservatives, for some reason, was different. Perhaps it was because I was second one on. In Bracknell I was last on, so any nerves had disappeared as I sat there for five hours waiting my turn!

Anyway, the most important lesson I learned was that if you have a successful formula for giving speeches, don't change it. And if you do, you'll have to live with the result!


Unknown said...

It's a ridiculous way to choose a candidate-Just like deciding general election based on how the leaders perform in three 90 minute debates-Surely there is so much more to politics than the ability to speak with confidence in a pressure cooker atmosphere.

You are so clearly streets ahead of the other 5 candidates in political terms, this proves yet again how ridiculous it is to make what you describe as "life changing" decisions in this way.

I'd wish you good luck for next time but does the party rerally deserve you and aren't we better off having you providing us 24/7 with all the important developments in the political world, something you would never be able to do as a member of the HOC

Anonymous said...

The reason you were nervous was that you had a real vested interest in the outcome - on Newsnight the only thing you had at stake was your opinion and possibly your image, in East Surrey it was your hopes, dreams and future.

Scary Biscuits said...

Iain, My advice would be to change a formula that obviously isn't working. You've had too many failed attempts now to blame one-off factors such as the way you prepared your speech.

Why not think about changing something more fundamental? E.g. get yourself off the A-list or at least denounce it? At least then rank-and-file tories would see you as on their side rather than as part of Cameron's mission to change the party without consulting any of them. At the moment you're falling between two stools: on the one hand - for the progressives - being gay is a bit old hat now doesn't make up for being white and middle class so you don't get the full support of the Notting Hill set; on the other hand you're seen as being part of trendy London by the shires and so not really one of them either. This is why you get onto short lists but don't win: associations like to be seen to be considering you but are never doing so too seriously.

Shinsei said...

A prestigious job (effectively for life as it is a very safe seat), with the ability to make laws, a six figure salary (once pension is included) and a knighthood (probably) is really decided on a short speech and a few questions.

Doesn't seem the most sensible way to appoint someone.

Iain Dale said...

Scary Biscuits, I am afraid you have fallen for the propaganda put around by my enemies.

I have actually only been in two finals - Bracknell and this one.

Most people who get selected have gone through far more. Sam Gyimah has been in five or six I think. Kwasi Kwarteng has done more than that.

You are very lucky if you get it first time. David Davis did. Jeremy Hunt did, but it is very rare.

In the 2003 Parliament I won the second final I was involved in.

DeeDee99 said...

East Surrey Conservatives must be a pretty frightening bunch to make you nervous.

Perhaps being a high-profile blogger means the bar is raised slightly higher for you - or you place it there yourself. Can you not put the 'high-profile' to your advantage and try for a seat which is not quite so obviously 'safe Tory.' Then it might play to your advantage.

Still, you show commendable dignity in defeat. Hope you're successful next time.

Unknown said...

"...Most people who get selected have gone through far more. Sam Gyimah has been in five or six I think. Kwasi Kwarteng has done more than that. You are very lucky if you get it first time. David Davis did. Jeremy Hunt did, but it is very rare..."

Then you just summed it all up, Iain - don't ever give up, mate.

richard.blogger said...

I am confused. Yesterday you wrote about Sam Gyimah saying that "Sam is a fantastic guy who will be a superb parliamentarian." yet you now say that you lost because you messed up your speech - which is right? (or were you simply being polite?)

If you were the better candidate and more suited to the constituency then you would have been selected. Clearly the constituency party decided that Sam Gyimah was more suited to their constituency. Let's face it, it is not as if they were unaware of your views and speaking abilities.

For what it's worth, I regularly give talks in public (giving talks and writing are my occupation) and I use your "usual" method. I use a few prompt notes so that I know what I should be saying at that point.

You and I know that it is not difficult to stand in front of a crowd of a few hundred, or a thousand, and give a talk seemingly without notes, but DC was hailed as a "genius" when he did it at the Conservative Party conference. ::sigh::

Anonymous said...


Iain Dale said...

Richard, What a very strange thing to write. There is absolutely no conflict between what I wrote yesterday and this.

Of course I lost in part because i messed up and in part because Sam put in a better performance. If I had been at the top of my game, Sam may well have won anyway. I suspect so.

But you have to be in it to win it. You have a one in 6 chance and clearly the audience will be affected by how the different candidates perform. Most of them wont have heard of any of the camdidates until they see them on the day - inlcuding me.

Unknown said...

Sam who? See what I mean? We've all forgotten him already :)

Anonymous said...

Ian, have you ever thought the reason might be that you're just too nice a guy to be an MP?

Anonymous said...

The best candidate doesn't always make the best MP/Councillor or whatever.

We should respect the weaknesses of democracy as well as its strengths.

Horshamite said...

Iain I think you are going in for too much self analysis. Given the crazy process, and the fact that you cannot possibly expect to understand where all the disparate delegates are coming from, I don't think you can approach it in the same way as any other job interview.

Of course I've never heard you speak at a selection meeting, but ...

If I were you I would identify the key values that you stand for, your areas of specialist expertise (or those you want to concentrate on as an MP), a handful of the most critical issues facing the country and the constituency, and weave these into a simple, compelling theme.

Above all, be yourself. If they don't like you there is nothing you can do about it.

Tortoise said...

Commiserations Iain - I don't live in East Surrey, but would have nonetheless appreciated your being in parliament, debating and voting in the party I am most likely to vote for.

One of the things which prevents me from formally joining the conservative party is their sudden blind naive adoption of 'approved lists' (ie preferentially females) for constituencies - and I'm aware this will likely prejudice against you in future. If the conservatives can't be a 'on their merit and effort' party, then how can we have confidence in their approach to any other selection (jobs, university places, public sector appointments etc) - surely the Dizeai debacle must have taught them something about having a quota prejudice?

I'm a female - but I bitterly resent the patronisation of female-promoting selection. I'm not suggesting Sam didn't get the seat contention on anything other than merit - but - in future I'd really like to see truly OPEN selection.

Good luck if you go for a constituency in future!

Anonymous said...

If you were afraid of the BBC and The Guardian going after you for using a Palin Palm Top Iain, you should have hired a teleprompter.

Reading verbatim (bloopers and all) from such gadgets qualifies one as a great speaker I hear.

Bartleby said...

Commiserations again Iain.

One suggestion - voice coaching. Your speaking voice, on TV at least, comes across as quite high and somewhat shrill. Adding gravitas and depth would help you enormously I think

Iain Dale said...

G.reth, well now I have heard it all. I may be many things, but one thing I do know is that I do not have a high, shrill voice.

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

Given you are well-known and clearly a serious contender for a parliamentary seat, could these qualities help you do some research amongst the Easy Surrey selectors to find out why you were not favoured on this occasion?

Would this be a sin - the selectors or the party would be outraged that such an effort were being made? It just seems sensible, if unusual in the context.

Iain Dale said...

I have already got some feedback from 5 or 6 people who were at the meeting, which has been most helpful.

Bartleby said...

Sorry - just giving my view. I enjoy your stuff, you just sound a bit tetchy and hectoring on tv - a deeper intonation would help in my view.

Iain Dale said...

G.reth, It's interesting how people have different views. I usually get told my voice is too mellow and that I should be more aggressive!

Bartleby said...

Indeed. No offence meant. It might just be worth getting a coach's view on one of your performances - particularly in a heated debate.

I'd personally be happy for you to stay here forever, but if you want to succeed in other arenas, how you come across to others could play a vital part.

Julian the Wonderhorse said...

Bad luck Iain. My mum lives in Oxted, and it would have been good to see you out and about.

Not too disgusted from Tunbridge Wells though, are you? Keep at it, you will get something before 6 May. Would you really have liked Geoffrey Howe's old seat though?

Anonymous said...

Iain is right to point out richard.blogger's conclusions are idiotic.

Mr D was clearly not saying the THE reason he lost was a bad speech.

But obviously if you under-perform then the opposition have done better and coiuld easily have still been better if you had been on the top of your own game.

I do not see much wrong with the selection process. What do people want - sling some people into a big brother style house and watch their every moment?

Prospective candidates have to make a pitch - they have a record to boast about and a personality wit and wisdom to display.

Lets face it - who selects the selectors.

Any road up Iain, if you decide to try again, why not ask Brown how he managed to win selection as Labour Leader??

As you watch the Gormless One on TV --- (I am in sunny Scotland and watching BBC where they are pointing out Scotland's appalling drug record - the Sporranites are going down the drugs tube - top cocaine users per capita in the world) --- you might ponder why Morgan does not ask Brown the reason why no one stood against him - for the jewel in the socialist crown, leader of labour and a ready made job as PM to boot, yet no one stood.

I mean Brown, the other candidate is 'famously shy' - Why? I wonder ....

Letters From A Tory said...

Hindsight is a cruel master.

Don't be too hard on yourself, you made a choice for perfectly sensible reasons, and that's what counts.

Richard Abbot said...

Shame Iain.
I was looking forward to you trying to maintain an even handed and independant minded tone on your blog in the face of a three line whip!