BARELY a Bluewood media training session goes by without mention of Tony Blair. And not in a good way. Last month, he was doing what he was most well known for as a Prime Minister – talking. But he doesn’t just talk. Blair was responsible for a whole new top-down comms delivery style.
We do a pretty good imitation here at Bluewood. First, the mouth-closed grin (if there can be such a thing) and the momentarily closed eyes. Second, the flat-handed gesture, back of the hand outwards, like he’s showing you how big Prescott’s paunch is. Then comes the ‘Look…’, before he skips away from the question he’s just been asked.
It probably didn’t even work on the 100 or so members assembled at the Trimdon Labour Club at the end of March – and it didn’t work on the political journalists analysing him, his words, and his delivery in the papers the next day.
Cartoons, sketches and columns mentioned Tony’s ‘orange tan’ (Mail, Telegraph) and Transatlantic accent. Ann Treneman’s political sketch focused not on Blair’s message, but his delivery. “One by one, he introduced his trademark hand gestures,” she wrote in The Times. “The gunslinger pointing fingers, the thumb-to-forefinger circles…” This latter one is classic sign of a heavily-trained speaker. The Guardian’s sketch also picked up on “finger-jabbing theatricals.’
Treneman, meanwhile, moved on to his verbal delivery. “The voice came back with its cadences and wry asides, the little exclamations such as ‘Look!’ and ‘OK!’.
In fact, watching him do his ‘thing’ was to remind ourselves of how much better most politicians have become at delivering sincerity and engaging with ideas. With his big pauses for effect, the conscious reach for the everyday phrase, and possibly worst of all the rictus smile – captured on the front of The Guardian and accompanying the other write-ups of the speech – Blair looked, and sounded, less convincing that we probably remembered him.
When he left office, Blair had run through his bag of presentational tricks, like a footballer who has done the stepover so often that the opponent expects it. But footballers adapt – they use their experience, they change their approach, they drop the stepover and they start to pass the ball to new talents with new tricks. In Sedgefield, Tony looked a lot like a great performer who was performing – the press realised it, and so too, probably, did the public. Andrew Gimson, in the Telegraph, came to that conclusion: “Mr. Blair looks and sounds like a parody of his former self.”
Written by Matt Guarente – journalist and lead Bluewood media trainer.