Monday, 13 July 2009

Public Speaking - You Still Need to do it...

I spent Saturday working with 14 women who are seeking a seat to fight at the coming General Election. The group boasted a wide range of experience, with several people who had fought seats in 2005, others who have made it to finals but not yet been successful and a few who have just joined the candidates' list and have all the challenges of the selection process awaiting them.

My own session involved some basic training in public speaking, with everyone practising for three minutes before being critiqued by colleagues. The standard was high, even amongst those with less experience. The party has set out to remove the old requirement for a tub thumping speech from the selection interview, replacing it with questions from a professional moderator - often a journalist although I have filled this role in two of the London Assembly selections.

However, moderator and candidate are often standing at lecterns and the questions do sometimes present opportunities to in effect deliver a speech - and confident speakers will grab such opportunities. Two examples:

At the beginning - Tell us why you are a Conservative and why you want to represent Skipton and Ripon - provides the chance to deliver a short speech outlining your background and beliefs.

At the end - Is there anything you would like to say in conclusion? - is the perfect point to make a passionate bid for the job and leave the audience on a high.

Candidates who fail to take opportunities like this will fail to stand out sufficiently to get selected.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Approved Candidates List Reopens

Yesterday David Cameron announced that he was reopening the list of approved candidates for fresh applications, and that even people from outside the Conservative party may apply.

There are always a few plum seats that fall free at the end of a Parliament, as older MPs decide that they can't face another four / five year term and they would prefer to spend more time with their families. This time the expenses scandal is likely to create more such opportunities than usual, with the Times predicting that some 325 seats could change hands.

The selection process is also likely to be speeded up, particularly if an election is called early. I will post more details on the new procedure when they become available.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Conservative Home Selection Surgery

I recently held a selection surgery on Conservative Home. Here are some of the questions I received and my responses:

Should I be truthful about my views?

What if my chances may be harmed? Handling questions about Heathrow expansion in a nearby constituency was one example. You should always be honest. If you make a promise to fight an important local campaign then betray it after you get selected, you are likely to have a very bad relationship with your volunteers, and probably get some bad publicity.

Another example was moving to the constituency. If you aren't able to make the commitment you should be honest about it, or be prepared to be taken to task for your bad faith. Volunteers are unlikely to work with a dishonest candidate.

Having been straight with the selectors, you should go on to sweeten the pill by explaining your reasons, and how you plan to compensate for your decision.

Should I take my same sex partner to the selection?

Yes, if they will help you to win! The days when candidates felt they had to present the other half for inspection are long gone, however a confident partner - of either sex - can help you cover more ground if you have to go through a death by canapes meet the members event. Obviously you shouldn't inflict this on your partner if they are uncomfortable with the prospect, or if they are likely to pick arguments. And there is no point in parading them on stage for the formal interview session.

I'm new to politics, is my lack of experience a problem?

Expect a question about your campaigning experience, so go and get some, as soon as possible. However you should also make sure the selectors know about what you have achieved outside politics. Don't let them overlook any relevant experience you have, even if it is in another field.

I'm an older woman, district councillor, dyed in the wool Tory. The party doesn't want candidates like me...

Oh yes they do! I know people with all those attributes who have been selected for safe seats, so stop moaning and go for it. As a councillor you probably have some valuable experience of campaigning and working with people. If you write yourself off in this way you definitely won't be selected.

What about women selectors who won't vote for female candidates?

This is much less of a problem than it used to be. Forget about the few closed minded individuals you might encounter and concentrate on winning over the majority of the selection panel who will be open minded, and who want to find the best candidate for the seat.

Should I pay for professional help?

Some of the best candidates are the ones who recognise their weak points and are willing to learn. However, professional assistance is not a magic wand and in the end you will have to do the interview on your own, without help. Assistance is available for most aspects of the process - how to design a CV, handling questions, policy research, speaking skills, what to wear, and so on...

A lot of advice can be gained from other candidates, without paying a penny. If you do pay, make sure you are comfortable with your mentor and that they come recommended by other successful candidates.

The Selection Process Stinks!

I see this in response to every thread about candidates. Some people will never be satisfied...

Look, the process is what it is, not what you might like it to be. Successful people adapt to their circumstances, which brings me to my most important rule:

After an interview, write down all the questions you were asked and think about how you can answer them more effectively next time. You are allowed to lose a selection but you should never lose the lesson.