Speech of the Month, February 2021 - Nicola Sturgeon

When it comes to delivering a killer riposte, few do it better than Nicola Sturgeon. Discover how you too can make a come-back zing.

Speech of the Month, February 2021 - Nicola Sturgeon

At the time of writing this, it’s all fun and fireworks at Holyrood. Alex Salmond gave a spicy statement on Friday that could result in leadership devastation for Nicola Sturgeon. As you’ll gather, I haven’t absorbed the detail here. I did ask a politico friend to explain but, half way in, I found myself wondering if the lighting problems in my dining room would be solved by a feature uplighter. What I am sure of, though – and I suspect most people feel the same – is that even if Sturgeon did break the ministerial code, I’d still buy a second hand car of her before Salmond.

Of course, this sort of furore will be embraced by any opposition, so it won’t have come as a surprise to Sturgeon that Ruth Davidson, the Tory leader in Scotland, decided to accuse her of a cover-up. But when Davidson stated this alleged cover-up was evidence that Sturgeon was undemocratic, Sturgeon replied with a come-back that had me (someone who’s not a huge Sturgeon fan) jump up from the sofa and shout, “Go Nicola!” If you missed it, check it out here….

What impressed me was how quickly and calmly Sturgeon formed her riposte and kept it relevant. She didn’t deliver something she’d pre-prepared, rather she picked up on Davidson’s ‘undemocratic’ accusation and ripped it to shreds. So I want to share with you techniques that will help you come back with a clear, impactful riposte because how often have we found ourselves, post heated moment, ruminating on the exchange and kicking ourselves because we didn’t say X or Y?  

Arrange what you want to say

  • Open by identifying the point you wish to refute. Don’t open by saying, “What you’ve said it complete rubbish.” Because it’s probably not all rubbish. Be more specific. “My reports are not always sent out late. January’s and November’s were, but that’s it.”
  • Next add impact by condemning the other person’s claim: “That remark is simply not true.” 
  • Now tell the other person why their remark is wrong, naive, simplistic, untrue etc.  “The reason November’s report was late was because I was waiting on information from the Finance department, and without that information the report was pointless, and that didn’t get to me, despite lots of nudges, till the day after that report was due. And January’s report was late because it needed a contribution from Simon who was busy, rightly I think, looking after his sick son.” 
  • End with some personal disclose. Say how the remark or accusation has made you feel. "I’m amazed that you’ve taken time out to raise this with me and I’m saddened that, having worked for you for so long, you haven’t noticed what a conscientious worker I am.”

Remain calm as you make your riposte

Easier said than done, I know. Being constantly challenged is workaday stuff for politicians so they can shake it off effortlessly. You can almost imagine Sturgeon and Davidson standing at the sinks in the Parliament Ladies’ minutes later, Sturgeon asking Davidson for the brand and name of the lipstick she’s wearing. But because these heated moments usually jump out at us unexpectedly, keeping our cool is more difficult. 

All I’d say is speak slowly so you give yourself time to think. And if the other person tries to interrupt, then up your volume and simply say, “I’m speaking.” Try to speak about the emotion you’re feeling – anger, astonishment, sadness – rather than from it.

But if some of those feelings do escape, then that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Having your non-verbals confirm your verbals can be very effective. But we need to ensure that the verbals are heard, not background noise in a cacophany of emotion. 

If you or your team would benefit from help with impromptu speaking, then get in touch

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