Speech of the Month, March 2024 - Stephen Flynn

When it comes to PMQs, Stephen Flynn is King of the Commons

Speech of the Month, March 2024 - Stephen Flynn

So if Labour takes back constituencies in Scotland at the next general election - forcing Humza Yousaf to have a rendezvous with the Guillotine - who do you suppose the next leader of the SNP will be? If it’s not Stephen Flynn, I’ll fry my smalls!

If I’m working or procrastinating from home on a Wednesday, I like to tune into Parliament Live for PMQs, especially since Stephen Flynn replaced Ian Blackford. When he gets up to speak, Tory and Labour ministers must be thinking, ‘If only our man had half his wit and presence,’ because, next to him, both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer appear scripted and deathly dull. This month, particularly, Flynn was firing on all cylinders but his performance in the video below was the highlight. 

Here’s why I rate his performance:

In seconds, his opening question ribbed both the main parties

When it comes to asking a question publicly, I always advise clients to go with the Statement / Question approach. So make a factual, evidence-based Statement and follow it up with a Question. Flynn uses this approach, however, in his statement, he manages to rib the Tories, “Mr Speaker, with his backbenchers looking for a unity candidate to replace him (Sunak)” and then, with his question, he pokes fun at the Labour party, “Which of the now numerous born-again Thatherites on the Labour front bench does he believe best fits the bill?” Back of the net! The house erupts with laughter. 

No doubt there were those on the Labour benches who eye-rolled at the question. ‘Surely a person can admire a leader’s style without admiring her policies and legacy?’ they might argue. But that would be getting too po-faced and pernickety about it. Fact is, PMQ is about entertainment. A leader’s opportunity to connect with people (in parliament and at home), test the public mood on issues and shine. Flynn understands this and always rises to the occasion. 

He enjoys himself

Nobody likes to see a speaker who’s hating the spotlight; it’s uncomfortable and embarrassing. Flynn is the antithesis of that speaker. He’s a compelling watch and listen because he looks so comfortable, like he’s having a ball, that he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Nowhere was this more apparent in his exchange with Sunak than on his elongated, “Soooooooo, with such continuity on offer….”

What can we learn from this? Granted, when you’re in a combatant role and relish a debate, you’re going to enjoy public speaking more so than someone who has to present the monthly sales update, say. But I always think the first step to getting excited about the monthly sales update, say, is to like your material. Yes, you’ve got to present the facts in a concise manner, but that doesn’t mean you can’t weave in a funny observation or a witty, original simile as you do.  

His ’Stage Presence’ is phenomenal

This is because his pace is excellent, he bothers to make eye contact, to really address everyone in the chamber, he – unlike Sunak and Starmer – never refers to notes (but then he does have less to do so…) and his stance is also strong. The fact that his stance is so strong earns him more brownie points because he suffers from avascular necrosis which, prior to a hip operation, caused him to walk with a crutch for 18 years.  

Another interesting fact about him – he’s married to a woman called Lynn Flynn. How many people have a first name that rhymes with their surname, I wonder? Drop me a line if you’re a Neil Peel or a Jane Bain. I digress.

Now, having presence isn’t just about projecting; it’s also about responding. The speaker who continues with his well-rehearsed speech as the walls of the venue collapse, is not ‘present.’ Presenters with presence, however, feed off and react to the looks and sounds around them. In the video above, you’ll see Flynn doing this superbly.

If you enjoyed this, do check out my other posts

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