Speech of the Month, September 2023 - Claudia Winkleman

Claudia Winkleman - she's not the BBC's top earning female presenter for nothing

Speech of the Month, September 2023 - Claudia Winkleman

I can distinctly remember the first time I saw Claudia Winkleman on the telly. It was the late 90s, I was living in a grotty flat in South London, which came with its own pet mouse – misery! – and she was presenting a show called God’s Gift. Immediately, I was hit with hair-envy and (as heroin chic was in fashion) body-jealousy too, but as the show progressed, my bitter feelings dissipated. It was clear that Claudia wasn’t one your run-of-the-mill, easy-on-the-eye presenters. She was bright and good at spontaneity, she wasn’t clinging to a script which, for someone new to telly, was impressive. I found myself liking her very quickly. 

If there's anyone reading this who's not familiar with Winkleman's presentation style, then do check her out...

Now that autumn’s here and Strictly is entering its 21st series, she’s back on our boxes every weekend. She’s come a long way from God’s Gift (which, incidentally, was narrated by Stuart Hall before we all knew…) and some will say ‘Yeah, but then she is a nepo baby’ but I believe Claudia is deserving. She’s the BBC’s top earning female presenter because she’s popular with viewers. Here’s why I think that is….

She listens

Whether she’s chatting to a dance couple post tango or a contestant on Sewing Bee, she is completely focused on what they’re saying. Her eyes are fixed on the speaker and her head’s nodding. This ability to focus and listen during live TV, as seen on Strictly, is a great skill. Tess can’t do it in the same way; once she’s off script you can feel her panic. But Claudia is able to translate that good listening into an entertaining and spontaneous observation or remark. 

The ability to listen while in the limelight is difficult. That’s way, in the world of work, you can witness a fine presentation but then, when the presenter is asked a question, they lose their polish. Suddenly, they’re no long in control of the speech and they either panic about what might be asked or pre-empt what the questioner might say and not hear correctly, and then make a hash of responding. In these situations, force yourself to really shut down your thinking, listen actively – a la Claudia - and then pause and think before you reply.  

She’s self-deprecating and honest

And self-deprecation and honesty promote likeability. From referring to herself as ‘the Orange one’ to admitting she never drinks water and abhors the idea of exercise, she does what we don’t expect a glamorous TV star to do. 

Course, self-deprecation needs to be handled carefully. Admitting to and almost being proud of something that others might mock you for is safe (the Orange one) but sharing too many self-doubts is probably going to make an audience feel uncomfortable and therefore back-fire. 

She never forgets the people at home

Whether focusing on the people she’s speaking to or talking directly to the camera, Claudia’s eye contact is strong. But she goes above and beyond. She’s always aware of where the camera is and the viewers at home. Therefore, at any moment she might pull away from a couple or the ‘scene’ she’s in and deliberately catch the eye of the camera and making a face which tells the audience exactly what she’s thinking. So on Sewing Bee she might say, ‘And why wouldn’t you want to make a mini poncho from your granny’s old net curtains?’ And then turn to the camera and deliver a ‘Why would you want to?’ look. 

Keeping your eye on your audience (even if you can’t see them) is important. 

She has a trademark look

The heavy fringe, the eyeliner and the fake tan have been in place for almost 30 years, and I can’t imagine them going anywhere fast. They’ve become Claudia’s trademark look. The trick of course is keeping your trademark look up to date. The eyeliner of the 90s isn’t that of the 2020s. 

Equally, we have to accept that humans are visual animals. So consider the visual you’re putting out. What do you feel comfortable wearing regularly? Can you sharpen the scarf, the earrings, red lips, braces, glasses etc so they become part of your trademark look? Writing this, I’m tempted to commit to a red pixie cut for the rest of my working days. We’ll see….  

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“I reached out to Emma in preparation for hosting a 600 person conference and feeling nervous having never fronted such a large event. Emma was amazing, she guided me through my speech writing, structure, language and stage presentation. I would have not felt as confident and comfortable on that stage without her support.”

David Thompson, CEO, Inicio

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