- December 1, 2020
- Posted by: Roger Evans
- Categories: Advocacy, Candidates
To the untrained eye, the Welsh Conservatives might not seem to be at the cutting edge of UK conservatism, but all is not what it seems.
As the selection process for the Welsh Senedd lurches into gear, history is about to be made. For the first time, selections for almost every seat will take place online. This isn’t a state of affairs the party has adopted lightly. However, COVID has forced many of us into hitherto unthinkable changes to our lives.
With the polls tightening and the first tranche of selections already closed, competition for the safest seats and places at the top of the party list will be fierce.
Zoom selection will be far from business as usual. Even candidates who have spent the last six months getting used to doing business remotely will find Zoom selection interviews differ markedly from their face-to-face cousins.
Being prepared for these differences will be essential.
From my decades of advising candidates on selections I think some things are clear.
Messaging will be key. Candidates need to make the most of their five minute opening speech and fifteen minutes of questions. One pro tip will be to use your final question in lieu of a closing statement.
Your application CV will be more important than ever in this virtual environment. Essential in getting you an interview, this document will follow you like a faithful hound through the process so do make sure you submit it free from any typos or inaccuracies.
On screen interviewing may seem familiar to many of us but it creates a very different environment. Make sure you carefully curate your background as it may otherwise get more attention than it should. Another pro tip would be to move any empty bottles out of vision! There is also an opportunity to place positive items in the screen shot.
You’ll need to not only think about the content of your presentation, but your lighting also. There are various simply hacks for this which can transform even the most mundane backdrop. Another pro tip is to avoid lighting or filming from below. Beloved of horror directors, you’re pitching for people’s votes and not for a leading role in the next instalment of Alien.
The speech is particularly important. With limited time it is vital to make your message very clear. A solid structure of beginning, Middle and Closing is vital. Used to big campaign gestures? Alas, they’re a feature of the offline world. A lot of the body language you might deploy in a public meeting will be lost on attendees. They can only see your face and upper body. You’ll have to use other techniques to emphasise important points and hold their interest.
A good orator loves a live audience because they get instant feedback and can adjust their speech accordingly. This is less easy online and on screen. Difficult to see the thumbnails laughing at your jokes or nodding along. You don’t even know if they are still watching if you are on a large zoom call. This means your speech will be all or nothing – plan it meticulously and stick to the plan.
Questions will also be a brave new world. You’ll be able to see the person who raises the point but you won’t be able to see the rest of the audience. Bear in mind that they are still there and you are speaking to all of them, not just the questioner.
The most important pro tip of all is to maintain your eye contact with the camera. Remember that fateful Clegg/Cameron/Miliband debate, or for older heads Nixon versus Kennedy. It might feel more natural to look at the face on screen; but if you don’t look down the barrel of the camera you can appear to be evasive and untrustworthy to the online audience.
Finally, this may be no flash in the pan. Wales’ Zoom world could be the face of things to come. If it works well and encourages wider participation, we could find that online selections are here to stay, particularly for very large seats or those with large numbers of members. However, there are some significant ways in which Zoom interviews differ from their more conventional face-to-face counterparts. Could this new technology have an unintentional effect on the type of candidates the Welsh Conservatives put forward to the electorate?
It will be interesting to see whether Zoom interviews will favour local candidates in the first tranche of target seats. They are likely to place incumbent or local candidates at a distinct advantage in seats where all member postal ballots are taking place. Those of us who’ve participated in Zoom meetings over the last few months have also noticed the propensity for quixotic turnouts. Will Zoom selections lead to candidates “packing” online meetings to yield a particular result?
One thing is for sure, we’ll know the answers in a few weeks as selections are set to be done and dusted by December for the first past the post seats.
Roger Evans is a highly experienced orator and public speaking coach. If you want to keep abreast of developments in the Senedd selection process get in touch.