Key valedictory shows why he was popular

Posted March 23, 2017

Three of the reasons John Key was such a popular Prime Minister were evident in his valedictory speech yesterday.

His humour and ability to laugh at himself. He mentioned his famous three-way handshake and the uniqueness of his Kiwi accent. Who can forget his speech after the 2011 Rugby World Cup when he referred to the William Web Ellis TWOPY.

This is an important media training lesson. Key was a great communicator, but made lots of mistakes. But they made him seem human, and people loved it when he never took these too seriously, but laughed at himself instead.

When facing serious issues like the Canterbury Earthquakes and Pike River, he came across as a leader in control and was able to genuinely express emotion. This is vital for a leader. It’s one thing to show humour, but it’s also important to show leadership and express empathy genuinely at the right time.

I always remember his speech at a service for the Pike River miners. He told the widows that he had been raised without a father, and was sure their children would still make a success of their lives despite their enormous loss. (These aren’t the exact words he used.) He expressed his disappointment again yesterday that he wasn’t able to send anyone into the mine to retrieve the bodies of the miners and give their families closure.

This use of emotion is another vital media training lesson. It’s one thing to express empathetic statements to victims, but quite another to show you mean what you say. In situations like this, body language is more important than the words used. This is where many leaders fall down, but Key never did.

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know how much emphasis I place on the need to dress up the points you want to make during media interviews in attractive ways to make them more inviting for reporters. Key was the master at this, and continued it in his speech. One example was when he answered criticism that he didn’t have an obvious political philosophy. He said, “My values come from my upbringing, not from a politics 101 textbook.”

People and media loved his use of language. He was an expert at breaking things down into laymen’s terms, and giving reporters great sound bites for their stories. Any media spokesperson could learn a great deal from watching Key in action. He’ll be a tough act to follow.

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