Welcome to the Atkinson Communications website which normally describes the main services we offer. But for the time being the usual site starts after news of a very unusual event earlier in March.


Zoom conference on 3rd March 2020, organised by the European Speechwriters Network.


If you rewind this first clip to a few minutes after it starts, you can watch the whole session, except for the clips thatreproduced below (from Clark Judge, Senator John Barrasso, Professor John Heritage and Belgian presentation trainer Carsten Wendt).

Clark Judge, WhiteHouse Writers Group & former speechwriter for US President Ronald Reagan

John Barrasso, Republican Senator for Wyoming

Professor John Heritage, Sociology Department, University of California, Los Angeles

Carsten Wendt, progessional presentation trainer, Belgium

Lord Chris Rennard. former chief executive of the Liberal Democrats

I have just taken part in this event paying tribute to Dr Max Atkinson who trained Paddy Ashdown in speechwriting to make it inspirational. These were my remarks:

It was a privilege to work closely with Paddy Ashdown throughout almost all of his leadership of the Liberal Democrats. The first task of a Leader is to inspire; and Max Atkinson was responsible for Paddy’s inspirational speechmaking style. So I am a fully paid up member of the Max Atkinson Appreciation society. The first thing that members learn, and the second thing, and the third thing, is that you always have to speak in rules of three. Or you get thrown out.

David Vigar also referred to how Max got Paddy to use contrasts. One of his favourites was about moving the Liberal Democrats from being a “party of protest, to a party of power”. But Paddy didn’t like it, when I told him that we had become “the party that people protested against”. Paddy I would say was not a naturally gifted speaker, although he was perhaps a natural leader. When he was in the Special Boat Squadron, they said that, “his men would follow him anywhere – if only out of a sense of natural curiosity as to where he was going.”

Paddy was a professional, as committed to learning his trade as Leader, as he had been to learning survival techniques in the jungle. Max trained him in such a way that an amateur could appear on any stage and speak like a professional. If they prepared. I always told candidates, and Leaders that I worked with, that there were two theories of public speaking. One is Max Atkinson’s which is all about getting the text right. And how, when you do this, you can’t go wrong. The other is Lembit Opik’s, This is all about presentational tricks and basically saying “bollocks to the content”. With Lembit, you learn to wave your arms like a windmill in a storm. His training helped men to keep their hands out of their pockets when speaking. And his line about how otherwise you look like you are scratching your testicles always got a laugh. Providing that you remember to smile and start laughing yourself as you begin to tell a joke. Which is one of the hardest things to do in a speech.

Sometimes you need help, and Max is the best. Jimmy Carter told me once how he missed having a team of speechwriters when he was no longer President. Soon after leaving the White House, he had to speak at an event in Tokyo with over a thousand Japanese students. He was nervous about how his standard opening joke would be translated. But it got the students laughing loudly. So, afterwards, he asked his translator why it was funnier in the Japanese than in the English. The translator was very reluctant to explain this. But President Carter pressed him. Eventually, he explained that the Japanese version was, “President Carter has just told us a joke and we have all got to laugh”.

In my 20s I was inspired by what Max did with a newcomer to politics at an SDP Conference. This was for a Granada TV programme and it probably launched Max’s career. It made me buy his books. Although I have to keep buying them, as I keep lending them, and not getting them back. Paddy Ashdown said that, “There was scarcely a single major speech, in my eleven years as leader of the Liberal Democrats that I made without benefiting from Max Atkinson’s personal advice and help.”

Many politicians, including me, and people in many different fields, are greatly in your debt. You helped people to speak in a way that inspired others, to reach beyond their base, and to finish their remarks effectively. I sometimes close by quoting the famous Dick Tuck speech when he lost a California State Senate race, Well he said, “The people have spoken, the bastards”.

But this morning, let me conclude by thanking Max for all that you have done to help many of us to make our case. In doing it, you have been a great servant to democracy. And you have always been a great bloke, your support and encouragement has enhanced the skills of everyone who has had the privilege of working with you.


Main website:

Claptrap – World in Action

Part 1
Part 2

CLAPTRAP: the Granada Television documentary showing how a woman who’d never spoken in public was coached and won a standing ovation at the 1984 SDP conference (27 minutes in 2 parts).


Covid 19 has meant that we have not been able to do any face-to-face coaching for many months – so we’re now offering online coaching and courses via Zoom, correspondece, etc. Further details from maxatkinson@speaking.co.uk or phone (+44 (0)1749 870600).


Unique approach to speaking and presentation based on original research that first came to public notice when the televised experiment above was broadcast on the same day as the publication of Max Atkinson’s book Our Masters’ Voices  in September, 1984.


Design of public speaking and presentation skills courses, coaching and speech writing services to clients in private and public sectors.

What makes our approach different?

     Delegate feedback regularly singles out 3 things:

  1. The focus on how to make more effective use of language.
  2. Techniques taught are soundly based on original research into verbal and non-verbal communication, and audience reactions to different ways of speaking.
  3. How to avoid inflicting death from a thousand slides (i.e. mindless use of programs like  PowerPoint).


Personal coaching, speech-writing & editing

For reasons of time or confidentiality, some clients prefer a programme of individual coaching, often geared towards preparing for a major speech or presentation.


Max Atkinson’s academic background:
From 1974-1986, he was a fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, having formerly lectured at the universities of Lancaster and Manchester. He was a visiting professor at the Henley Management College from 1986 to 2006 and has also been visiting professor at Duke University, North Carolina and the universities of Vienna  and Stockholm .

He was recently elected to a Fellowship of the Academy of Social Sciences and was given a lifetime achievement award by the UK Speechwriters’ Guild.


Speaker-training for business leaders:

He’s helped managers in numerous companies and organisations in the UK and abroad to improve their presentations, often working individually with CEOs and other board level executives.

Speaker-training for political leaders:

In 1985, he ran a seminar on speech writing in the Reagan White House, and was a close advisor on presentation and communication to the late Paddy Ashdown throughout his leadership of the Liberal Democrats (1988-1999) and later when he was the international community’s High Representative in Bosnia Herzogovina.

“Neither politicians nor business leaders can lead today without the   ability to communicate with audiences. They have two choices: (1) be born with the ability, or (2) read Max Atkinson’s books and learn.”Michael Sheehan (speech coach to Bill Clinton and president, Sheehan Associates, Washington, D.C.)

“No one surpasses Atkinson in the rigor and clarity with which he spells out how to move audiences to applause, get quoted in the media and become known as the most brilliant presence on any podium.” – Clark Judge (former speechwriter to President Ronald Reagan and managing director, White House Writers Group, Washington, D.C.


Atkinson’s books include

Our Masters’ Voices: The Language and body-language of politics


Lend me Your Ears: All you need to know about making speeches and presentations
Speechmaking and Presentation Made Easy: seven essential steps to success

      Seen & Heard: in politics, in the media and around the world


Contact details:

Atkinson Communications, Rose Cottage, Perch Hill, Westbury-sub-Mendip, Wells, Somerset, BA5 1JA

T:   01749 870600
M:  07836 234570
Email: maxatkinson@speaking.co.uk