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Dr Max Atkinson is a freelance communications consultant and author, best known for developing a new approach to research and training in public speaking, speech writing and presentation. A visiting professor at the Henley Management College, he has run courses on communication skills on executive and MBA programmes since 1985.
He has taught at the universities of Lancaster, Manchester and Oxford, and held visiting professorships at universities in Europe and the USA. He has published books on conversation, courtroom language, political speeches and business presentations.
For over 12 years Dr Atkinson served as communications advisor, speechwriter and coach to Paddy Ashdown, former leader of the (UK) Liberal Democrats, and the High Representative in Bosnia & Herzogovina from 2002 to 2006. In 1985, he ran a seminar on speech writing in the Reagan White House and his work has been extensively used by Michael Sheehan, Bill Clinton’s chief speech coach. Atkinson’s widely acclaimed research into public speaking first came to public notice with the publication of Our Masters’ Voices: The Language and Body Language of Politics (London & New York: Methuen, 1984). Based on a detailed analysis of videotapes of political speeches, it described the main rhetorical techniques used by speakers to trigger applause.
The findings were put to the test with the audience of one of Granada Television’s World in Action programmes. In it Atkinson was challenged to coach a complete speech-making novice to address the 1984 SDP Conference – the result of which was a standing ovation for a speech that ‘lit up the conference as no other speech had done all week’ (The Guardian). The speech was described by the late Sir Robin Day as ‘the most refreshing speech we’ve heard so far’.
Subsequently, he formed Atkinson Communications, a consultancy specialising in communication skills training, since when he has worked with a vast array of major corporations in the UK and abroad, often coaching and writing speeches for CEOs and board level executives.
Dr Atkinson has brought together everything he has learnt about audience reactions to speeches and presentations in two books Lend Me Your Ears: All You Need to Know about Making Speeches and Presentations (London: Vermilion, 2004) and Speech-making and Presentation Made Easy (London: Vermilion, 2008).
He has appeared on numerous television and radio programmes, and has published articles in various newspapers, including The Times, Sunday Times, Financial Times, The Independent on Sunday and the Washington Post.
In September 2008, he started a blog, on which his analysis of speeches by Barack Obama, other leading politicians, economists, bankers, etc. have attracted thousands of visitors. Max has been awarded a lifetime achievement award by the UK Speechwriters guild for his extensive work, he was also made a fellow of the Academy of Social Science.
“I found Max’s lectures and teachings of great value in my professional development: I first attended one of Max’s sessions 15 years ago and still use what I learned to this day. His lectures and books are a high quality means to achieving better business results.”
Geoff Birkett, Global VP Marketing, AstraZeneca
“There was scarcely a single speech in my eleven years as leader of the Liberal Democrats that I made without benefiting from Max Atkinson’s personal advice and help.”
Paddy Ashdown, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, UK
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