Voice Coaching for Politicians *Political Public Speaking & Campaigning
“ A unique, expressive and confident voice is
a valuable trademark for any successful politician. ”
... Katherine Thompson, Pure Voice Power
If you are a politician or political candidate with an accent that you wish to reduce, we can help. Visit my Accent Reduction page for coaching to help make your words in English easier to understand for your listeners.
Whether to the left or to the right, a politician’s success largely depends on their public speaking skills. Very much included in that, is their “like-ability” factor. In fact: it’s the words they choose to say, how those words sound, the order in which they are said, the inflection of the words, and the candidate’s gestures that will determine victory or failure. Studies show that the listener will begin to form opinions about a public speaker within about 4 seconds after they start talking.
When a politician speaks, we are usually LOOKING at the candidate as we hear them speak, which means that a large part of our opinion of them is also affected by their visual appearance. Even a hairstyle can have a positive or negative affect.
It’s rare that people don’t have an opinion about a political candidate. Content and policy can often be ‘spun’, and it’s possible to deliver factual information in a deceiving manner…which has made the public skeptical when it comes to personal politics and leadership preferences. Today’s partisan politicians are burdened by political deeds of the past, and each political race demands more and more effort on the part of the candidates to overcome past obstacles.
Having a high TRUST factor is paramount for every politician, and how he or she talks (i.e., what they say, and how they say it) will largely affect our decisions at the voting booths.
Here are some undesirable speaking challenges that will not lead a politician or political candidate to success: A politician who :
- stumbles over words,
- uses overly academic words,
- uses words that are too simple,
- who can't back up their facts,
- who sound mean,
- who rambles and goes on tangents,
- who doesn't answer questions,
- who takes long pauses
- who speaks in monotones or sounds bored (or pedantic)
- who cannot easily be understood
- who says "Um", or "Ah" a lot
When it comes to getting elected and fulfilling their roles as leaders, politicians need to have the ability to influence. That’s what political speaking is all about! Getting as many people as possible on your side. A politician will likely spend every day of their career trying to gain and keep - trust and support, and pleasing superiors, peers and the public. There are often cameras and social media today makes sure that things can stay in the public eye forever. Every time a politician speaks, they know it’s an important opportunity to gain allies and momentum, whether it’s a parliamentary debate or sharing information to a small group of office staff.
Human nature is quirky. If only one thing goes wrong out of 100 things, we are likely to focus on that one ‘problem’ thing - as opposed to the other 99 great, ‘non-problem’ things. In this regard, word-of-mouth can be a politician’s friend or foe, keeping in mind that we tend to be greatly based in negativity. People are far more likely to criticise than to glorify, because we immediately look for what’s wrong, rather than what’s right. As a leader on either a federal, provincial or municipal level, a politician needs to be everything to everybody. Along with the ability and knowledge to carry out their political job description, the successful candidate must possess:
• the gift of gab and people skills,
• trustworthy persona,
• a friendly look with an every-person image,
• a high like-ability factor
A politician can have all of these things, but without excellent impromptu, or improvisational speaking abilities and a masterful use of language, the rest can be negated. He or she needs the ability to debate. To be quick on their feet with their mouths, if you will!
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON:
His style as a great Public Speaker
Let’s look at the public speaking skills of one of the finest politicians: President Bill Clinton.
Bill Clinton is a world class public speaker and master story-teller. Clinton simply always looks and seems ‘friendly’ and this works to his advantage. Unlike a politician like Ralph Nader, Clinton knows how to smile. He conveys a ‘real person’ image who understands that human beings are emotional at their cores; not automatons. We know he has teeth! Interestingly, showing your teeth as you speak helps the sound echo and resonate out of the mouth because tooth enamel is hard, and non-porous so sound won’t be absorbed.
One of the things I admire most about Bill Clinton is his ability to connect with his listener. There is never ambivalence or ambitguity when he says something. He doesn't speak like an academic so that people understand everything he says.
Clinton has immediate disposal to his power with passion and ease, and he is never tentative. You have never really seen him ‘flustered’. He has a phenomenal ‘trust-factor’. We never question that he is the expert, he is the leader, and entirely in charge. Every word he speaks rests in ‘suredness’, and his southern drawl even endears us as he pronounces the word “can’t” like “caayn’t”, “lines” becomes “laaans”, and “whine” becomes “whaaan”. shwa
One of his greatest assets is his wit, which can be scathing to an opponent. He smirks as he points out their absurdities. Psychologically speaking, to laugh at someone is one of the most undermining things one could do.
We saw Clinton’s speaking talent before he was elected president. During a presidential debate with George Bush Sr., Clinton literally captivated the audience when he stepped out from behind his lectern and stood right in front of the audience speaking directly to them, as if he were one of them. People still remember that as a stand-out.
Democratic National Committee
Unity Dinner Speech by Prseident Bill Clinton
At the Democratic National Committee Unity Dinner, Bill Cinton gave a speech defending the position of presidential incumbent Senator John Kerry on March 25, 2004.
THE TEXT OF THIS SPEECH CAN BE FOUND AT:
Photo taken by: JASON REED / REUTERS Photo used by permission.
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON
Brief analysis of his speaking style in this speech
His diction is in tact and you understand every word he says despite his southern drawl (accent). He is articulate, using proper syntax for the most part; and you can tell by the comfort in which he delivers his words that he is clearly well-read.
Every human voice in the world is unique and personal unto itself, like a fingerprint. Bill Clinton’s voice is also quickly identifiable, insomuch as it has a raspy, ‘gravelly’, yet high (tenor-ish range) quality to it which makes it almost unmistakable. When you hear Clinton speak, whether you see him or not, there is no mistaking his voice for someone else’s.
Technically, a “rough, crackling”- sounding voice would commonly indicate that a person has ‘weak’ vocal cords. Yet there is nothing weak about Clinton as a person; he’s as tough as nails. Through all this toughness and intellect, he is downright likeable and the kind of ‘nice guy’ everyone would like to sit and chat with over lunch! The raspy quality of Clinton’s voice indicates that his vocal folds may be abused and are not articulating at their most optimum (vocal membranes not making clean closure).
The weak voice/strong persona dichotomy that Clinton purveys is interesting. While his warm, casual voice is endearing and his allies love him… his enemies are subliminally “fooled” by him on a deeper level. If you listen to him, he simply doesn’t sound like he acts. If you read Sun-Tzu’s “The Art of War”, you know that deception is the key to winning any battle. His strong, likeable-ness comes through for him in spades when it comes down to brass tacks and this, and was no doubt his strength in tough negotiations. His access to every emotion he deemed necessary, as well as diplomacy and a “schmooze-factor” which was ‘through the roof’.
It’s how Clinton uses his voice, which emotes power. It doesn’t matter to the public that his voice is higher, with his larynx slung high in his throat. As a vocal coach, I’m almost certain that he is prone to hoarseness when he does a lot of public speaking at once, because there is a lot of misplaced muscle tension. But that’s another story.
His vocal dynamics cover a wide range, from almost a whisper to a yell. When the volume dynamics have such a large spread, it makes for a talk rife with surprises, drama, passion and interest. The listener will hang on to each word.
TALKING SPEED | CADENCE:
His talking cadence ranges from very quickly passionate and excitable, to slow delivery for impact of more forlorn or melancholy statements. He is a master of the dramatic pause, used for poignant statements that need to sink in.
VOCAL PITCH & RANGE:
Clinton makes use of his whole vocal range effectively. He speaks with a wide, flourishing range sprinkled with emotional expression. If we were to assign pitches to his words, we can appreciate how high and low his voice is able to sweep for impact. (If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect he’s taken acting classes and worked with a speech and voice coach.)
A colloquialism is a word, phrase or paralanguage that is employed in conversational or informal language but not in formal speech or formal writing.
President Clinton talks like a real person. Here are some specific examples:
“ How DARE they do that…”
………..His anger was apparent; audience was riveted.
“ They runnin’ this big ad…”.
……….He speaks with casual, down-home phrases that are natural to him; this phrase he sounded disgusted at the opponent.
“ They gonna do their darndest to turn a good man into a cartoon.”
……….Southern colloquialism; glib. What other presidential figure has ever uttered the word “cartoon” in a speech?
“ Ever a doubt the vote would pass? (pause) No.”
………He asked a question (incomplete) and he answered it.
His gestures were sweeping. He flicks and points his finger like a sword to punctuate statements, and does his classic Clinton thumb-press into the air. Applause and cheers erupted approximately once every minute. When he angrily bellowed, “In 2000, don’t you ever for get this – at the convention……Over and over and over again…” Clinton pounded desk each time he said ‘over’. It was like a performance unto itself. He also occasionally splays his fingers, palms out and down, as if doing a blessing as he speaks.
Clinton wore a robin’s-egg-blue coloured tie, with a white shirt and black jacket. His hair was perfectly coiffed.
*Shakes his head “NO” when he really means it.
*Eyes wide, forehead wrinkled with expression, enabling his teeth for resonance.
Besides a well-crafted, colourful speech in support of Kerry, Clinton’s content was poignant with nothing extraneous. Many politicians are famous for loving to hear themselves talk, giving ten-minute answers to simple questions which could be answered in seconds (sorry to be so blunt, but I believe it’s true). Every point he made was justified with fact and only necessary details. He could sell a jury any verdict a court needed. He closed on every argument. But Clinton never spoke in circles; all long-winded political rhetoric was omitted. He cut to the chase. There were surprises. Nothing extraneous. It was all about Kerry, not himself. All business. All passion.