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 based in negativity. People are 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 many things to many people. Along with the ability and knowledge to carry out their political job description, the successful candidate must possess:
• the 'gift of gab' and high-level people skills,
• trustworthy and empathetic persona,
• a friendly look with an every-person image,
the ability to emote strength and purpose
• 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
As an exercise, let’s take an in-depth look at the public speaking skills of two-term President of the USA: Bill Clinton.
Bill Clinton is a world class public speaker and master story-teller. Clinton looks and seems amicable, and he understands that human beings are emotional at their cores; not automatons.
One of the things I admire about Clinton is his ability to connect with the listener, whether being interviewed on a talk show or speaking to thousands in an arena. There is never ambivalence or ambiguity when he says something. He doesn't speak like an academic and people understand what he says.
Clinton can access an authoritative style of communication with passion and ease. He is never tentative. You have never really seen him ‘flustered’ and he has a high ‘trust-factor’. We never question that he is the expert, 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”.
One of his greatest assets is his wit, which can throw an opponent off guard. He smirks as he points out their absurdities. Psychologically speaking, to laugh at someone is one of the most undsettling 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 President Bill Clinton
At the Democratic National Committee Unity Dinner, Bill Clinton 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:
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 usually indicate that a person has ‘weak’ or challenged 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 has a likeability factor. 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). It's my opinion that Clinton gets his volume from force rather than healthy vocal technique.
The weak-ish voice/strong persona dichotomy that Clinton purveys is interesting. While his warm, casual voice is endearing, his opponents may be subliminally “fooled” by his vocal timbre. If you read Sun-Tzu’s “The Art of War”, you learn the theory that deception is the key to winning any battle. Clinton's likeable-ness carries forth and I think that combined with his strength that he no doubt won many tough negotiations. He has a talent for tapping into emotion when it comes to communicating and has great diplomacy. I don't know Bill Clinton, but I suspect that he has a good sense of humour.
It’s the way in which Clinton uses his voice, which emotes strength. This reminds me of a quote made by singer Elvis Presley. He said, "My voice is nothing special. It's the way I use it that people come to see." The higher timbre of Clinton's vocal quality as his larynx sits higher in his throat doesn’t matter. But as a vocal coach, I’m almost certain that he was prone to hoarseness when he does a lot of public speaking at once, because there is a lot of misplaced muscle tension. Of course he isn't in the public eye much at this time in 2021.
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 likely sell a jury any verdict a court needed. He closed on every argument. But Clinton never spoke in circles; 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 and a lot of passion.
I think that every aspiring public speaker and/or politician would greatly benefit and learn a lot by watching videos of Bill Clinton speak. There are many other outstanding speakers to watch as well! Stay inspired, friends!