In Defence of Speaking Moistly

By now you’ve heard Justin Trudeau’s verbal stumble. They’ve even autotuned a catchy music video to celebrate it.

“Speaking moistly……oh what a terrible image.”
I laugh every time. A legit, out-loud laugh. Every time.

But it’s a kind laugh.
It’s a laugh full of empathy and humanity and, in fact, respect.

This guy has been speaking live to a national audience every day for almost thirty days. I suppose it gets easier, but still it must be a bit terrifying.

He must on some level think,
What if I don’t know the answers to their questions?
What if my mind just goes blank?
What if I say something embarrassing? Like ‘speaking moistly’?

His instant recognition of the ridiculousness of it is a gem of pure honesty. It gives us a little insight into his character. All of his prepared words don’t do that. His prepared words are necessary and important and are easing the worries of this country. But this moment shows us a little about the guy behind the mask curtain.

Well, ladies and gentlemen. Here it is.
This is what it looks like when your biggest public speaking fears come true.
And look, he’s still alive, he’ll be back out there today and quite frankly he seems even more human than he did yesterday.

Sure we’re laughing at his expense, but the underlying respect is still there.
As I’ve said before, the payoff to speaking genuinely is well worth the cost.
Be prepared, but don’t be afraid to show people your character.

So what’s holding you back from getting your message out there?
Prepare. Then do it.
Be clear. Be yourself. Be heard.

Don’t let your fears keep you from sharing what you’ve got with this world. Someone out there needs it.

I mean, come on.
“Speaking moistly.”
Again, out loud. Every single time.

Mean what you say…

Disconnected.

For politicians, it’s a minefield out there, and speaking off the cuff is full of potential pitfalls. But playing it safe and reading exclusively from a script can be damaging too.

In this public statement, Trudeau did something he rarely does; he mentioned his late father. The pundits say it was a mistake. I say, “More of that, please.”

After politicians speak, journalists transcribe the words and decipher their meaning and dissect the legalities and the implications. But let’s be honest. The average Canadian pays much less attention to those details. From a content perspective they are mostly just hearing the messages that confirm what they already believe.

In my logical left brain, I agree that talking about his father seems like a bad idea politically. But personally and emotionally, that was the one part of his address that I actually felt –how to put it– I actually felt he was really SAYING something. With some frank honesty. It was the one part of his speech where he wasn’t being a teacher reading to us from the front of the class.

Connected.

It seems that he’s really talking to us, that he really means what he is saying. It’s not perfect. But I believe him. I’d love an EEG or functional MRI to confirm it, but I suspect that at the moment he begins this part of his speech, the right side of his brain starts lighting up like fireworks. The creative, emotional centres finally get in the game.

And when these parts of a speaker’s brain get in the game, so do those of their listeners. And that’s the magic of speaking off the cuff, from the heart.

From a speech science perspective, expressing novel content spontaneously has certain characteristics: increased pause lengths between thoughts, varied intonation patterns, varied speech rates, hesitations, revisions, increased use of fillers. So sure, you could fake it by reading the words and employing these features. Or you could skip all that and just mean what you say.

It’s a leap of faith to come off the page and speak from the heart. It’s scary and risky, but the payoff is big. It connects you to your listeners and convinces them in ways that encyclopedias full of hard facts cannot.

So even if what you are saying isn’t the best writing, the most adept messaging, the smartest political move–the connection that you make with your listeners may be worth more than that. Consider Mr. Trump to the south of us. When we see his words on paper, they are often ridiculous. Hell, sometimes they are not even words. But somehow, he’s convincing a lot of people that he’s an authentic guy. This is the somehow. Although we may completely disagree, we still think he means what he says. And strangely, that counts for a lot.

So the next time you’re giving a speech or a presentation, find a story you can tell, a personal anecdote that reflects your message. (Practice telling it. Record yourself and revise as needed.) Tell your story early on so that you can come off the page and connect to your audience. It will make all the difference. Get your right brain in the game.

It’s about trust, and if we trust that you mean what you say, you may just win us over.

Outside of that, you’re just a guy reading out words in front of the class.

Hillary Clinton’s Voice

Here’s what voice science is telling us:

1. Men are more attracted to women with higher voices.

2.We are more likely to vote for women with deeper voices.

So if sex sells, can we surmise that Hillary Clinton lost out on a few votes?  We can at least say that she was unfairly criticized because of her voice.  She was called shrill.  Screechy.  Nagging.

And when Brit Hume from Fox News said that Hillary “has a not-so-attractive voice“, we of course see that as a criticism.  But in fact I suppose he’s right.   That’s why she got elected in the first place.  If it were an attractive voice according to the studies, then it would likely be higher pitched.  High-pitched voices don’t get elected. Seems unfair, but welcome to womanhood.  Lo and behold, you can’t have it all.  When it comes to your voice, you can either be electable, or attractive.  But apparently not both.

So, when I hear Hillary Clinton at 21 years old with a whole lot of head voice (that men find attractive), I think yeah, sure, it’s nice enough to listen to, but I probably wouldn’t vote for her.  And something told Hillary the same thing.  So she changed.  She decided to become electable, consciously or not.  That’s how the voice works. We make changes as we go, usually subconsciously.  Sometimes those changes work out for the best.  Sometimes we regret them.  (Which is where I suspect vocal fry will end up in about 10 years, but I digress.)

And society changed.  In these modern times, North American society doesn’t have a lot of respect for women who speak exclusively in head voice.  Think of Melanie Griffith’s character in Working Girl.

They all thought she was sexy, but no one was going to promote her.

Here’s Hillary still in head voice in 1983

So she adapts.

Hello society, you only respect deeper voices?  All right then!  Here’s my chest voice.  I’ll use it as much as I possibly can.  Hey!  I got elected!  Well that worked out great!

Except for when they say she sounds like she’s lecturing or combative.  “You should sound softer!  Kinder!  Gentler!”

Also, Hillary got older.  That tends to happen with humans. (Crazy!)  Both aging and using chest voice lower women’s voices.  This article does a great job of explaining the science behind Hillary’s changing and adapting voice.  Kudos to the author for tracking down voice scientist Ingo Titze.  He really knows this stuff.  The good thing about lowering your voice is that it gets you elected.  But the problem is, and Ingo Titze wrote this to me in an email a few years back, the problem with women using primarily chest voice (WHICH GOT THEM ELECTED), is that  “Women will be at a disadvantage if they lower their speaking pitch to the male speaking range. The generally smaller female larynx drives less airflow, which means females will likely “press” more to increase their vocal power. This comes at a cost.”

What is the cost?  Ingo, what is the cost?!

Well, it’s that when they try to get louder, when they want to increase their vocal power, women who use chest voice tend to press their voice.  And that can make her sound Annoying! (Thank you Sonny Bunch.) Or Screechy! (Thank you Joel Achenbach.) Or like she has a Very Average Scream! (Thank you Donald Trump).  Oh hey,  speaking of the Donald, guess who else presses his voice?

Standing in front of a crowd of thousands, it’s pretty hard not to want to increase your vocal power.  Sure, there’s a microphone, but it’s thousands of people! When Hillary or Donald are in front of a crowd, they press their voices.  But very different things come up when you google Hillary Clinton Voice and Donald Trump Voice.  (That is the “sexist double standard” part of all this.)  And after years of pressing a voice, it can become more and more hoarse.  Indeed, there is a cost.

I’d like to suggest that criticizing Hillary Clinton for using her chest voice is like criticizing a giraffe for having a long neck.

Giraffe!  Sure, you can now eat leaves from the tops of trees, but come on!  It’s SO HARD for you to bend down and drink water.  The lions might get you! What were you thinking?!

And the giraffe’s all like, “Dude, I was thinking about NOT DYING OF HUNGER.”  My long neck is what helps me survive!  I didn’t really consider the water-drinking, but I guess I’ll just have to take my chances.

Yeah, but you might get eaten by LIONS!

Yeah, but I wouldn’t even BE HERE if not for my long neck.

The giraffe adapted.

The lions can only take you down if you actually exist.  But first you gotta survive.

Bottom line, maybe we need to stop criticizing the giraffe for having such a long neck.  It’s what got her this far.

Do you press your voice?  Ingo Titze has something that can help: