How do you compare to the former President? The following text is the beginning of Barack Obama’s second inaugural speech. I first published this almost ten years ago. It was a great lesson then, and still is. Find yourself a timer, press start, and read. Read it as if you’re in front of the hundreds of thousands in Washington, D.C. (*Actual hundreds of thousands, not in Trump numbers.)
“Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens. Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution, we affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional, what makes us America, is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” [applause]
Now, press STOP. It took Barack Obama 70 seconds to say that. How long did it take you?
People think he’s a good, even great speaker. They even applauded. A lot!
Auditory processing is hard. Giving your listeners time to process one thought is more important than trying to express two or three thoughts in the same amount of time. If you don’t pause to let them process your message, they’ll come away with nothing.
So the next time you find yourself speaking in front of hundreds of thousands of adoring followers, be sure to pause. Long and often. But even if you only have a handful of listeners, my bet is that you could pause longer and more often. Your message, and its weight, will be better received if you do.
Yes, okay! Storytelling is important! You get it! But how do you FIND the stories to tell—the stories that will elevate your message—and how do you share them for the greatest impact? Can we guarantee that after this workshop you’ll elevate your presentations and be a more engaging conversationalist? Actually, ya, pretty much.
This is for you if you’re interested in:
Strategies to find your stories
How to know if you have a good story
The best way to make your story better
Bonus: 45 minute 1-1 coaching session to be scheduled within the next 4 weeks (value $250)
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.
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:
Okay vocabulary snobs, this one’s worth a listen. Kory Stamper, associate editor at Merriam-Webster, will shine a light on the word “irregardless“. As informative as her explanation is, she also provides us with an excellent example of the spoken word. She has great range (nice highs and lows), and despite her first three phrases all having rising intonation, she recovers with confidence, exceptional timing and a perfect rate. After listening to it three times, it’s still hard to tell that she’s reading from a teleprompter. She is, and that ladies and gentlemen, is how it’s done.
During Question Period in the House of Commons, opposition MPs usually squeeze all they can into their 30 second slot. On Nov. 5th, Thomas Mulcair did a little something different in his follow-up question for John Baird. The rest of the House is used to hearing their colleagues drone on. They often use a fast rate with no pauses and limited intonation to get it all in, and we have to work pretty hard to follow their message. Mulcair’s unexpected approach makes everyone take notice.
Changing it up attracts attention. Sometimes, less is more. So if you find yourself droning on like a politician in Question Period, pause, and use a short phrase to focus your message. You’ll get your listeners back.
Ok, I’ll pause now, and say a short phrase. Watch this: