Hillary Clinton can add to her basic stage craft, to her inventory of vocal skills. As a public speaker she needs to reach beyond facts and “process” to the emotional “Why” responses that generate persistent commitment. As a presidential candidate Clinton will also need to establish personal connections with the electorate to ward off cheap low-blow attacks from the Republican slime machine.
Top level American politicians put resources to developing their vocal effectiveness. They work at it. Hillary Clinton is no different. Mastery of oratorical skills depends on a combination of coaching and many, many hours of practice. The problem, here, is how this effort has been targeted — specifically, on what has been missed.
Voters choose candidates who believe what they believe.
Based on her web site's videos including 2012 and 2015 Clinton's voice is tuned to convey facts, not so much to address beliefs. Every presidential candidate has done voice work, at least since the second campaign of George H.W. Bush in 1992. Their custom tuned Politician's Voices show command of pace, tone and enunciation. With Clinton her accomplishments as a speaker are nothing to be sneezed at. She never embarrasses herself as a spokeswoman. But as a leader, her skill set needs to go up a notch to connect with the “Why” of her audiences' beliefs.[Update: see Simon Sidek's TED talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.”]
Consider what the very best female speakers can do. To take this seriously give 5 minutes to each of the three examples below. Love 'em or hate 'em, these speakers reach their audiences' hearts.
Clinton communicates the “What” of political issues and the “How” of democratic policies. She is always clear. She listens well. Her voice avoids strident affect as well as the appearance of straining to force logical connections.
She is a professional among politicians.
Thing is, she will be vulnerable to go-for-the-throat counterattacks as long as she remains fundamentally ordinary in her connection to the emotional “Why” of her audiences. As “Granny Clinton” she is the no-brainer choice over any warmonger Republican. But so was Jimmy Carter in 1980. Ronald Reagan's line “There you go again!” was the election winner that November because Jimmy Carter had not connected emotionally with his audiences. Same for John Kerry and the phony Swift Boat attacks.
Carter and Kerry had not learned to use their voices to reach people's hearts. They had not done the work to acquire the fundamentals of stage craft.
She is better with facts than Carter or Kerry. With beliefs, she has the same limitations.
The “Why” of human feelings is what matters.
That is, heart. And when the content of a campaign gets nasty this can be all that matters.
Great Female Speakers
Clinton is doing what the consultants tell her is necessary to get there.
Her public voice has lowered by about half an octave as compared with the 1980s. She maintains an even pace whatever the material. There is even a hint of a bell tone, a steady modulation inside her voice that supplies body for the sound quality during her public speeches. But unfortunately that is not the right stuff for leadership.
Let's have a look at the best.
Let's start with a pure voice. With a speaker where very few in this audience will understand a word of what she is saying. Here is one young woman in China, speaking Mandarin. Things happen in Mandarin that do not happen quite the same ways in English. She speaks very quickly at times. Still, for quality of voice, for sharpness, for going over cliffs, for heart, for small explosions, behold….
By the 5 minute mark, you should get a sense of what Chai Jing has done connecting with her audience. And then with the whole of mainland China. Impacts on her culture: massive protests at Guangdong and Shanghai against pollution and the Communist Party of China corruption that allows it. Events not seen in China for two generations.
Then there is Emma Watson. “Hermione.” Female lead in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” That Emma Watson. Her topic is not quite the life vs death poisoning of China's air. Close enough though: female equality. Standing up for women. “Heforshe.” At Davos:
Watson starts at the heart. She sells the emotions of her position, her arguments so that connection always come first. Again, the small vocal explosions make it work.
Hillary could learn Watson's techniques in a month. She doesn't know this stuff today.
And then there's Sarah Palin. Yes, Palin.
A well defined subculture has sprung up around her. Damn near a cult. And it's not just the surgically improved face and figure. There's plenty of the same physical pattern out there. Dozens of sexy middle-age competitors among the population of RWNJ Schlafly-clones.
The difference is Palin's voice. Palin was on air for years as a sports reporter. She watched her tapes. For Liberals, she is strident. For most rural Americans this voice works, big time.
Palin got her ticket a 9% bump. She hit rural America's “Why” buttons as effectively as Rush Limbaugh, Larry the Cable Guy or NASCAR races. (Start of speech at 3:50)
You don't have to like what she says to appreciate her tactical effectiveness. She's an idiot compared to the job of being POTUS. Content is not king; what Sarah Palin does is quite apart from facts.
Palin goes big. To understand her, start with recognition that her voice works same way as aggressive body language. She pushes a High-T testosterone overdose, masculinity, a worship of domination.
And that's what got McCain/Palin that 9% “bump” in the polls — a triple on expected outcomes.
As an added perk for Liberals, do Liberals want to penetrate The Base pool of Republican voters ??? Give thanks for Palin's crudeness, then apply the lessons she shows us in the video. Palin makes emotional “Why” appeals to their Base voters; Liberals have much stronger connections to make, so adopt her attack patterns and drive it all home.
One nice thing here, we can do it honestly. I've yet to hear a Democrat come out with this self assurance, with her knock-out punch cadence.
For looks at where Hillary Clinton has placed her speaking voice, where she has significant opportunities for improvement, follow below the fold. Yes, Hillary can do well by enhancing her vocal technique. I'll end by hitting two specific items, effectively stage craft techniques.