The voice is a powerful medium. Ed West of Fox West is a coach and voice trainer who has been giving media training for over twenty-five years and has coached seven out of ten Singapore Stock Exchange CEOs and hundreds of other leaders. Recently, he wrote an article on the topic of voice and language. One of the case studies in Ed’s article mentions how President Donald Trump has perfected the art of using simple words. A test by Rudolph Flesch and Peter Kincaid known as the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Score is one of the most widely used measures of readability, and in testing Trump’s speeches, they found that he speaks at the level of a ten-year-old or 4th grade student. In comparison, Hillary Clinton speaks at the level of a thirteen-year-old, and Bernie Sanders at the level of a sixteen-year-old. Trump’s debating style was described as to the point, which reaches the audience he is appealing to. The Huffington Post review of the 2016 second presidential debate noted that, on average, Trump’s sentences were short with less than ten words per sentence, whereas Clinton had over fifteen. Trump seems to have perfected the art of simplicity in his approach, both in sentence construction and words. You can check your own score using a website called WebFX, but don’t feel bothered if it turns out you’re speaking at the level of an elementary student. It is not that you are dumbing down to your readers. It just means the content can easily be understood, even by young people.
There is simplicity, repetition, and especially hyperbole or the use of great words that can add context to the sentence while making the audience buy into the conversation. Winston Churchill, at 23, wrote that, “The scaffolding of rhetoric is a tendency to wild extravagance of language… so wild that reason recoils and is evident is most pre-orations.” While this is something that Donald Trump would never say, he instead stated in his 1987 book The Art of the Deal that, “The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big of themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do.” That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts anybody. Trump can carry on as such, because his followers want something big and spectacular to believe in, what can be called a “truthful hyperbole.”
Pace and articulation
It sometimes sounds weird to hear yourself speak on a recording, and one of the reasons is due to pace. When speaking to friends or colleagues, a certain pace is used that is almost tailored specifically for the conversation with them, while when talking in a more formal setting, one would tend to slow down. There is this idea of test one’s own speech by reading what’s known as the Rainbow Passage, which is used by speech therapists to see how much of the text one can get through. The problem is that native English speakers have a continuous stream of sounds which are often pieced together without clear cut guidelines and borders between words. This creates a dilemma for two groups of people: one is for AI tools such as Otter, which has to identify weak form words like “and, can, of, have” that people do not properly articulate, and the other is non-native English speakers.
When speaking in a media interview or online on a conference call, consider the articulation of the words being said. Think of those weak form words and how they are structed, as well as the speed at which they are said. A slow speed is usually around 110 words per minute, and conversational speed at the slower end of the spectrum is 120. On the faster end, conversational speed can be seen at 160-200 words per minute. People who read books for radio often speak at about 150-160 words per minute, because this speed keeps the passage flowing. Auctioneers and sports commentators, such as those in motorsports, tend to hover in the range of 250-400 words per minute. This goes to show that the concept of normal speaking does not really apply when giving a speech or presentation, because there is a need to moderate the speech based on the audience. Obviously, one speed does not fit all. The beauty of public speaking is that you already know your audience or can see their reaction and adjust the talking speed to better keep their attention.
The voice image and the emotion your voice should evoke
For audio-only presentations, such as radio, be aware of the voice image. Even if you are communicating to your staff through voice messages, consider how you are coming across by the use of voice on its own. How the voice is articulated gives the impression of who people are and where they’re at in our life journey and professional journey, such as by showing how seriously they take the audience. Professional presenters will have a professional voice they like to put on, and so the voice image is a collection of different parts, such as breathing, articulation, volume, pitch, tone, and pausing.
If you are doing interviews or a podcast, think about the tone of voice you’re using to reassure, excite, or placate the listeners. Think about the articulation within the messages to the audience, of which there are three groups: the internal, partner, and external, and each one may need a different tone of voice. Some may need a disciplinary tone, while others require an engaging kind of voice, and some may just need a sales voice. Make sure the message is clearly understood, and be careful as well not to use jargon while maintaining pace and delivery, especially when dealing with foreign media or non-English spaekers.
As you prepare for any interviews or discussions with staff, partners, or clients, take the time to consider the tone of voice you’re using. What is the depth of your voice like? How about the pace or your breathing technique? These are all ways that to communicate more about oneself, because, whether you like it or not, everybody has a judgement. Playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote that it is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman despise him. While that could be true, it certainly isn’t limited to the British condition. Everyone wants to be liked and engaged with, which is the essence of PR, and the SPEAK|pr program is the best toolkit any entrepreneur could hope to find that will help you shine and master all of these techniques.
This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.