Tone and pace won the race

Nov 12 2008 by Janet Howd Print This Article

Over the past two years all but the most reclusive of us must have seen presentations and heard speeches by candidates who wished to become 44th President of the United States.

Though each contender had teams of backers setting out a plan of campaign and teams of speech writers scripting words that would persuade people to buy into the party line, in the end, despite all that communal effort, it was down to one presenter to encapsulate the ideas and deliver the message.

Ultimately, tone of voice and pace of delivery won the race for the White House, because when the going got tough those speaking with the wrong tone at the wrong pace were the ones found wanting.

Watch and listen again, while the final outcome is still so fresh in mind, and you will discover that John McCain found his real voice only when delivering his final, gracious speech.

In acknowledging defeat, he over-came the reedy, clenched teeth quality that had been in evidence - even when addressing his supporters as "my friends" - throughout his campaign. Standing there, a doughty warrior, urging his supporters to join him in accepting a "good man" as leader, McCain found a warmth of tone which gave his words the focus that till then had so eluded him and which - had he found it more often - might well have won him the race.

Compare this with the untried kid on the block. From the very first hustings his tone was at one with the ideas he expressed. Because his voice always connected with the meaning of his words people believed what he said. The pace at which he expressed himself gave listeners chance easily to digest his meaning and allowed them there and then to decide whether to go along with him or not.

Unfortunately, for Sarah Palin - though audiences are usually a push over for any performer prepared to push their own limits - they can't be fooled by hype. Ms Palin's "pallin' around" soon palled. To succeed in her new role, she should have set herself up, switched herself on, inserted new instructions and put herself through the discomfort of altering patterns she had come to think of as the only way for her brain, voice and body to take on the task of campaigning.

She omitted to do that, however, and her self-styled sales pitch - so inappropriate to the product she was selling - meant that the advantage of her shiny newness almost instantly tarnished to a bitten-off-more-than-she-could-chew-ness.

Many managers would empathise with her. Because they are given little or no systematic training in how to deliver their goods, they too find themselves thrashing about during their presentations.

All too often audiences are given such conflicting signals of tone, pace, gesture and stance that whole presentations turn into games of Chinese Whispers. Never mind Ö each disoriented person will leave with miniscule print outs of the eighty two slides that popped up behind the talking head which no one could identify during the ages they spent in the dark.

No one manager should put any other through that kind of experience. Colleagues want to be fired with enthusiasm. They want reasons to agree or disagree. They want a bit of light and a bit of shade, a bit of loud and a bit of soft a bit of humour - but most of all they want ideas that tone up their own perceptions and set them off at a pace from which they and their company can profit.

If no one in your organisation is prepared to train you in the necessary skills to achieve this goal, why not use the many examples of good and bad oratory that have been showered on us from America over the past months. Why not put some of the candidate's messages past your own lips and practise their gestures and stances with your own body?

It should be fun to put ourselves through the hoop of trying out different performance techniques, of speaking at different tempi and with different accents!

It should be fun to vary our vocal tone, change pace, change volume, sit rather than stand, stand rather than sit, work with visuals if we usually don't or without visuals if we usually do. Video yourself as you go through this process. Be prepared to laugh at yourself and learn as you squirm!

All kinds of subliminal messages get passed into our consciousness when we play around in this way. Undertaking unusual activity informs our muscles and enables them to incorporate elements that will help us to deliver more profitable and enjoyable presentations.

And keep in mind as you put yourselves through the hoops of change that by buying into this idea you will be buying into skills designed, at enormous expense, to add value to those who aimed to become the most powerful presenter in the world and that some of that value should surely rub off on us ordinary mortals.

more articles

About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.