What does a great leader have in common with a small child? The answer is their ability to manipulate with the sound of their voice.
Imagine you are in a restaurant with the usual ambient background chatter, when suddenly the sound of a small child in the distant corner is heard. Your ears prick up, the sound is distinctive and reaches a part of your consciousness reserved for emotional reaction. The sound demands attention and if ignored, becomes louder or intolerable! The child’s vocabulary, in order to choose how he communicates, is not yet developed. Instead, he feels his thoughts almost physically, and this feeling sets off a reaction through the core muscles of the abdomen. Self consciousness is not yet developed, so what we are hearing as we sip our Cabernet Sauvignon, is the expression of raw emotion in sound.
Listening to great leaders invokes a similar reaction; we are drawn in primarily by the sound of their voice, their body language and lastly rhetoric. Listen to Imran Khan‘ speech at Rawalpindi on 27 May this year, Charlie Chaplin in his Emperor’s Speech, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama at the CNC 2008, Martin Luther King Jr, in his famous „I have a dream“, Nelson Mandela’s speech from the dock at the opening of his trial, Hilary Clinton’s campaigning speeches.
With Imran Kahn, we experience warmth, the sound is bold and masculine, he comes across as utterly sincere. Likewise Charlie Chaplin in the role of the great dictator. Bill Clinton’s self-deprecating hand gestures add to those warm tones to ingratiate himself on his listeners. Nelson Mandela’s impassioned plea from the dock is moving beyond belief. Hilary Clinton reflects a great mind and intellect. Her voice does her justice.
Now what does all this have to do with the small child, I hear you asking? The answer lies with the connection of the voice to the emotions: a small child crying and the politician connecting his vowels to the core muscles of the abdomen with the same absence of self consciousness demands our attention.
The absence of self consciousness frees the tongue root, allowing the sound to travel unhindered, the feel of the adrenalin rush opens the pharynx, giving the vowels space to impinge on the resonance! A leader’s passion to lead is equitable to the child’s need for attention. The child leads without language and the politician with, albeit a studied rhetoric.
Forget about politicians for a while and apply this principal to communication in general, whether selling or instructing, getting the barman’s attention in a crowded pub or simply holding a conversation at a party. Keeping the attention of the listener is of prime importance and that is why we need to relearn the technique of crying in order to free the sound of the voice, convey passion with clarity and impact. Once we have control over our crying mechanism we can use it to apply warmth, we can speak for longer periods without becoming fatigued or the voice tiring. The very act of using the core muscles to support the voice automatically energises the base of the spine, opens the back, distributes the weight of the head along the spine, helps with posture and body language.
Great leaders have mastered the art of voice to a certain degree and know what is effective, yet remain authentic. In the UK we tend to train our leaders to sound non-threatening and accessible. Their power of their convictions is toned down to sound like the nice guy next door with the result that they are no longer authentic and fail to communicate with us on a visceral level. They do not sound like leaders. Unless our voice represents our passion we will never reach our audience in the same way as that child crying for attention in the restaurant.