Friday, July 29, 2016

Is It 'Shrillness?' Is That The Real Problem Here?

The final ratings for the climactic nights of both conventions are in.
Donald Trump won. Hillary Clinton lost.
Trump attracted nearly 35 million viewers while Hillary's speech barely broke 33 million.
Why did this happen? Let's face it: Trump had no "big stars, big attractions" leading up to his speech. He relied almost solely on his family. Hillary, on the other hand, had Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, Katy Perry, Carole King, Alicia Keys, Paul Simon, Demi Lovato and a variety of other stars.
And yet, Trump won the day, even though his speech was quite long and delivered at an elevated volume.
Why is this so?
The answer is simple.
Hillary is just not a very good public speaker.
She's not a very good storyteller. She's not very convincing. She's not real enough when she's delivering a speech.
A great speech is a sleight of hand. Yes, it's a performance -- but it doesn't play as a performance. Great performances fool us that way, just as great theater naturally brings us to a suspension of disbelief. That's the difference that a true professional makes.
And one other thing -- Hillary is too shrill.
Now, some have said that calling Hillary "shrill" is sexist. But that simply isn't the case.
They never called Margaret Thatcher "shrill." Never.  Golda Meir -- was she "shrill?" No. She was never shrill. Margaret Chase Smith (the REAL pioneer) was never shrill. Ditto Millicent Fenwick. Claire Booth Luce? Never called "shrill." How about Jeanne Kirkpatrick? NOT shrill. All of these women were great speakers.
Having written hundreds of speeches and having taught public speaking for many years at the college level, I'll simply point out that, whether you're a man or a woman, the sound of your voice and your pitch and tone will directly impact whether or not you succeed in getting your message across. And you cannot separate the message itself from the delivery. 
The best public speakers, regardless of gender, almost never reach the highest and lowest octave levels. Their delivery is modulated and the pitch and tone are in sync with the cadence to add emphasis or limit emphasis. 
Taken all together, the most well-delivered speeches have an ebb and flow and they peak (both in form and substance) at about two-thirds of the way through. That's the climax or the peroration -- the "nut" of the speech. This is the moment when the speaker either finally wins us over or doesn't. 
We are drawn to people with pleasant voices who are able to master pitch, tone and cadence for ultimate impact. We want speakers to show that mastery -- we want them to to succeed. When they don't, we're disappointed.
Take a look at the brief clip of Thatcher before and after her voice training. She underwent a training program which included special humming exercises aimed at lowering the pitch level at which she formerly spoke. 

From tapes of speeches made before and after receiving training, you can hear a marked difference. Thatcher showed that she could master the art of public speaking When she spoke, she sounded self-assured and in control. These are qualities that people look for (and listen for) in a leader -- male or female.
Going back through history, Lincoln's voice was quite high-pitched. Daniel Day Lewis came closest to nailing it in the movie, Lincoln. Lincoln did not have a particularly pleasant voice. He might not succeed today. Teddy Roosevelt did not have a very authoritative voice but he was fortunate as his emergence predated mass radio broadcasts. If the pitch and tone of an amplified voice didn't matter, John Gilbert might have continued to be a great movie star after the emergence of talkies. It did and he wasn't.
In 1968 Hubert Humphrey sounded too chatty and in 1972 George McGovern sounded a bit like Liberace. Both lost to Richard Nixon who learned to moderate his tone and control his vitriol. 
Gender doesn't matter. Delivery does!

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