Politicians get a bad rap these days. They're accused of being liars, of being unsure of their convictions, and of pandering to the public. But the pressures on them are huge. The technology of the soundbite has made it possible for their worst moments to be repeated and retweeted. Every news anchor with their salt is going to be hunting for them to slip up, just once.
So politicians have to be able to stand up for themselves. But how do vocal coaches help them out?
1. Deeper Voices Win Elections
A voice which is deep and resonant is statistically more likely to be recognised as commanding and dominant - two qualities we look for in a leader. Even British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had elocution lessons to make her voice less shrill. The famous, deep, commanding (albeit a little scary) voice is a direct product of those lessons.
2. Adjusting Body Language
The voice lives in the body, so in order for the voice to be strong, the body has to be strong too. Posture is a key part of body language - the silent communication of the skeleton. So learning proper alignment, anchoring and good posture is a key weapon in a politician's arsenal. If you widen your chest and stand like you look like you belong - and people are more likely to trust you.
3. Accent Softening
We tend to be a fickle public when it comes to accents. We're far more likely to vote for someone either with an accent that's similar to us, or an accent that denotes power. American politicians are often encouraged to play down any local dialect they've picked up and head towards 'General American', the newscaster's toned-down American accent. Then again, the great strength of Alex Salmond (Scottish National Party ex-leader) was his broad Scottish brogue. So vocal coaches will work with a politician to maximise their accent's likeability for their demographic - more Scottish for the Scots, or less New York for the Southern States.
4. Negotiation Tactics
Politicians regularly use vocal coaches to sound more persuasive. By clever uses of pitch range, you can manipulate how people respond to the words you're saying. For instance, heading downwards at the end of a sentence creates the impression of a confident, self-possessed speaker. Heading upwards at the end can either be interpreted as a question, or a lack of self-assurance. Tony Robbins is a master at using pitch range in his speech, driving his points upwards with energy and dropping the pitch at the ends of the lines to show certainty. When you next go to a car dealership, listen to how the salesman uses pitch to show certainty and dominance. You'll never get flogged again.
5. Making Their Ideas Clear
Good vocal coaches (and actors!) use a technique called 'Thought Mapping', which is where they take a piece of text and break it down into the important pieces of information. For instance, in an extract from George Bush's 2003 address to signal the start of the Iraq war:
|| My || fellow citizens. || At this hour, || American || and coalition || forces || are in the early stages of || military operations || to disarm || Iraq, || to free its people || and to defend the world || from grave danger.
|| On my orders, || coalition forces || have begun striking || selected targets || of military importance || to undermine || Saddam Hussein's || ability || to wage war. || These are opening stages of what || will be || a broad || and concerted || campaign.
This 'map' of all the important information allows the speaker to make choices - either to add in pauses, emphasise certain thoughts, or to run through other, less important pieces of information. Monotone voices tend to be really hard to listen to. But if you differentiate the thoughts using pitch and pace it becomes a lot clearer what you're trying to say.
6. Weak Articulation
Sometimes politicians will have weak consonants, such as 'R' or 'th'. This is often where the tongue is failing to sound out the consonant correctly, leading to a trail-off in power and often an impression of weakness. This leads to the impression that the politician themselves is weak, not just their tongue! These can sometimes be severe enough to be called 'lisps', but often it is a case of accent or tongue weakness which can cause this impression. And with a picky public, politicians can't be doing with any weaknesses.
7. Vocal Health
Politicians have to talk a lot. They are sharers of ideas. They are communicators. And this means leading the floor at meeting after meeting, talking in dry, crowded rooms. This can lead to the vocal folds drying from lack of hydration, causing either a good deal of hoarseness, or a voice which does some very strange things! Listen to the Before and After vocal failure of the Turkish Prime Minister Tayipp Erdogan. Eep.