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Love them or hate them, The Donald and The Nigel demand your attention using publicity shock tactics. From Trump’s insistence on building ‘The Wall’ to Farage’s audacious Ferrero Rocher pic, they consistently own the front pages.
There is something of the clown about them both. Possibly in the same way we loved The Boris hanging from the wire.
But more than that. They appear to ‘say it how it is’.
Farage was one of the best speakers I heard last year. I didn’t agree with his views but there was something in his tone and manner that was incredibly engaging. And pretty persuasive if you didn’t look too hard at the content.
Trump’s voice is irritatingly strident, and possibly physically misplaced, but it does seem to be ‘his’ voice. And Farage sounds like he’s chatting to you in the pub. There’s an authenticity about their vocal delivery so we believe that they believe what they’re saying. Their message might be simple and repetitive but it works for the audience they’re aiming at.
I met The Nigel after his speech and his voice was exactly the same as when he was on stage. I haven’t met The Donald in person but I’m convinced he’d sound the exactly same too. As does The Boris.
However, most of us will change our voice in some way when we speak in public, even if only slightly. In fact, most of us use several voices – our telephone voice, the voice when we speak to our parents or our children, the voice for our boss etc.
So what can we learn from all this?
Here are 5 things we can learn from The Donald, The Nigel and The Boris for when we next have to stand up and speak:
1. Use your own voice
Try to sound like you do when you’re talking to your friends and family. Your voice should ideally come from your lower stomach so that it is emotionally connected. Our emotional centre is in the gut.
(Here’s a great exercise to relax your voice for before you speak: Stand and face a wall. Place both hands on the wall about shoulder height and push really hard, as if you’re trying to push the wall a couple of metres in the direction you’re pushing. After pushing, stand normally and try speaking out loud. See how much more relaxed and emotionally connected your voice sounds.)
2. Use ordinary words
Don’t be tempted to use formal words – they’ll make you sound and feel stiff. ‘Great to see you’ is so much better than ‘It’s a great pleasure to welcome you here on this auspicious occasion’. Using long words can look like you’re trying to hide something. Try to explain your ideas simply – best to explain as you might to a six year old. Not in a condescending way but just really simple and clear. I suggest the use of ‘As you know …’ which flatters the ones in the audience who do know and is a relief to the ones who don’t.
3. Be present
Your audience don’t want to feel you’ve given the same talk a hundred times before. An actor playing Hamlet and saying the famous lines ‘To be or not to be?’ has to imagine it’s the first time he has ever said those words. He can’t say, ‘To be or not to be? That is the question. In fact, it’s the same question I asked myself at the matinée this afternoon!’ Keep it spontaneous. Change the order in which you say things. Keep yourself on your toes. If you stay present, so will your audience.
4. Show your passion
People are clearly buying into the passion of Trump and Farage, even when it spills into anger. Generation Z, particularly, demand passion and authenticity. They want to see you ‘feel’ your argument. The worst thing you can do while speaking is looking like you don’t care.
5. Don’t take yourself too seriously
When we listen to someone who takes themselves too seriously, we can’t wait for them to slip on the proverbial banana skin. As Billy Connolly said, ‘Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cosy, doesn’t try it on.’ A little self-deprecating humour goes a long way.
There are three fundamental things we need to connect with our audience: Energy, Clarity and Humanity. We need about 20% more energy than usual. We need clarity both in our argument and in our delivery. And, most importantly, we need to speak with humanity. It is this human tone, in our voice and our choice of words, that makes us engaging and believable.
If we have all three, we will come across as focused and authentic. And we will connect with Generation Z as well.
Robin Kermode is a popular keynote speaker and one of Europe’s leading communication coaches. You can join his half day Public Speaking Masterclass at the Royal Society in January.