By Monica Murphy, Senior Coaching Partner and Ethan Becker, Senior Coaching Partner
As Speech Coaches, we look at how the art of communication persuades a voter. Have you thought about how communication style impacts a voter’s perception? By style we mean: how someone comes across to their listeners. Forget about the healthcare, balance of power in the white house, and messaging for a moment….Let’s look at the communication reasons why some Massachusetts voters eagerly checked the box next to Scott Brown on the ballot. Simply said, wrong style, not enough smile.
In Massachusetts in 2010, Martha Coakley did anything but come across as conversational and approachable on the campaign trail. Instead she came across as arrogant and elitist. Now wait a minute, we’re not saying Martha Coakley is arrogant and elitist, as a speech coaches, we’re more selective with our language than that, she “came across” that way. And in some circles, that will be ok, it will translate into confidence. In the job of an Attorney General, this serves a purpose. But when it’s a political female candidate, and your competition is already shouting from the rooftops, “Liberal arrogant elitist”… and then you “sound that way”, it solidifies the perception.
What do we mean by sound that way?
Often when Coakely spoke in public, her tone and inflection did not match the message. This does not indicate if she was sincere or not, it simply projects the impression that she is not, Remember, it’s all about perception.
Add to that, it’s been our experience at the firm that women have a more difficult time projecting a consistent confident, authoritative and approachable style. The attempts are often seen as arrogant or condescending. There must be a strong use of Pathos, emotional appeal, as well. One woman who is perceived as succeeding in creating an approachable, even charismatic style is Michelle Obama, what strikes you about her? Yes… it is her Style and Smile…
What could Coakley have done more of?
-Incorporate more nonverbal communication such as more smiling and larger gestures. –
-Use language that evokes more emotion
-Vary the tone and inflection in her voice to project a more approachable and sincere style
These are very specific mannerisms that many speakers need to learn, even in business.
Brown’s Style and Smiles…
Brown came across as comfortable, confident and down to earth. Why? Well, keep in mind, he did not need to influence voters in North Carolina, only in New England. The single most identifiable verbal trait of a New Englander is to drop the “r”. “Pahk ya cah in hahvad yahd.” Brown has a keen skill to turn this on and off in a way that has him described as articulate!
Brown’s use of nonverbal communication was very effective. Often seen with a smile or an engaged look, he appeared conversational and approachable. Now add some strategic placement of issues and messaging and you have a formula for success.
Any candidate who is running for office should look carefully at the way he or she speaks. This is not about pretending to be someone your not. It’s about knowing your listeners.
The short version from these professional speech coaches who live in Massachusetts: Coakley’s communication style simply came across as flat and even offensive to many. Brown’s communication style came across as charismatic, articulate and approachable. Brown’s style and smile made it easy for people to create a Massachusetts Miracle.
26 Oct WE SEE RUDE PEOPLE
This week, we caught up with Senior Coaching Partner Monica Murphy.
Monica is currently leading a lengthy customer service training program with software developing company Pega Systems. This unique program, called Communicating Extraordinary Service, was developed by Monica and fellow TSIC coaches Kristen Curran-Faller and Debbie London, and has led Pega Systems to great success.
>What is Pega Systems and how did you become involved with them?
“Pega Systems is a software developing company that helps businesses automate their business processes. We have had a 10-year relationship with them, originally beginning with Presentation Skills Training for some of their managers in the engineering group. It was a combination of presentation skills coaching and individual communication coaching.” (more…)
“I’m not trying to over-simplify things,” says London, “but communication is about making choices. We make choices with the language we use whether we’re being purposeful or not and those choices have effects.”
When asked if she could elaborate, London continued; “Perception is reality. How individuals recall and interpret a moment or a memory shapes the way s/he behaves. Language is the tool we use to shape those perceptions. If we use negative or derogatory terms to reference some one or some thing, we are inevitably going to behave in like manner. If, however, we think or talk about some one or some thing in glowing and positive terms, we’ll behave accordingly.”
Taking this outside the classroom and into the boardroom is what London has been applying recently; although, she started thinking about perception and reality as a college student. As a sophomore at Syracuse University, Debbie London was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. “There was very little literature written about living with MS at that time [1980’s], especially something that wasn’t written for the medical community, “There have got to be so many people who live a successful life in spite of having MS and in spite of the dooming and limited literature that currently exists,” recalls London.
That revelation led Debbie to writing a doctoral dissertation on language shaping reality. She talked with women who live with MS and discovered that they live successfully with MS largely because of the language they use. “Rarely will you hear someone with MS say, ’oh, poor me’, but more likely you will hear her or him say, ‘Yes, I have MS, and while I’m not happy about it, lots of people have problems.’”
Now when London works with clients, she uses a similar strategy. “If you think confidently, if you use confident and assertive verbal and nonverbal communication,” London says, ”others will perceive you as competent and confident. And perception is reality.”
Dr. Debbie London is an accomplished coach and consultant who brings a combination of international experience and understanding of human interaction to her clients. This is how her biography starts out on The Speech Improvement Company’s website. A former college professor of communication studies, Dr. London has a wide array of experiences on which to draw. When she uses those experiences to make a point with students or clients, the common thread is communication.