public speaking

27 Jan Styles and Smiles: Brown’s Victory in Massachusetts

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.

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14 Sep ALL TOGETHER NOW: TAKE A DEEP BREATH

by Laurie Schloff/Senior Coaching Partner


World peace is getting harder to imagine.  It seems that there’s a daily news headliner about losing it.

Kanye West just jumped on the stage and grabbed the microphone from Taylor Swift in the middle of her acceptance speech at the Video Music Awards to announce who HE thought should have won.

Come on Kanye, a lot of us are bonkers about Beyonce too, but somehow we learned it’s just not nice to grab awards away from winners at ceremonies.

On September 12, Serena Williams told the judges at the 2009 U.S Open that she didn’t like their call. “You can take this (expletive) ball and stuff it down your (expletive) throat.”

What separates the dignified from the sore loser?  Keeping your cool and grace.  Forget tennis for now, Serena and head directly to Anger Management Class.

And don’t forget that fiery moment one week ago.  President Obama is giving his healthcare address and Representative Joseph Wilson of South Carolina blurts out “You lie!” when Obama asserted that illegal immigrants wouldn’t receive government covered healthcare.

Did you catch Joe Biden shaking his head with a how did we get to this level of disrespect look?

Reasonable American citizens of both parties agree with the Vice President that it’s rude to interrupt a presidential speech and to insult even worse.

We need to keep our eye on the scary bonding between  irrational citizens who are overtaking town halls, hosting mad tea parties and flipping their lids when the Prez gives a pep talk to the kiddos.

It’s just not good for a society when anger becomes contagious. Venom is too easily spread online and on the airwaves and it’s worrisome.  No matter what your politics, let’s get behind President Obama’s call for civil discussion and a calm manner.

Let’s hear your thoughts

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11 Sep Obama’s Healthcare Speech

By Senior Coaching Partner Dr. Dennis Becker
President Obama gave an impassioned presentation  on the topic of Healthcare Reform.  We have been monitoring and critiquing his speeches and speaking style from  the outset of the primaries.  We have reviewed and commented on many, many of those speeches and press conferences, etc..  This  speech had  some of the same techniques and cadence.   But, in this speech I heard and saw something different.  Yes, he had the same articulation prowess.  Yes, he had the same powerful use of language.  Yes, he had the same air of confidence.  Yes, he had the same control of the moment and the audience.  Yes, we saw the usual dynamism of a good speaker.   But, this time, I saw more.  This time I heard more.  This time I saw and heard the President  use many more “color words”.  These are words which any speaker emphasizes in a slightly different way than other words.  Those words add “color” the otherwise black and white sound of the speaker.  Mr. Obama often depends on his exquisite use of language and his precise skill at presentation.   He is very good.  Whether you like his politics or not, most reasonable people will agree that Mr. Obama is a very good speaker.
His use of “color words” was carefully applied.  We saw most of it in two places in the speech.  We heard  “color words”  used effectively in the first 10 minutes of the speech.  We heard “color words” used effectively  again in the segment that referred to the late Senator Kennedy.  To me, that was the most touching and poignant part of the speech.  The addition of this “color” to his speaking style was a positive.  It helped him seem more human and less robotic and practiced.
It was also interesting to note that he showed his comfort in using the media, in this case TV,  to his benefit.  He looked directly into the camera, at us at home, seven times.  Each time he was referring to  “Americans”, “Seniors”, etc.  It was a very effective use of the camera.
Finally,  he handled the very rare and unexpected outburst from a Republican attendee who shouted out “you lie!”.  He handled it very well.  Basically, he recognized it with a glance in that direction and went on, unshaken.   This was one of President Obama’s best deliveries of a speech.
One closing thought on a slightly different topic:  I watched the speech on CNN.  Unfortunately, the  program was hosted by Wolf Blitzer.  This  intelligent and experienced newsman continues to have one of  the most distracting, unprofessional, and unattractive speech habits.  It is his constant use of  the vocalized pause, “uh”.   Mr. Blitzer, pleeease learn control this awful habit.
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28 Jul Are women better managers than men?

A recent article on the New York Times titled: “No Doubts: Women Are Better Managers” sparked this reaction from Coach Laurie Schloff.

Communication Coach Laurie Schloff of The Speech Improvement Company (Boston and Tampa) agrees with Carol Smith (right) of the Elle Group that women are often better managers, but based on her work with hundreds of females aiming for the C level she cautions ambitious females:

1. Women are still cut little slack in terms of ‘acceptable’ management behaviors.

Not only do you have to be viewed as competent, you must also be warm and nice. (more…)

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20 Jul How Obama Talks: Why Obama Needs a Teleprompter

Commentary by Laurie Schloff

“When Obama’s telempromter screen shattered abruptly at a White House press briefing last week, the audience held its collective breath.

Obama’s communication strength lies in his ability to deliver a prepared, pre-written speech, not to ad lib, “wing it” or be impromptu. Communication coaches observe that this difference in skill depending on context is not unusual at all. In fact, John McCain (remember him?) was way more smooth when responding to on-the-spot questions than
reading off a teleprompter.

Luckily for Obama, there was an additional teleprompter screen at his briefing and he continued on with his usual grace.”

Question: What do you like or not like about the way Obama speaks?

Next Obama Talk: What’s he doing with his hands?

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