Great Voices and Great Leaders

September 25th, 2012 | Posted by Stella in Articles - (0 Comments)

What does a great leader have in common with a small child?  The answer is their ability to manipulate with the sound of their voice.  Imagine you are in a restaurant with the usual ambient background chatter, when suddenly the sound of a small child in the distant corner is heard.  Your ears prick up; the sound is distinctive and reaches a part of your consciousness reserved for emotional reaction.

Listening to great leaders invokes a similar reaction.  We are drawn in primarily by the sound of their voice, followed by their body language and rhetoric.  Imran Khan’s speech at Rawalpindi on 27th May this year.  Charlie Chaplin in his Emperor’s Speech.  Bill Clinton and Barack Obama at the CNC 2008.  Even Tony Blair?  With Imran Khan, the sound is bold and masculine, it has sincerity and gravitas.  Bill Clinton’s warm and intimate tones exude trust and comfort.

But let’s forget about politicians for a while and apply this principle to communication in general, whether selling or instructing, getting the barman’s attention in a crowded pub or simply holding a conversation at a party.  Keeping the attention of the listener is of prime importance and that is why we need to re-learn the technique of crying in order to free the sound of the voice, and convey passion with clarity and impact.  Once we have control over our crying mechanism, we can use it to elicit a range of emotional responses for longer periods and without our voice tiring.

The very act of using the core muscles to support the voice automatically energises the base of the spine, opens the back, distributes the weight of the head along the spine, and helps with our posture and body language.

The way we use our voices in speech and singing has a direct effect on our communication skills as a whole and, more importantly, our health.  Great leaders have mastered the art of voice; they know what is effective whilst remaining authentic.

In the UK, we tend to train our leaders to sound non-threatening, accessible.  The power of their convictions is toned down to mimic the nice guy next door.  The result is they are no longer authentic and fail to communicate with us at a visceral level.  They do not sound like leaders.  Unless our voice represents our passion, we will never reach our audience in the same way as that child crying for attention in the restaurant.

From the moment of birth the tongue is our most developed sensory organ, seeking the breast and gratifying our need for comfort and nourishment. Through the development of taste buds we learn to enjoy our food and drink, thus sustaining life.

Therefore the tongue is the organ associated with comfort, nourishment and sustenance. No wonder then that it remains our first sensor, reacting to our emotions.

No doubt you have experienced the sensation of having a ‘lump in the throat’ when you wish to cry but must hold back the tears. You may have experienced sudden extreme fear when you feel  your tongue reacting with a different sensation and when very nervous it feels dry.

How often does a singing pupil comment that her tongue feels too long or large or simply in the way!

I try to explain to pupils of speech and singing that the tongue is the gateway to our bodies, both physically and emotionally. The tongue also stores emotion which is why in learning about vocal technique we must be aware of the symptoms of stored emotion. Many people have vocal problems as a result of stored emotion which causes tension at the root of the tongue. It can feel like a constant ‘lump in the throat’ that may be described as un-cried tears. The swelling of the root of the tongue and its resulting tension affects breathing, articulation  and sound.   When clients complain of discomfort , stiffness, lack of strength and projection whilst speaking., this can be remedied through applying reflex-breathing, a method used by babies in crying.  Babies have no stored emotional experience and are free of self-consciousness which is why their sound has impact as it is emotion communicated through sound alone.

As we grow older, we learn to clothe our emotions in vocabulary, becoming self-conscious  or frustrated  with the inadequacy of our language.

As babies, we vocalised our needs and troubles instantly. We did not rationalise the feelings, so there was an uninterrupted connection between the feeling and the vocalising of it. Because of this the muscles used in producing the cry in order that it be loud and effective were in constant use. These are the same muscles we use today whilst coughing, sneezing, or laughing.

These functions use the reflex breathing method of expelling and retaking the air using the inner and outer layers of abdominal muscles in a stretching and release movement, creating a vacuum by which air is drawn automatically into the lungs on release of the abdominal tension.

When we laugh we feel good and energised. This is because we are reactivating the inner layers of muscle at the base of the abdomen; muscles which in turn support the base of the spine, allowing energy to flow. When we laugh we are also releasing emotion, we are reacting to something that amuses us and we vocalise this immediately without rationalising the outcome.

If the voice remains unconnected, the supporting muscles will not be used, leading to lack of energy or even depression. Therefore reconnecting the voice to the lower core abdominal muscles is a process that has multiple benefits both physically and emotionally. Naturally this has a positive effect on the voice.

This is why learning to relax the root of the tongue and relearning the reflex breathing is fundamental to effective voice production.