Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Finding Your Right Voice

A fellow blogger’s (Vincent Wright’s) comments about my last blog, “Communication Branding: A Speech”, sparked the idea for this one. That blog reminded him of a Walt Whitman poem, and he sent this excerpt from “Voices” in Leaves of Grass:

“O what is it in me that makes me tremble so at voices?  Surely, whoever speaks to me in the right voice, him or her I shall follow, as the water follows the moon, silently, with fluid steps, anywhere around the globe.”

Whitman’s words got me thinking that I really needed to comment on delivery since the content of a speech is only half of a branding story. Each spring we’re reminded that a major draw for any university commencement address is the speaker. The strength of the speaker’s delivery skills will make or break the impact of the message. Let me elaborate on that point with a few examples.

Audio books, once dismissed as an aid for the blind and disabled, are now leading a very hot and lucrative literary market. Financial success for these books is extremely dependent on the voice and skills of the reader.

Whenever possible the reader should be the author, but not if the voice is wrong. I don’t know if Paula Dean has any audio cookbooks, but the mere thought of hearing her read the ingredients in a recipe makes me cringe. The sound of her voice isn’t so bad as hearing nails on a chalk board, but it’s not far from it. I know from whence I speak, as my earbuds have transmitted the sound of many authors during my daily workout or run.

I find it hard to listen to President Barack Obama. My discomfort may have something to do with the fact that he regularly slips in and out of speech patterns/dialects depending on his audience. He generally uses a “Kansas” sound, sometimes referred to as a South Midland accent. When speaking to a primarily Black audience, he adopts either a Chicago style or African American Vernacular English (AAVE).

Like other politicians, Obama selects a dialect to suit the particular audience he’s addressing; and since we’re not in the audience, we have to adapt our ears to TV or audio clips. Subtle as they may be, his shifting speech patterns and distracting dependence on a teleprompter contribute all too often to a weak delivery. In my opinion he’s at his best when he’s being a humorist, for the words are few and his comedic timing is near perfect.

President George W. Bush has a distinct Texas twang that got more pronounced the deeper in the South he was speaking. Haley Barbour was an outstanding 63rd governor of Mississippi, but I suspect his heavy Southern accent has precluded him from moving beyond the national stage he achieved as the former chairman of the NRC.

One of the best examples of harmonious delivery and message can be found in Kevin Costner’s eulogy for his friend, Whitney Houston. His recollection of their friendship and Whitney’s strengths and insecurities was a standout in the string of tributes in a far too-long memorial service. Kostner found the right voice to speak to the congregation and did so with remembrances beautifully crafted and a flawless, extremely moving delivery.

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