How Politicians And Each Of Us Can Restore Trust In American Politics
As we digest the first 2016 Presidential debate, no one can deny we are witnessing an election like no other. We are living in historical times. So much is at stake for all Americans—and obviously, the world. Through this, we continue to be barraged by campaign ads, prime-time interviews, campaign coverage, debates, not only for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump but for Congressional and Senatorial races, Gubernatorial contests et al.
In all of these contexts, these forums, I challenge you to believe anything a candidate says. Certainly, you may believe in the candidate you may be voting for. However, what I am asking you to do is observe the WAY each candidate actually speaks in any political ad, interview, sound byte…and begin to focus more on THAT. Focusing on their voice, breathing patterns, pace, pitch, body language, delivery… will provide you with both critical subliminal insight, and a great deal more about the individual. This insight is fundamental to our decision making process if we are to truly begin to understand – who they may possibly be – and, beyond their political perspective, what they personally stand for. Their integrity, or lack there of, personal purpose—not political—can be discerned when simply knowing what to look for, and how to interpret what you see. Gaining this knowledge is paramount.
Increasing lack of trust has manifested these days not only in America’s political candidates, but now in its news commentators. Why is this? Beginning at the top of the ticket, I submit that the reason we increasingly do not have faith in what politicians are saying to us in their prepared remarks is because we do not hear the person who is speaking—we only hear their political rhetoric conveyed thru the prism of political spin. I will explain.
Political campaigns today have increasingly become finely crafted, meticulously scripted and packaged contests based on endless supplies of data, information, focus groups, and media consultants who process, dissect, distill and translate all of the above into what they perceive to be the “safest”, “best politically tuned” and carefully constructed sound bytes and talking points possible for their candidates. As polished and practiced as these messages may be, they rarely if ever, as previously stated, provide critically substantive information about a candidate’s character, intelligence, et al. In fact, it has increasingly limited how each candidate phrases and parses their statements, which can result in creating even more ambiguity, not less.
The stakes are simply too high for us to ignore this any longer. We need to pay attention in a much more effective and comprehensive way in a manner that befits the society we are capable of being. As citizens we have a responsibility to vote in as informed a way as possible, We have a responsibility to demand, to know who it is, that we are entrusting with our future. We live in a culture where perception has become the new reality because we only see the façade—the manicured, micro-managed, focus group skewed, talking points that are distilled down and conveyed in the most simplistic presentational style. Empty words, hollow platitudes, designed for effect, that may ‘sound good’—but actually don’t mean anything. It is like the Weber’s bread of my youth. It tasted good, but it had no nutritional value.
The fatal flaw in this, indeed most public speaking, is that we unconsciously assume that each of us and, in this case our candidates and the myriad broadcasters speaking on the subject, are already able to communicate well, , and have been effectively educated in how to do so. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
As an example, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are perceived as highly untrustworthy largely because of how they ‘present’ themselves and/or how they have been packaged. Trump frequently attempts to bludgeon one into submission. His presentations are purposely designed to pander to our fears, to viscerally startle us. He is not seeking consensus nor does he often explain his headline style of canned oratory with any supportive detail. Clinton on the other hand, largely responds in a well thought out, rehearsed, and measured manner. She is acutely aware of the perceptional double-standard of how she is judged simply because she is a woman. However, unlike Trump, she is often disconnected from the emotional core of who she might truly demonstrate she is. Both styles leave the voter still guessing as to what each candidate’s true Persona is and in a complete quandary as to whom they can ultimately trust with their futures and that of their loved ones.
In large halls or even on television, each candidate ‘raises the pitch of their voice to be heard in the last row of the house.’ On television they try to unconsciously direct their vocal energy ‘to the camera’—presumably to connect with their audience. Yet in doing so, each candidate only appears to become more disingenuous as they are not speaking ‘with’ the viewer or listener, they are speaking ‘to’ and at them. They also speak with tongue and jaw tension, do not breathe strategically, often present their narrative monochromatically, occasionally too rapidly, trail off at the ends of thoughts, and are frequently not authentically connected to their message, instead only ‘presentationally’ so.
Equally important— both rarely warm up their voice, if ever, as an athlete or artist would stretch or vocalize before a performance. All this is compounded by sleep deprivation and constant travel which impacts vocal hygiene.
It is also telling to watch Hillary Clinton read a teleprompter with her eyes darting from side to side before completing her thought, or Donald Trump staring at the prompter and reading without blinking. Because of this we subliminally make assumptions about their character simply by the way they speak on television. Learning to read a prompter is a simple skill that requires among other things—effective pace, breathing, vocal support, and awareness of body language. A skill they obviously have not been taught. The public judges their lack of skill as if it were a character flaw, because we do not know how to recognize the difference between technical skill and the actual integrity of a candidate speaking to/with us.
This lack of technical craft ‘speaks volumes’. When we hear each candidate, whether in person, in a campaign ad, in the debates, we are not aware of the importance of pitch or pace to convey integrity. We are not cognizant of the impact strategic breathing has on one’s communication, shifting it from verbally streaming data to that of a consummate storyteller, much less the ineffectual body language—robotic gestures, lack of focused eye contact with one’s audience, and so much more.
The fundamental inability to execute these basic abilities would be like a ballet dancer not learning to master first position or any athlete not learning the importance of their plant foot. The candidates, their teams, and we the audience are oblivious to the fundamental skills required to be in Communication Mastery. Thus, we are being led down the rabbit hole into utter confusion, not truth.
A politician, or broadcaster is us on the global stage. Very few of us are cognizant of any of the details described above. Whether in our personal or public lives, if the ‘public oculus’ were turned on us as it on a politician or those engaged with covering the campaigns, it would invariably be the same. The simple reason is—speech is habit. None of us are actually trained in how to communicate, as artists or athletes are to perform. Of course, we are taught how to speak, reason…but that does not mean we know how to ‘communicate effectively’. For example, learning how to convey and embody–not just the message but the messenger is a first step. This basic knowledge, when combined with enhanced technical development, vocal craft, as a great singer learns, core development as a great athlete learns is the difference between simply reciting rhetorical data, and achieving a real breakthrough to becoming trustworthy, believable and a respected master of one’s communication craft.
The above is central to why I have now devoted the remainder of my career to passionately teaching politicians, news commentators, and ordinary business people and citizens alike how to achieve true mastery in all communication, personal or professional. As I say, ‘the same person shows up everywhere’. Specifically, I teach my clients how to breathe, warm up their voice, the importance of body language, how to discover and enhance one’s own unique Persona and vocal identity.
As citizens we must take full responsibility and require those who aspire to lead us to communicate honorably and authentically, to genuinely be who they are, not present who they think or have been told we want to see. This is absolutely a critical first step in establishing Communication Mastery as a new political paradigm for the 21st Century.
ABOUT ARTHUR SAMUEL JOSEPH