So, the UK’s opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband has finally undergone his long-planned operation to correct a deviated septum. According to his office, it’s intended to help cure his recently diagnosed sleep apnoea. But the more waspish political commentators (i.e. most of them) suspect that Ed’s op is more of an extreme vocal makeover, born out of a desperate desire to help his voice sound more appealing to doubtful voters.
But having a conventionally ‘beautiful’ voice isn’t the point. What makes us listen to someone is down to several things. They need to sound interested in what they’re saying themselves, and to sound convinced of their arguments. Any good public speaker or presenter needs to find a way of making the audience think that his/her subject is interesting. So how you use your voice- employing energy, pitch variation, emphasis and clear articulation in a dynamic combination – can make all the difference.
You don’t need to sound like Laurence Olivier or Judi Dench, or the smoothest-toned voice-over actor you’ve ever heard, when you present or speak in a meeting. You just need to sound relaxed, confident, enthusiastic and clear. Easier said than done, I know- but that’s why practice is so important. And training! And on another note, I’d describe Ed Miliband as a professional voice user: someone who speaks in public or on the media every day of his working life. People are talking about his operation as though it’s on a par with botox or liposuction. I’d put this less down to human vanity and more to a desire to sound-and feel- comfortable when he opens his mouth to speak.
So should we expect a radically different- and more conventionally pleasing- sound when Miliband emerges from his period of convalescence on parliament’s return in September? Probably not. But there are encouraging signs. His Commons performances during the recent News International phone hacking furore have been a lot more confident. As many of our clients often remark, it’s easy to sound and feel confident when you have faith in your material. And for a few weeks this summer, the focus was less on the quality of Ed Miliband’s voice, and more on what he was actually saying.