THE US presidential election is a year away, but the race is already drawing huge media attention across the world. For The Voice Clinic’s CEO Monique Rissen-Harrisberg, it provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on the power of effective communication.
"The best speaker by far is Hillary Clinton," she says. "Her speech is clear, confident, and commanding. Her pitch is comfortably low, complemented by a brisk and efficient pace.
"Her thoughts are quick, her vocabulary excellent, and her use of gesture and facial expression is carefully constructed to appear natural and spontaneous."
Rissen-Harrisberg considers Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane as the most eloquent speaker among local politicians. With his excellent pronunciation and articulation, he reminds her of Barack Obama in his prime.
"He is on the right track to become a great speaker," she says. "He would benefit from some intervention, though, in terms of lowering his pitch and having a more trained approach to his voice.
"He could also improve his eye contact and use even bigger gestures. But as he grows and becomes more powerful, it will probably come quite naturally."
Rissen-Harrisberg says the least inspiring US candidate is Jeb Bush, whom she describes as "fairly lame in his approach" and "boring and flat, like a tired schoolteacher".
She expresses similar reservations about Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande, who she says "lacks conviction and definition when he speaks". "He has a blank facial expression. He is verbose and long-winded. And he speaks with a flat and mumbled tone. Perhaps if he was a more eloquent speaker, some of the mass protests could have been minimised."
Another politician Rissen-Harrisberg wishes would stand up and speak clearly is President Jacob Zuma. She says his voice is fairly clear and that he doesn’t mumble, but believes that his speech is too slow and that his eye contact with an audience is "shocking".
"Sometimes there is an upward inflection with his statements, which makes them sound like questions. He has a bizarre, demeaning, and unflattering chuckle that erupts from time to time. And he sometimes smiles in inappropriate places, like the middle of a serious discussion. You cannot deliver an assertive message while you are smiling. Cohesion of the message is key."
Rissen-Harrisberg believes that when we communicate, voice and body language must create one message. That’s why she believes the Economic Freedom Fighter’s MPs should dress the part in Parliament. Still, she describes leader Julius Malema as a "magnetic speaker" who consciously uses the communication tools available to him. "He has an open face," she says. "His excellent eye contact gives him power. He has a naughty glint in his eye, which makes you think he’s on your side."
There’s a similar sense of power in Donald Trump. Rissen-Harrisberg describes him as "puffed up", but can’t deny that he’s a "powerful speaker who projects himself as a macho-American capitalist". "He is inspirational, dogmatic and has powerful leadership qualities. A strong, deep and commanding vocal quality and presence make him a huge force to be reckoned with. He has strong views that are matched and in sync with his powerful presence."
So, who will become leader of the US? Rissen-Harrisberg has her money on Clinton, who she describes as a "great leader, inspiring confidence and credibility. One can see that she has a great team behind her, as her performance and dress are so well-constructed," she says. "The brand and platform of Clinton is one that oozes capability, with the right balance between assertiveness, humour and approachability."
Of course, a successful campaign does not a successful president make. While Obama is clearly a "good speaker", Rissen-Harrisberg believes he was at his best during the campaign when "he had youth on his side".
Now, after one of the most trying times in American history, she says "he’s looking a little worn-out and tired".
Out of the past South African presidents, the best speaker was Nelson Mandela, she says. "He had a unique and characteristic voice, mesmerising presence and projection of total integrity, conviction and honour when speaking. He was a true statesman with well-composed body language and the stature of a president."