Barack Obama, who is generally regarded as a gifted orator, would do well to find time to unwind before he delivers the speech of his lifetime to the Democratic party’s convention next week.
A new analysis of Mr. Obama’s voice patterns and the delivery of his speeches made available to and reported in the London-based Guardian, found the Democratic candidate somewhat restricted in his range of facial expression.
Specifically, Mr. Obama’s face is locked in an almost permanent attitude of anxiety, with his forehead muscles contracted.
“In all topics Mr. Obama displays a similar worried, serious-looking facial pattern. Even when talking about more positive subjects, his facial expressions do not signal positive affective states,” said a report on the analysis, undertaken by the Vox Institute in Geneva for the Clearwater consulting group.
The institute reviewed footage of Mr. Obama’s speeches and those of the Republican candidate, John McCain. It relied on footage from four speeches conveying a range of emotions, as well as digitised voice samples, to rate the effectiveness of the two candidates in connecting with voters on the campaign trail. The habitual worried look is a potential liability for Mr. Obama, undermining the image he is trying to project of a confident leader. The image could be disturbing for audiences, said James McBrien, the founder of Clearwater.
It also undercuts Mr. Obama’s outward appearance of extreme confidence.
“There is an element of the fact that he is on the edges of his comfort zone here,” Mr. McBrien said. “Going into a presidential campaign is not something he has done before, and you could say it is written all over his face.”
Despite that failing, Mr. Obama was the clear winner against Mr. McCain in the oratorical contest. The result is unsurprising, given that Mr. McCain’s own campaign team has gone to some effort to conceal his limitations as a speaker.
Mr. McCain has had problems adapting to the Autocue, that staple of public speaking. On the campaign trail he has favoured smaller venues, where he can take questions from audiences, rather than the grand venues and stirring speeches that have become Mr. Obama’s signature.
Mr. Obama had high scores on six of the eight voice values, including diction, fluency, speed and modulation. His voice could have been a little louder at times, although the study praised his ability to reflect anger, positive emotions and sadness.
The verdict on Mr. McCain was harsh. The acoustic analysis noted that the Republican’s voice was pitched slightly high, and that it remained flat, or emotionless, even while he was talking about sad subjects. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008