President Obama’s words have impressed many, but it’s his silences that have cemented his oratorical preeminence. This is especially clear when you compare his speech to Congress to Governor Jindal’s response.
One of the clearest marks of a good speaker is the amount, duration and placement of pauses. Ironically, these silence, more than any other audible characteristic of speech, that underscore the poise, thoughtfulness, and careful construction of an expert speaker.
A rudimentary graphic representation of the President’s speech shows this. Pauses as consistently significant and well-placed as these give listeners a sense of confidence. This makes physiological sense as well—the adrenaline and other by-products of the fight-or-flight reaction that washes over us in public settings forces voices faster and higher. Speakers who are able to maintain a steady pace and tone have effectively coped with this surge of adversity.
Another benefit to pause-heavy speech is it’s simply easier to understand. Speech is unlike written language. Spoken language is a stream of sound that speaker’s have to divide up into words.
If you’ve ever misheard a lyric (“Baking carrot biscuits..” vs. “Taking care of business…”) you can understand how fragile speech is to being miss-divided. When a speaker consciously assists his audience in dividing up language, the net effect is clearer and effortless communication.
In contrast, the graphic representation of Governor Jindal’s speech is much more crowded and dense. The pauses more infrequent. The overall impression is that of a less confident speaker, less relaxed, and therefore less conversational and relatable. While we can certainly understand the Governor’s speech, it’s not nearly as easy to listen to or clearly constructed as the President’s.
Regardless of the challenges he and his policies may face on paper, the President continues to dominate from the podium.
UPDATE: Here are the speeches—you decide