In two earlier blogs, The Power of Posture and The Power of Posture – Part 2, I wrote about the posture and coordination of politicians and American televangelists. In general the ones who are successful use their bodies more effectively than the average person.
And, as I wrote in the second blog:
Members of both groups also tend to be good public speakers.
Not surprising, given that their job is to convince their listeners to support them, either with votes or money.
Today, I’m beginning what I hope will be a series of blogs that focus on the posture, coordination and public speaking patterns of specific public figures from a variety of fields.
I want to do this from an Alexander Technique perspective. I’d like to emphasize close observation of movement patterns that are effective, as well as those that might be preventing these men and women from presenting themselves to the public as effectively as possible.
I’ll keep my own observations and comments very short in the hope that other Alexander teachers and students will weigh in with their own. I’m hoping for some guest blogs too!
I also want to stay away from any consideration of the subjects’ specific views and policies. The main focus of the Alexander Technique is not about what people do, but how they do it.
You Tube will be my primary source. It’s the perfect medium for people from around the world to observe the same people and then share their observations. What I hope to provide is a platform for sharing those observations.
An obvious choice to start with is Bernie Sanders, one of the two candidates for nomination by the Democratic Party to run for President of the United States in the November election.
His speaking ability has played a large role in propelling him from an unlikely entrant into the Democratic race, widely seen by most political pundits as not having any chance of success, to becoming a very serious challenge to Hillary Clinton, his only remaining opponent.
Clearly he is an effective public speaker. But I believe he could be a lot more effective, and a lot less likely to damage his speaking voice, if he made a couple of changes in his method of delivery.
Let’s start with the two video clips shown above. Here are my first thoughts:
Bernie seems to have a lot of neck tension and his head is habitually pushed forward from the top of his spine. How much of this he can change in a short period of time is debatable. Photos of him as a student activist show this same pattern to some extent so it’s probably a deep-rooted pattern. But there are two inter-related speaking patterns that really stand out to me, both of which I suspect he could change fairly quickly:
1 – He’s putting an awful lot of effort into speaking. Sometimes it seems he’s forgotten that he has a microphone! All that force is putting a strain on his vocal mechanism, and his voice is clearly suffering at times.
2 – When Bernie wants to emphasize a point, he pushes his head still further forward, as well as his whole upper torso – which he also pulls down – putting further strain on himself. You can see in the videos that his height actually diminishes at these moments, a clear indication that he’s compressing his entire body.
His public speaking pattern seems to echo in some ways that of F. Matthias Alexander, the developer of the Alexander Technique. Alexander was an actor and orator who ran into serious vocal difficulties resulting from his attempt to project his voice to to the back of large halls, crowded with rowdy tin miners, and – this being the late 1890s – no PA system. Alexander’s basic strategy had been to make more of an effort when speaking in these environments.
The unfortunate effects of this over-effort on his part – hoarseness, gasping for breath, and even the loss of his voice – prompted him undertake a period of self-study that ultimately led to the discoveries that lie at the heart of the Alexander Technique. And enabled him to project his voice far more effectively with less effort and strain.
The short video below is interesting because here Bernie is not on stage, but having a conversation. You can see that the speech patterns discussed above are still there, but in a more muted form. It was recorded more recently, so you can also hear the cumulative effects of his speaking patterns on his voice.
I suspect any competent Alexander teacher could help Bernie notice those patterns, and provide him with verbal and/or hands-on guidance that would enable him to let go of them to a significant extent fairly quickly.
What do you think? Any other Alexander Technique thoughts about Bernie? Who else in the public sphere seems like a good topic for a future blog? Would you like to write guest blog on this topic?
Normally I’d encourage you to put your comments on Facebook, but in this case it would be very helpful to also post them in the Comments section below so that this page can be a resource for learning how to observe posture and movement patterns in others, and themselves.
I have acquired the ownership of two domain names which, at some point, could be used to bring the material from this series of blogs together in one place: PoliticalPosture.com and PublicPosture.com