So, this year marks the Queen's Platinum Jubilee. It therefore seems a good time to look at one of the most iconic voices of the last 70 years, both for us Brits, and for the worldwide audience. The Queen, whilst not the most impressive of communicators, is unique in her pulling power to generate a huge audience for any given speech.
She sets the standard for posh
Queen Elizabeth II sets the standard for posh. But she’s not so posh it’s inaccessible. Her voice is relatively low, and she sounds serious and substantial when she speaks.
She uses intonation and pauses—although try to listen to her reading out anything to do with politics and I don’t know about you, but I can’t absorb anything she says! That’s consistent with a key tenet of good communication: if the speaker isn’t engaged, then it’s almost impossible for the listener to be. This is where our Communication Equation comes in - I care what I'm saying, I care about the listener, therefore the audience is engaged.
During her annual Christmas broadcasts, the sentences are shorter, she makes eye contact, and it feels like she genuinely cares about sharing a message with her country. This is not so surprising, as unlike many of her more political speeches, it is rumoured the Queen writes this one herself. As such, whilst hardly compelling viewing, I find I absorb her message and it makes me feel quite proud of her. Clear and articulate at 95!
She seems to have mastered the art of short sentences, steady pace, and enough tone in her voice to keep your attention, just.
If the Queen were my client…
However, if the Queen were my client, I’d work with her using a similar approach to the one I used when I was training the Korean Olympic bid team. During that time I had the privilege to work with one of the most powerful men in Korea, and while he had vocal authority in bucket loads, he needed authenticity and emotion. We spent a lot of time building an emotional connection with his words, so that when he spoke, not only did it feel authentic, but it came from the heart.
Connecting her words with deeper held values
I’d respect her Royal Majesty's understated style of communication, but I’d encourage her to let herself be seen in certain words and phrases, working on finding the meaning for her, connecting her words with her deeper held values. Once we had that, I would help her inject it into her voice, so she can connect more with her audience.
And then facial expression and gesture. I’d work with her on eye contact - really delivering her ideas using her eyes – and using gesture to further support what she is saying.
Hiding true emotion
At the moment, the Queen hides behind the mask of royal propriety, occasionally her eyebrows go up, but you would struggle to see real emotion i.e. the real Queen, the individual beneath the jewels, perfectly matching outfit and makeup. I would want to bring this out, so that when she spoke, you felt it - her intention, energy, desire to be heard and make a difference - coming out across the screens and into our living rooms. I’d strip away the mask and let her eyes flash and help her free up her body with some gestures to support a powerful need to share her message.
And can you imagine? The result would be startling. Not least because it would be like getting a real glimpse of who this woman actually is.
Elizabeth and the new generation
However, maybe this is precisely what the Queen’s communication style is designed not to do. For example, she was of a generation who would have been taught in etiquette and elocution lessons that gesturing was not “ladylike”, and more about precision and correct utterances rather than authenticity in elocution. And, as both a deeply religious individual, and head of the Church of England, she believes she was chosen by God for her role, and perhaps this is why she decides to keep her true self shrouded in Holy awe, and not give too much away when she is speaking.
The younger generation - William and Harry especially - seem to be less regal, less mindful of the spiritual aspects of being a royal and more earthly, and both have shown they are not afraid to give a little of themselves to the important role they have which, in communication terms, can only mean great things.
So, what is it that makes her totally admirable and impressive? For me, it's that she is dignity personified. She has sacrificed every bit of herself, at least in the front that she presents to the public, and she totally respects herself and the symbolic significance that she carries. When she speaks, we never see tiredness, sadness, ego or any kind of emotion. We see a powerful presence and a stoic resolve. In her own way, she cares about her duty and her people with every fibre of her being. In short, she is totally unlike anyone else.
What is the Queen's English?
The Queen's English is probably the most famous accent in the world. Even today, important figures from across society – particularly the royals – use what we call British Received Pronunciation, or RP. Although far less used than when the Queen first started out, it's still regarded by many as the "proper" way of speaking, and a marker of prestige and ability. Here are three ways to sound more like the Queen:
1. Lengthen your vowels
It's all about the vowels in the English Language. That’s where we get the energy from, and that is where we release the potential of the word. The vowel is the emotional energy of the word. It comes from the belly, and is powered by the breath. The more time we give it, the more time we have to put our feelings into what we are saying.
2. Articulate your consonants
If you want to give the impression of being well-spoken, of really knowing how to use the language to serve your goals, it is a good idea to pronounce your consonants. Where vowels are emotion, consonants are efficiency and respect for the language. The most important consonant tips to remember are:
Always pronounce a T or D when they are at the end of a thought or unit
When a T or D is in the middle of a word, with vowel sounds either side - like butter, definitely pronounce it. Bu--er doesn’t sound so good!
It can be easy to muddle some consonants. V instead of W, or F instead of TH. Try and keep these accurate if you can.
Try to break up a long thought or sentence into smaller ones. It’s not about getting to a full stop, but about holding the listeners attention at each stage of your communication. Pausing makes you sound steady and in control. It gives you time to process your thoughts and focus on the key words, as well as grounding you by allowing you to enjoy the moment you're on rather than constantly rushing to the next word. Most importantly, it allows for your listener to process each part of your thought, and stay with you, the speaker - almost like holding their hand and guiding them through what you're saying. It means that in some deeper way, they feel acknowledged and part of the communication dynamic.
If you'd like to master the Queen's English and learn to speak clearly, check out our elocution lessons and effective communication courses here.