Mastering The Queen's English

By Emma Serlin
April 28, 2016

So, this week it was our Queen’s 90th birthday. It therefore seems a good time to look at one of the most iconic voices of the last 63 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, and most famously of course, her traditional Christmas broadcast.

She 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, and on the May 2015 speech I listened to, she certainly doesn’t seem engaged.

During her Christmas broadcast, 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 found I absorbed her message and it made me feel quite proud of her. Clear and articulate at 89!

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 understated style of communication, after all it is the Queen, 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 behind a mask of royal propriety…

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, the real Queen, the individual beneath the stiff hair, costume 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 lessons that gesturing was not “ladylike”, and more about precision 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.

However, the younger generation of royalty—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.

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