Clinton and Trump: Tale of Two Leaders

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, according to their voices and speaking styles, have quite different personalities. In my analysis of their acceptance speeches, I’ve found traits of neuroticism and emotional stability, disdain and empathy, persuasion and commanding character. Any guesses as to which one showed what?

Power At Speech is about voice and speech. Because people speak in automated patterns that arise from the way they are and feel, the nominees’ voices spoke about their leadership style louder than their words did.

Clinton, Trump pick up big wins
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Image:


Mrs. Clinton

Her voice is bodied, round and rich. From the last time I analyzed her, she’s improved very noticeably in the way she uses it. She may have trained with a Voice Therapist or  Coach, which speaks to her willingness to be ready for the work she has ahead. Mrs. Clinton sounds patient.

It was a significant, meaningful change – yes, she’s able to make significant, meaningful changes. I’ve been a voice therapist and coach for 20 years now and I know how difficult it is for patients / clients to adhere to new vocal behaviors. It takes a lot of work, effort, and will power. Mrs. Clinton sounds perseverant.

It also means that Candidate Clinton has listened to her critics, those who said she was not friendly or laid-back enough, that she was cold and aloof. And she’s worked hard to change that impression. She could be exceedingly adaptive to the circumstances, or she could be a voter-pleaser. Mrs. Clinton sounds strategic.

Either way, the result was a flexible voice that varied widely between the highest and lowest pitch (from 421 Hz to 102 Hz [listen]). Ample pitch ranges like this one (of 319 Hz) make speakers sound proactive, dynamic, ready to roll up their sleeves and get the stuff done. Mrs. Clinton sounds dedicated.

And because her voice didn’t go off-limits or break, she sounded calm, cool, sometimes even cold. We heard a woman in total possession of her emotions, intellectually driven, not passionate. Mrs. Clinton sounds stable.

Mr. Trump

His voice is flat, tired and raspy. From the last time I analyzed him, he’s lost harmonics and low frequencies. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, he didn’t foresee the dire consequences that yelling out in rallies for more than one year would have in his voice, and thus, didn’t prepare. Mr. Trump sounds impatient.

And because he didn’t train or rehearse, his reading was not expressive. One could hear the caesurae in his prosody: the little interruptions in the strings of shocking facts his sentences were made of? It was not that he intended to make expressive pauses; it was just the breaking points of the teleprompter’s lines. Mr. Trump sounds inconstant.

He emphasized his ideas by pressing the vocal folds so tightly together that he all but squeezed rough, gravelly bawls out [listen]. This behavior spoke to his need for attention, like those 6-year olds having tantrums in crowded supermarkets to get their embarrassed parents to buy them candy. Mr. Trump sounds narcissistic.

And when he doesn’t get what he wants, he pouts. Mr. Trump sounds neurotic.


In the recent phonetic study I’ve contributed to a European research project, I discovered that empathy in speech is transmitted by intensity variations. Speakers who were perceived as empathetic talked in a soft voice about delicate matters, and made changes in intensity according to both the message and the listener. Speakers who were perceived as non-empathetic used a homogeneously loud voice.

Mrs. Clinton

Along her speech, she many times changed the intensity of her voice. Although she started and finished at an enthusiastic intensity of 81 dB (habitual conversation is around 60 – 64 dB), she often went as low as 71, even 69 dB.

With this decrease of energy, she expressed how much she cared about a certain issue, someone she’d met, or how disquieted she felt about an America that Mr. Trump would lead.

By lowering her vocal power she also showed respect for her audience [listen] – at the very least for her audience’s ears. She exposed her concerns about a certain type of future, but she didn’t intend to frighten the public with catastrophic predictions.

Mr. Trump

His entire speech ranged from 81 to 87 dB, which means that he constantly yelled at the top of his lungs. The perception that this vocal behavior cast was that he didn’t care about the issues, or the audience.

His only goal was to be perceived as tough, and who are the tough guys, in his mind? Certainly not those losers who can’t make their voices heard, but the ones who shout louder, stomp stronger, and strike harder. The empathy of a road roller.


Mrs. Clinton

The tone of Mrs. Clinton’s speech evolved along with the carefully crafted messages. From beginning to end, the listener – unless distracted by that fly on the wall or that tweet, omigod, what? – was able to follow the reasoning that the candidate so accurately exposed. It was a perfect speech, very well delivered.

She used an intellectual style of persuasion, based on facts and objective information. Thus, her voice was contained, measured, albeit enthusiastic and happy – but not too over the top.

Mr. Trump

The short inflections of his voice and the way he yelled – even louder – the words he wanted to emphasize revealed a go-to-your-room persuasive style. Now! A wrecking ball negotiator, I said when he announced his bid. After a year attending his own rallies, his style of persuasion has turned into something that makes me think of a dog-training spiked collar.

He’s also added the somber tone of dystopian fiction.

Soldiers will march on the gray, damp streets. Small children will look up at them, their big eyes wavering with tears, and will hide their little faces in their mothers’ aprons. And from the top of Trump Tower, he will be watching.

At last, after eight years of liberal disaster, “safety will be restored” [listen].

And meanwhile, we’ll be scared.

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