When he analysed the speeches of John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, he found that even though the speeches were rehearsed, written by professionals and delivered by trained speakers, there were discernable differences between them. “It’s clear that the speeches are still highly individualised,” says Skillicorn. “This makes sense as the speeches have to, in some manner, reflect the speaker’s own voice and opinions. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to deliver them convincingly.”
Additionally, he says, little details count: pronouns such as “we” and “I” are often substituted subconsciously, no matter what is written in the script.
Each of the candidates had made speeches containing very high and very low levels of spin, according to Skillicorn’s program, depending on the occasion. In general though, Obama’s speeches contain considerably higher spin than either McCain or Clinton. For example, for their speeches accepting their party’s nomination for president, Obama’s speech scored a spin value of 6.7 – where 0 is the average level of spin within all the political speeches analysed, and positive values represent higher spin. In contrast, McCain’s speech scored -7.58, while Hillary Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention scored 0.15. Skillicorn also found that Sarah Palin’s speeches contain slightly more spin than average.
So the analysis appears to back up McCain’s claim that he is a “straight talker”. However, for the purposes of political speech-making this may not be an entirely good thing for him. “Obama uses spin in his speeches very well,” says Skillicorn. For example, Obama’s spin level skyrockets when facing problems in the press, such as when Jeremiah Wright, the reverend of his former church, made controversial comments to the press.
“When you see these crises come along, the spin goes up,” Skillicorn says. “Obama is very good at using stirring rhetoric to deal with the issues. And it seems to work if you look at what happens in the polls afterwards.”
McCain does not seem as adept at using spin to his advantage, and his “straight talk” can make his speeches fall flat from a motivational point of view, according to Branka Zei Pollermann, founder of the Vox Institute in Geneva, Switzerland, who has analysed the candidates’ voices for communication consultants Clearwater Advisors, based in London.
“The voice analysis profile for McCain looks very much like someone who is clinically depressed,” says Pollermann, a psychologist who uses voice analysis software in her work with patients. Previous research on mirror neurons has shown that listening to depressed voices can make others feel depressed themselves, she says.