I shed an unexpected tear yesterday. The news of Sir Terry Wogan’s death hit me in a surprising way. He was someone that I respected as a broadcaster but I would never have categorised myself as a “fan”. Whilst I have fond memories of watching Children In Need as a kid, I was never a religious listener to his radio programme and I have only vague recollections of his television chat show. Yet, somehow, without me ever realising it he had connected with me. As I read about his passing, I felt sad. Just weeks before, I had had the same experience on hearing the news about David Bowie and Alan Rickman. A sense of loss, a feeling of grief, a tangible connection to people that I had never met. What was it that had moved me? Why did I have such a strong emotional reaction? I’ve been mulling it over for the last 24 hours and I think it comes down to one thing. Resonance.
If I think of all three men, not only do I see their faces but I can hear their voices. All three had unique and distinct tones that were unmistakably them. Through their sound they were able to connect and that connection bound them to their audience. This might all sound a bit “new age” but the reality is much more scientific. When we speak we are simply sending waves of sound towards our audience, which hit the tiny bones in the inner ear and are then decoded by the listener and interpreted for meaning. All this takes a split second but the impact is much longer lasting. Send boring sound waves and you are likely to be forgotten. Send something more unusual or exciting and your message will land.
We talk of ideas “resonating” with us. On a very basic, animalistic level, I think that means that we literally feel their vibrations. The message is felt in our hearts. So, having a rich, resonate voice is important if you want to really connect with your audience. There’s a reason that they used a soft husky voice on those M&S food adverts for example. If the narrator had a sharp, nasal tone, you would be much less likely to dream about the melt-in-the-middle Belgium chocolate pudding that was appearing on your screen!
Resonance is something that we can develop, some voices have more natural resonance than others but it is a skill that can be worked on. There are simple exercises that you can practice to increase it. However, fundamentally, the trick is to get comfortable with allowing the voice and your message to be heard. Not holding it in – keeping your ideas close to your chest – but being generous and willing to share. I think often we judge the sound that we make. Allowing yourself to be heard can make you feel vulnerable but it is in those moments of vulnerability where you truly connect to your audience. You move past the exchange of ideas and into something more intimate and exciting. Wogan, Rickman and Bowie are all great examples of performers that could take their audience on a journey, who’s unique voices instantly transported us and who’s messages spoke to our emotions.
Terry Wogan’s poignant parting words to the listeners of his final breakfast show in 2009 have been replayed and quoted many times in the last 24 hours. Simple and powerful they spoke directly to the heart. “Thank you. Thank you for being my friend.”… Imagine if all businesses had that level of relationship with their customers… That, my friends, is the power of resonance.