Unless you’ve been living under a musical rock for the last eight years, you know that Adele possesses one of the most remarkable pop singing voices that has ever set teenage hearts a-quiver, belting hit after soulful hit about loss and break-ups and loneliness. So when I had the chance to hear her live the other day, I paid the hefty price and proceeded to the Boston Garden anticipating greatness.
I expected an amazing voice. Adele delivered on that and then some, but she also delivered on two other aspects of performing that I wasn’t expecting, and that public speakers everywhere would do well to emulate: presence and intimacy.
But first let’s talk about voice. As regular readers of this blog will recall, I often talk about the technical process of creating a strong voice, and also the more psychological aspects of something I like to call Voice. Voice (with a capital V) is the extent to which a speaker or singer lets her full range of vocal power loose. Most people most of the time give the world only a little piece of their real Voice. These voices are strangled, held back, or swallowed, because they don’t want to let their real feelings out, or it feels risky, or they’ve learned over the years that it’s dangerous to speak up.
And many aspects of the way we live our lives now make vocal matters worse. We sit next to people on airplanes, or in cubicles, and learn to speak only a little above a whisper so as not to infringe on the rights of our neighbors. We’re sitting down much of the time, so that it’s harder to breathe properly and support a full voice. And pollution, dry air from heating and air conditioning, and coffee all dry out the throat and damage the vocal chords over the long run.
And then along comes Adele and shows us how it can be done. She uses her full, supported range, she opens her mouth fully, and she lets out a wonderful sound. Her voice is packed with emotion, overtones and undertones, and the result is pure musical power. Her Voice has sold over 100 million CDs and broken many records set by the Beatles that many people thought would never be surpassed.
Then there’s presence. Adele delivered more than just a wonderful Voice. Many rock and roll singers sing their songs the same way every night, holding back just a little in order to save their vocal chords or their emotional states. Adele, on the other hand, sang with a presence of emotion and emotional vulnerability that almost made you believe she was singing each song for the first time. Watching the giant IMAG screen, I could see the play of emotions across Adele’s face for every line of every song. It was a tour de force performance of a kind that public speakers should model their (spoken) presentations on. To be so completely present for every moment meant that Adele’s emotional power and sheer enjoyment of each song was infectious and available to the audience for the entire two hours.
Finally, Adele gave us intimacy. The truly amazing aspect of Adele’s performance was not her singing, however; it was her storytelling. In between the songs, Adele spoke to the audience with a conversational intimacy that speakers rarely achieve and that I’ve never heard a singer come close to matching. She chatted about her life, growing up, and her tour. She talked about her love life, her kid, and her famous vocal operation. And she connected with the audience, asking them about anniversaries and even singing happy birthday to one lucky person.
The result was that she made the 20,000 seat venue feel small, friendly, and like an evening spent with good friends. The vibe she created was partly derived from her willingness to be open with her audience, partly from her salty, direct language, and partly from her lack of pretentiousness.
Intimacy is something we all crave in the virtual century we’re living in now, and something that is rare to find. Social media delivers a kind of faux intimacy, but the way most people use it is to broadcast their ideas or score points, and so it feels more like arguing than intimacy.
Adele is one of those rare performers who come along every couple of decades or so, with a big Voice and an even bigger heart. Performers, artists, and public speakers everywhere can learn from her.
Learn how to deliver your Voice in a big way at our October 28th one-day Powerful Public Speaking seminar. Sign up here.