When Jacinda Ardern speaks, people listen. Why?

Edit: This article follows a conversation I had on ABC Radio Sydney about the role that Jacinda Ardern’s voice and communication plays in conveying trust, building rapport and being an admirable leader.

Jacinda Ardern has been thrown into the global spotlight over the last week and has spoken with composure and compassion. Her response to New Zealand’s worst ever mass-shooting has sparked interest internationally, as people watch and seem captivated by her balance of authority and honesty.

How does she do it?

Let’s look at this clip from the first press conference she gave after the events on Friday 15 March. Ms. Ardern comes across with clarity and conviction as she speaks directly to New Zealanders, conveying authority and authenticity:

How does Jacinda Ardern convey authority?

1. Speaks at a slow and deliberate pace

In this clip, and in many of her speaking engagements, Ms. Ardern is not afraid to take her time. She proves that speaking slowly draws listeners in and makes them pay attention.

In a world that is fast-paced and quick to change, this can seem counter-intuitive – lots of people think that you need to speak quickly to hold people’s attention before they lose focus and move onto the next thing. But in fact, speaking at a slow pace conveys certainty and builds trust.

2. Uses pause effectively 

The words that have become synonymous with the events in Christchurch are “they are us” and “one of our darkest days”.

It should come as no surprise that Ms. Ardern emphasises these key phrases in the very first press conference, allowing the words to stand out and for people to latch onto them.

Ms. Ardern pauses around these phrases, emphasising their meaning and conveying the importance of this part of her speech.

3. Speaks at a controlled, low pitch

This speech has a tone of seriousness, understanding and certainty. The tone is created by the slow pace and use of pause already mentioned, and is supported by the low, steady pitch of Ms. Ardern’s voice.

We know that Ms Ardern’s voice has variety and colour from other media appearances, like her jaunt on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert and her impromptu speech at the teachers’ rally. However, her use of a consistently lower pitches in this press conference helps convey the magnitude and severity of the events unfolding.

 4.   Downward inflections on statements

Ms. Ardern’s voice is noticeably shaky and trembling in parts of this speech, however, she doesn’t deter from conveying the information she has at hand.

At times like this, some communicators reveal a lack of trust in themselves or the information they’ve been provided by (subconsciously) saying statements as questions, using a rising inflection.

Ms. Ardern’s downward inflections convey her certainty and her trust of the information she’d been given to communicate. She has certainty in everything she says.

5.   Uses inclusive language

Throughout this speech, Ms. Ardern uses inclusive language such as ‘we’, ‘our’ and ‘us’. It appeals to the public and speaks directly to the hearts of all New Zealanders.

The pace, vocal dynamics and inclusive language Jacinda Ardern uses allows her to speak with conviction. It has served her well in building trust and rapport with her audience in recent weeks.

If you’re interested in developing your own voice and communication, you can get in touch for information about training options, including private coaching and group training.

Edit: It is undeniable that character and context also play a role in how people perceive Jacinda Ardern and the way they hear her message. However, it is important to acknowledge the role that strong communication plays in inspired leadership. Ms. Ardern’s voice and communication have allowed her to express herself meaningfully, with conviction and compassion.