How we got this far... and why
- A short personal note from the company's founder
I am very pleased that you are visiting our AllGoodSpeakers website today! My name is Oliver Niebuhr and I am Associate Professor of Communication and Innovation at the University of Southern Denmark. I am also the founder of AllGoodSpeakers ApS. Being able to fill a small part of each of my workdays with some exciting R&D and coaching activities for AllGoodSpeakers ApS is truly a privilege for a researcher like me, and I would like to thank you and all of our customers, business partners, and fans for their interest and trust in us!
How did this company come about, you may ask. Well, it probably began when I was studying phonetics and digital speech processing at Christian-Albrecht-University Kiel (CAU), not least at the insistence of my parents and school teachers (because I actually wanted to sell cars). However, the course of studies quickly put me under its spell. Moreover, and I had the great pleasure of learning from one of the best and most recognized phoneticians in the world, i.e. Prof. Klaus J. Kohler, the former President of the International Phonetic Association and editor of the most traditional scientific journal of the field, Phonetica. In 2006 I earned my PhD in phonetics and digital speech processing with distinction (summa cum laude) and then spent almost three exciting and wonderful years as a scientist abroad (Aix-en-Provence, Prague, York) before I returned to the CAU in 2009; not as a student this time, but as the professor of phonetics myself, and as head of the Kiel research center "Speech & Emotions".
All this time, my fascination for the non-verbal has not let go of me. Already during my student days I devoured all the books and articles that introduced me to the hidden world of all those sound patterns and communicative functions that we - mostly unconsciously and uncontrolled - convey and hear "between the lines". Are they less important than the spoken word, just because we refer to them as being "between the lines"? No, on the contrary! They are in fact the basis of communication. Communicating with one another is first and foremost a social act. It is all about exchanging and sharing emotions, moods, and attitudes, and about forging social bonds and creating social hierarchies. The primary channel for doing all of this is the non-verbal one. Since 2003, so for almost 20 years, I have now explored this hidden, neglected, yet immensely important world of the non-verbal. And it turned out to be a lot richer, more complex, and layered than I expected. This is especially true for the voice. It is our oldest acoustic means of communication. Are we man or woman, old or young, calm or stressed, awake or tired, sober or drunk, in a good or bad mood, interested or bored, and are we talking to our partner, a stranger, a child, or a dog? - All of this and much more is contained in every second of a speaker's voice. The voice is the basis of all human speech signals. Without the voice, speaking would be just a whisper ... and even this still contains a kind of voice residual that the human ear uses to create a speech melody.
In 2015 I finally moved to the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) as a professor and became head of the acoustics laboratory on the Sonderborg campus. After one of the very first interdisciplinary I joint at SDU, someone approached me with a question that should change my life. I can't remember exactly who it was, but I do vividly remember the wording. It went something like this, "Olli, you know a lot about speaking... Can't you teach our engineering students how to be more charismatic in presentations, so that all their good ideas get the attention (and, ultimately, the investment) they deserve?" - And what do you say when you are newcomer in a group? - "Yes, of course I will, no problem!"
From then on I had a course in rhetoric of four hours a week, which was compulsory for all business engineers at SDU Sonderborg. More specifically, I had two things, a course and a problem ... because it was not as easy as I had imagined! There was far too little research literature on charismatic speaking to fill four hours a week. Of course I have read many rhetoric books as a point of departure, but the information in them was mostly too vague (e.g., what exactly is an "animated", "powerful" or "warm" tone of voice in acoustic-phonetic terms?). Or pieces of information contradicted each other (e.g., what is actually more charismatic, a faster or slower speaking rate? A higher or lower voice pitch?). This is not supposed to mean the information in these books was wrong or bad, but without being a rhetorical traininger myself, I couldn't do anything with it, and besides, I needed something much more objective, concrete, and tangible to teach all those number-loving engineers. Finally, there was only one solution to this: I had to research myself how the phonetics of charisma looks (and sounds) like and what constitutes a charismatic voice in the acoustics of the human speech signal.
So, I invested a lot of time, sweat and tears (well, not all too many tears) and hundreds if not thousands of working hours in this endeavor. My colleagues Prof. Kerstin Fischer, Prof. Alexander Brem, and Jana Voße at SDU, as well as Prof. Radek Skarnitzl at Prague University and Prof. Plinio Barbosa at Campinas University gave me a lot of help and inspiration along my journey. After 18 months of intensive R&D activities, partly based on "field data" from social media and partly based on experimental data from lab studies, the time had come: PICSA and Acoustic Voice Profiling® were born! The algorithms, measurement methods and metrics from back then have only rudimentary similarities with today's PICSA and Acoustic Voice Profiling®. And even today, more than 3 years later, we are constantly developing our system further, changing its measurement methods or adding new parameters to make it even more precise, informative and reliable.
I myself have undergone a transition during these years from an experimental linguist to a application-oriented speech researcher who was once a role model for public-speaking anxiety and now tries his best to unfold the charismatic speaking skills in others. Life can be so ironic sometimes...!
Anyways, it quickly became apparent in 2017 that PICSA and Acoustic Voice Profiling® are something completely new and special, and so a patent was applied for and a startup company was founded, all with great support by Jørgen Jakob Friis at SDU and in close cooperation with my former Oldenburg doctoral student Jan Michalsky. We agreed that this milestone in digital rhetoric should benefit more people than "only" SDU students. Our aim in those days was the same as it is nowadays: We want to make all people better speakers, good or great speakers ideally. Above all, this means that we give people access to the hidden world of non-verbal acoustic communication signals, especially those of the human voice. We want to enable people to put everything that they have done with their voice unconsciously so far under a conscious control and, thus, use it as best as possible for themselves, supplemented by the knowledge of the corresponding effects that specific voice settings and patterns of sound and melody have and on their interlocutors. This philosophy shapes all activities of AllGoodSpeakers ApS.
Basically, it's like dancing. All of us can all move to the music in some way, just as all of us can speak - in some way. But if you really want to learn how to dance, you have to understand 3 things:
What movement patterns there are that you can use as building blocks to choose from for your performance;
What "meanings" these movement patterns have for the recipient (i.e. what emotions, attitudes, moods, reactions etc. they trigger) ;
How you can consciously control and master these individual movement patterns and combine them such that they become a new whole that is more than the sum of its parts.
Only when one are able to do all this, then you can be sure to attract the attention and applause of your audience. And so it is with the non-verbal (vocal) signals of charismatic speech, up to the point that the motor activities you choose and the new whole they create must match your body, your age, and your clothing.
So let your voice learn how to dance! May I have the pleasure of the next dance with you?