You have great ideas and are on a mission to change the world—or at least part of the world. You want to make an impact on others. And you want people to take you seriously. So, how can you achieve these goals? While you can’t always control what others do, you can control yourself. And to optimize your effect, consider the virtues of using vocal influence to better speak to people.
To understand the importance of voice, let’s look at the research. One study published in Frontiers in Communication found that, when comparing four vocal qualities—“modal, creaky, breathy (natural and artificial), (hyper-)nasalization and smiling (natural and extreme)”—both smiling vocal qualities resulted in higher listener ratings. On the other hand, researchers found that “the creaky vocal quality was consistently and significantly rated lower for all personality traits for all participants, and thus perceived more negatively overall.”
Among the findings of another study, this one published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, was the evidence that listener ratings of speaker believability “were modulated by both the speaker’s vocal confidence level and their perceived in-group status.” Researchers found that “accent-based social categorization [appeared] to interfere with and delay critical operations for registering the significance of vocal expressions based on the acoustic features provided by the speaker.” However, researchers also found that “differences at the neurocognitive level do not always translate into obvious differences in how different speaker groups are judged… For example, Canadian listeners rated Canadian (in-group) and Australian (out-group/regional) speakers as equally believable when they used a confident voice…”
The take-home? People are judging you by your voice, potentially without even realizing it.
How to speak better by controlling your voice
The good news is that you can make a few changes to optimize the impact of your voice. Here are nine tips to take control of your voice so you can speak better and more powerfully influence others:
1. Use a deeper voice.
Studies have shown that a deeper voice is associated with being perceived as a leader, as well as more authoritative, knowledgeable and extroverted.
If you don’t naturally have a deep voice, though, be careful. A study published in the Journal of Voice asked graduate students in the field of speech communication disorders to “[rate] the desirability of 25 adjectives used to describe perceived speaker’s affect,” which they then used to describe how they perceived eight vocal qualities displayed in the voices of female speakers, including vocal fry. While the majority of participants (64%) “used a mixture of desirable, in-between and undesirable” adjectives to describe vocal fry, 32% described it as only undesirable and just 5% described it as desirable. Additionally, when researchers created a “vocal quality profile” for the adjectives, they found that “vocal fry was the primary vocal quality associated with the adjectives vain (56%), apathetic/disinterested (48%), sleepy (38%), relaxed/chill (38%) and bored/unengaged (36%).”
However, lowering your voice to speak better may not always go wrong. A study published in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior found that, when looking at male and female scientists who were engaged as faculty members at a university, both genders “[lowered] their vocal fundamental and formant frequencies when asked to provide their expert opinion compared to when giving easy campus directions,” with the female participants doing so with significantly greater frequency. Additionally, according to the study, “a playback experiment further indicated that foreign-speaking listeners judged the voices of faculty members as relatively more competent and more authoritative based on authority speech than control speech.”
2. Change your inner dialogue.
The other day I was working with a woman who I had hired to assist me with a specific project. It became immediately apparent that she felt some resentment toward me, despite me never having met her before. Her insecurities were inadvertently coming through in her voice—not in what she said but how she said it.
To prevent this from happening to you, address what you are saying to yourself by crushing your inner critic in order to develop a confident and positive voice inside and out.
3. Smile to speak better.
Smiling can actually cause you to feel happier. And that positive mood may spread—research shows our own moods have the potential to influence the moods of others. What’s more, smiling can influence the tone you produce, potentially helping you to sound more friendly and approachable.
4. Use a dynamic tone.
Monotone, or a flat voice, conveys that you are boring—something that is unlikely to help you influence others. Instead, try to vary your tone with some higher and lower pitches. As mentioned earlier, a lower pitch may help you sound more compelling and engaging.
5. Speak better by using speed wisely.
Slow speakers are judged as being less honest and less connected in conversation than those who speak more quickly. Faster-paced speakers are deemed more reliable and attentive—though make sure you avoid speaking too fast. Speaking quickly does not mean you should talk like an auctioneer. Rather, you should use speed in a manner that allows the listener to feel your excitement and still comprehend what you are saying.
6. Don’t be afraid of a pause.
While this may seem like a contradiction to the tip above, using pauses wisely can also help you be impactful. For example, pausing after a statement can help enhance its sense of importance and give audiences time to think through your point. A brief delay in speech can also help you gather your thoughts without utilizing the dreaded “um” or “you know” that can damage your effectiveness as a speaker when used too often.
7. Speak in their accent.
Research finds that people tend to judge those with an accent or language that differs from theirs. While you may not be able to control your native tongue, you may want to consider taking steps to change your accent.
A friend of mine is a well-known TV personality who grew up with a thick Boston accent. When he moved, he realized how important it was to viewership to drop his Northeastern intonation.
8. Breathe to speak better.
Shallow, anxious breaths can negatively impact the quality of your voice. On the other hand, deep, belly breaths can reduce anxiety and improve vocal quality.
9. Inflect down.
Inflection refers to changes in tone and emphasis when speaking. Those who tend to use a rising inflection (starting with a lower pitch and ending higher, causing the sentence to end like a question) may irritate those around them or stop themselves from being taken seriously. Instead, use a downward inflection (going from a higher tone to lower) to convey confidence.
This article was updated August 2023. Photo by fizkes/Shutterstock
Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., is a wealth psychologist helping entrepreneurs get out of their own way so they can have the successful businesses they want. Her newest book Better than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love is now available. How can you crush your inner critic? Learn more at www.ElizabethLombardo.com