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Founder and CEO of Idea Grove, a unified PR and marketing agency, and author of the upcoming book “Trust Signals: The New PR.”
As business leaders, we are always working to determine the best messages to communicate — to our customers, employees, investors, partners and others. And first and foremost, we want to deliver messages that our audience trusts.
But when we are communicating through the spoken word, we often forget to think about the impact of our voice on trust. Studies show that how you say your words are often as important as the words you say. So how do you ensure that you are speaking in a manner that your audience will believe?
Some variables to consider are your voice’s pitch and tone, the confidence and rate of your delivery and any accent you might have. Let’s take a look at each of these factors in more detail.
When American Idol judge Randy Jackson used to tell contestants they were “a little pitchy, dawg,” he meant their singing was flat or sharp. With a speaking voice, pitch refers to a higher or lower frequency. Some leaders — most notably “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister — have gone through training programs, including special humming exercises, to change their pitch. Studies show that some pitches are deemed more trustworthy than others, but these biases are based primarily on perception. It’s best in most cases to simply speak in your natural voice, to be aware of people’s perceptions and to manage those.
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Tone is all about feeling; it’s the “music” of how you speak. When someone says, “I don’t like the tone of your voice,” they likely mean they detect anger, resentment, impatience or some other unpleasant emotion. While people like positive emotions more than negative ones, the least-trusted voices are those that reveal no emotion at all. A 2017 University of Glasgow study analyzed hundreds of voices and found that those who showed personality and inflection were far more trusted than those who were monotonous and flat. Specifically, the research showed that “sing-songy” voices were considered more trustworthy — such as a “hello” greeting that rises at the beginning, then drops, then rises at the end. Your best bet is to let your audience feel your words when you talk because it will contribute not only to comprehension but acceptance and belief. If you speak in a monotone that suggests you don’t really care about what you’re saying, why should they?
3. Confidence And Speaking Rate
Even if you have a higher or lower voice than is considered technically ideal, or lack the melodious intonation of a paid orator, you can make up for a lot simply by speaking with confidence. If you sound tense or shaky when speaking, people are far more likely to discount your words than if you are calm and self-assured. Speaking rate is also important. People often talk faster when they are nervous because they want to finish as soon as possible to ease their anxiety. Even if they aren’t anxious, fast talkers tend to be less trusted than those who speak at a more deliberate pace. Bottom line: Don’t rush through your words if you want them to have a lasting impact on your audience.
People tend to have a bias toward voices similar to their own, making a regional or foreign accent a potential challenge when you are seeking to build trust. Given that as many as two billion people worldwide speak English as a second language, this is an increasingly important issue. However, a 2018 McGill University Study found that when speakers with an accent — one different from those they were addressing — spoke in a highly confident voice, their audience was more likely to trust them compared to those who did not exude confidence. You don’t need to change the way you speak — confidence is the running theme when it comes to cultivating trust.
Unsure how trustworthy you sound? Practice speaking in front of a mirror or reach out to a friend or colleague and ask for honest feedback.
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