Photo: Confident Speaker at a Meeing

By Barbie Scott, MA/CCC

Do you need to persuade or influence the people you work with? As a voice coach, I’m convinced that how you use your voice is just as important as the words you speak. Your voice needs to convey the metamessage that will complement—not undermine—your message. How can you use your voice effectively to persuade or influence? Here are some tips:

Pitch: Neither too High and Shrill nor too Low

These are both common vocal pitfalls. If you are apprehensive about your influence message, or nervous about facing the person you need to influence, your voice may become high and whiny. An artificially high, shrill voice will sound unconfident and inexperienced to your listener. It also could come across as obnoxious or annoying.

On the other hand, the same apprehension might cause you to speak in an artificially low tone. An artificially low-pitched voice doesn’t sound authoritative, it sounds phony and “wannabe authoritative,” possibly even condescending (just listen to Ted Baxter from the old “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”).

The Solution:

Get into the habit of speaking in a pitch range which is suitable for your voice. That pitch may be higher or lower than the voices of other people, but it is right for you. Speaking in that range will help your voice sound clear and confident.

Uptalk Intonation: Don’t Use it!

Image: Uptalk, sounding tentative and questioning

In up-talk intonation, all utterances end with an upward inflection, making the speaker sound tentative. To the listener, everything sounds like a question. For example, instead of expressing a need clearly and effectively to your manager: “I need you to approve this purchase order,” the speaker says, “I need you to approve this purchase order?” Sounding tentative will neither persuade nor influence.

The Solution: 

Practice saying sentences so that they end on a slightly lower pitch. Here is how to do this: record yourself saying some short, ad lib sentences, ending each one with a drop in the pitch of your voice, not a rise in the pitch: 

  •  I need you to approve this  purchase order. 
  •  I’m offering you a  meaningful incentive. 
  •  I’d like this report by  4:00 tomorrow.

Tight Throat: Don’t Speak with One!

Image: Lion yawning, the yawn is the solution to tight throat

As you start to deliver your message, you may feel your throat tightening up, which will make your voice sound whiny. To your listener, a whiny voice sounds like a demanding child.

The Solution: 

Keeping your mouth closed, make a yawn.Yawn exactly as you would yawn if your manager were speaking to you and you wished to avoid yawning in his or her face! Yawning—whether it is open-mouth yawning or closed-mouth yawning—expands the walls of your throat. An open throat means that your voice can travel through an expanded vocal tract. Your voice will sound full and confident instead of anxious or whiny.

Speaking Too Quickly

Image: Man in fast motion speaking on cell phone

According to a Gallup Poll, nearly 70% of people are annoyed by speakers who talk too fast. It is likely that your listener will think you sound nervous if you talk too fast. What’s too fast? Common sense tells you that if words become slurred, the rate of speech is too fast. If the rate itself is a distraction and draws attention to itself, it is too fast. 

The Solution:

 Start with something easy: count aloud from one to ten. As you say the numbers, allow your jaw to move freely. Don’t open your mouth in a stingy way; open it generously. This will necessarily keep you from talking too fast and keep your words from slurring. Note: this is not about exaggerating the movement of your lips or your tongue; think of this as letting your jaw move freely —as it wants to do! When you practice counting from one to ten in front of a mirror; you should “see dark,” i.e., you should be able to see into your mouth as you talk. Once you’ve mastered counting, practice your message in front of the mirror, and look for the space.

Speaking too Nasally

According to the same Gallup Poll mentioned above, nearly 70% of people are annoyed by speakers who have a nasal whine. If you sound too nasal as you speak, it is likely that you are not opening your mouth enough as you speak. A small mouth opening diminishes the pleasing quality which your mouth space can have on the sound waves coming from your voice box. Instead, you emphasize the effect your nasal passages are having on the outgoing sound waves. Your listener may perceive you as demanding and perhaps manipulative.

The Solution: 

You can lose the nasal quality and achieve a more pleasing voice by learning to move your jaw freely as you speak. This solution should sound familiar! The same behavior which can reduce an excessive speed in talking, can fix a nasal-sounding voice. See the solution under “Speaking too Quickly” for details.

Following these five voice tips will help you use your voice so that it underscores your message and will help you avoid sending a metamessage that is dissonant with your words. Developing and practicing these good vocal habits will aid you in persuading or influencing and delivering your message effectively.