Lawyers & Leaders

Text “Voice1” to 44222 to receive recorded vocal warm-ups and a Power Voice Checklist to develop your best professional voice.

It’s Not What You Say, But How You Say It

Overlooked Nuances in Communication, What We Can Determine From Them, and How to Use Our Voices to Our Advantage

In truth, our voices are always changing, and we change our voices several times a day depending on our audience.  You don’t talk to your clients the same way you talk to your beer buddies.  You don’t talk to your boyfriend the same way you talk to your mom, or that creepy guy at Starbucks.  Linguists call this in-coding.  So in essence, the decision at hand is not whether to change your voice but how and when to change your voice.

“The sound of a speaker’s voice matters twice as much as the content of the message.” –The Wall Street Journal, 2013 AD

“Delivery!  Delivery!  Delivery!”–Demosthenes, 350 BC

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The Power of the First Impression
We expect to be judged by how we look.  Sight prejudice, or “judging a book by its cover” is something we take for granted.  So we spend thousands of dollars and countless hours of our lives at the gym, the beauty salon, and the mall, designing, constructing and maintaining our physical appearance, yet most of our first impressions are made over the phone.  What about sound prejudice?

According to Dr. Jack Shafer, in Psychology Today, “Changing negative first impressions is difficult. Once a first impression is formed, people are less likely to change their mind. This is based on the psychological principle of consistency: When people articulate an idea, they are less likely to change their minds because they would first have to admit that they were initially wrong. Maintaining an erroneous notion, such as a first impression, actually causes less anxiety than admitting an error and adopting another position.”

On the increasingly rare occasions wherein our first impressions are made in person, if there is a disconnect between that physical appearance and the sound of the voice, the listener will tend to believe their ears as opposed to their eyes – that’s often what we refer to as “going with our gut.”  Why is the sound of the voice so much more powerful than what we see?  Perhaps it’s because hearing develops in the womb, long before our eyes develop the capacity to see.

A Fundamental:  The Feeling of Sound
Consider music.  Consider what listening to jazz does to your body, your posture, and your breath.  Now consider bluegrass.  Classical music.  We don’t deny that music makes us feel things.  It has the power to relax us, excite us, or truly annoy us.  Now consider the music of the voice.  Each individual’s voice has it’s own unique combination of tone, pitch, lilt, resonance, tempo, meter, and pronunciation (or idiolect).  And we make instant judgments about a person solely based on the sound of the voice.  By listening, we determine a person’s age, gender, socio-economic status, ethnicity, intelligence, and trustworthiness.  Instantly.  Unconsciously.

So what do others hear when you speak?  What judgments are they making about you before you’ve had a chance to state your case?  What does the sound of your voice make other people feel?

“New research shows the sound of a person’s voice strongly influences how he or she is seen.  The sound of a speaker’s voice matters twice as much as the content of the message, according to a study last year of 120 executives’ speeches by Quantified Impressions, an Austin, Texas, communications analytics company.  Researchers used computer software to analyze speakers’ voices, then collected feedback from a panel of 10 experts and 1,000 listeners. The speakers’ voice quality accounted for 23% of listeners’ evaluations; the content of the message accounted for 11%.  Other factors were the speakers’ passion, knowledge, and presence.”
-Sue Shellenbarger, The Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2013

What to Do About It
How can we begin to hear ourselves the way we are heard by others? And what about authenticity?  If I change my voice, won’t I be perceived as inauthentic?  And once I understand my vocal assets and liabilities, how do I go about adjusting my sound, undetected, without coming off as a fraud?

3 Most Common Vocal Pitfalls
The most common vocal pitfalls I encounter with lawyers fall into three categories:  lack of intelligibility, power-loss, and regional bias.

Lack of intelligibility covers consonant skipping, skipping vowels or syllables, speeding, mumbling, and often unknowingly skipping entire words, among other things.  We try to speak as quickly as we think, or we’re worried about time, so we speed and smush our words together.  We confuse our audience and lose their attention and respect.

Power loss can result from unnecessarily high pitch or “little girl voice,” the ubiquitous upward cadence, or contrarily a repetitive monotone or downward cadence (which I like to call the “Eyore” effect).  Vocal power loss also occurs with an unnaturally thin or nasal resonance, overuse of interjections and filler words like, you know, “like” and “you know.”  And the worst offenders in this category are glottal fry, or the petering off of volume at the ends of thoughts sentences, or a total lack of pauses – or “motor mouth.”

Regional bias: your accent can work for or against you, depending upon your audience.  It’s important to know your dialect, your idiolect, and how to naturally “upgrade” to a non-regional standard (most often General American English (GAE) or Standard British (R.P.) when circumstances require it.

If you would like more of these, text “Voice1” to 44222 and I will send you some recorded daily vocal warm-ups and a Power Voice Checklist to help you develop your best professional voice.