You Had Me at Hello! – The Importance of Your Voice by Communication Coach, Yvonne Hurt

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This is not a flippant title and I am not an ardent fan of the film Jerry Maguire – though I do remember enjoying it!

The title of this article was actually inspired by a piece of research I recently became aware of considering communication which was undertaken by a team of psychologists from the universities of Princeton, (US) and Glasgow (Scotland).

Communication as a business tool – what the research says

It is about the judgements we make when hearing a person speak, judgements that can influence the course of a person’s life, career and future;

Research has shown that perceived vocal personality influences mate selection, leader election, and consumer choices.

McAleer P, Todorov A, Belin P (2014) How Do You Say Hello? Personality Impressions From Brief Novel Voices (Ed. Charles R Larson)

So what do the researchers mean by ‘vocal personality’?

The research involved three hundred and fifty participants who were asked to listen to recordings of people saying, ‘Hello’, and then rank them according to pre-defined personality traits.  

The personality traits included trustworthiness, competence, and confidence. Traits that I would think rank highly on anyone’s list whatever their business.

The findings of this research are incredible, not because they show that people make judgments quickly when hearing someone speak for the first time – studies on this are well documented – but because of the reasons listed below:

  1. a) Most of the recorded voices elicited the same response from the participants (whether that response was accurate is not the issue here, but the fact that there was a common perception, an agreement of opinion, based on so little, certainly is)
  2. b) Judgements were made, and conclusions drawn without even seeing the speaking person (no opportunity for eye contact, a smile or any body language to influence outcomes, judgements were made purely on the sound of the voice)
  3. c) Opinions were formed on hearing the voices for 300-500 milliseconds – an unbelievably short amount of time!

These rapid responses certainly highlight the power of the spoken word in communication, the amazing amount of information communicated through a simple, short, ‘Hello’.

The Power of Communication – How can we harness it?

Are we aware of and utilising this power? Consider all the day-to-day interactions we have when we use our speaking voice.

Whatever our role, whatever our business or profession, we may find ourselves communicating to colleagues, employees, our team, customers, potential customers.

We may need to lead, explain, motivate, inspire, challenge, or advise, and most of us have the gift and privilege of a speaking voice, our primary communication tool.

A voice which is unique to us which tells people who we are, what we believe in and how we engage and connect with those we meet.

Why would we not capitalise on the potential and power of this voice? Why would we not ensure we are using it to our full capacity?

I wonder when you last thought about your voice?

Of course, it is perfectly understandable that for many people their voice is not something they spend time on.

Most of us were born with the ability to make vocal sounds, we developed our speaking voice as we grew and interacted with others and it has grown with us and become as natural and automatic as breathing (though many of us could benefit from improving that also).

Communication and Public Speaking

Our voice develops into part of who we are, most of the time with little attention and consideration. If it seems to serve us well and we can function in the world and be understood, we give it little thought until…

…Glossophobia strikes!

(Glossophobia – the medical term for fear of public speaking)

How many of us only think about our speaking voice when we have to give a presentation or have a public speaking engagement?

Even then, it is often the content of the presentation which becomes our focus, takes precedence over how that content is delivered, and yet it is the ‘how’ that can make that content meaningful, exciting, interesting, and memorable.

And actually, all speaking is public speaking, isn’t it? Whether we have an audience of one or a thousand listeners we speak to be heard by others.

Another moment we may consider our voice is when we hear it ourselves.  

How many of us enjoy hearing our own recorded voice?  I am guessing, not many! In fact, so many of us cringe when we hear our own voice, there is a term for this response – voice confrontation.  

The problem is we are used to hearing what we sound like from the inside of our head. When we speak we hear a mixture of the external sound but also the sound through the bones and tissues in our skull, often resulting in a richer, lower pitched sound (and what we sound like is also influenced by what we THINK we sound like). When we hear what others hear it often surprises us.

The Expressive Nature of Communication – the Tone of Our Voices

We are also able to pick up on personality traits or expression that we were totally unaware we are expressing – do I really sound so anxious/irritated when I wasn’t meaning to?

To return to the piece of research that motivated this article, interestingly the judgements made by the participants were made purely on the ‘sound’ of the voice.

It was the tone of the voice that suggested personality and informed the first impressions, content was not needed to enable this.  

Tone is everything, and by tone I mean intonation, musicality. Tone conveys meaning, attitude, intention, passion, conviction. Tone can convey warmth or irritation, calm or impatience. Tone can convey integrity and authenticity.

Your voice is one of your quality and marketing tools and vocal branding shapes your image.  

It is worth reflecting on what your voice says about you and how it represents you.  

So, make friends with your voice, get to know it, and use it well.

Listen to yourself (record a speech or presentation), ask a friend or colleague what they think, ask yourself if you would like to make any changes or if there are any specific issues you want to address. 

Below are just a few of the common challenges surrounding public speaking situations:

  • Overcoming anxiety and nerves.
  • Always punctuating a speech with too many filler words (ums and ahhs).
  • Connecting with your audience – or not connecting.
  • Being articulate and clear.
  • Becoming less self-conscious and developing confidence.
  • Unable to move on from monotone.
  • Making important information and data interesting, relevant and memorable.
  • Pace, pause, pitch – and of course, volume.

Don’t waste the voice you have. 

Develop and expand it. 

A little practice and application could ensure you are absolutely ready for that next important, ‘Hello!’

By Yvonne Hurt, Communication Coach. Message me at my profile on Jomo247 to see how I can help you harness the power of your voice.

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