Voice can Influence

You only have to hear the clear, commanding tones of some of the finest actors – men and women – to believe in the power of the voice to influence.

Albert Mehrabian’s famous (and much abused) formulation suggests that voice carries 38% of our confidence in the meaning of a message. It ascribes 55% to body language and only 7% to the words themselves. There is much wrong with the way that this is often articulated, so I will refer you to two great sources to learn more.

A splendid RSA Animate video

My Training Journal Article on Mehrabian

One caveat we must make to Mehrabian’s percentages is that the importance of context – a TV voice over has no body language element. What is beyond doubt, however, is that the tone of voice, the phrasing and the timing you choose can have a profound effect on how your listener perceives your words.

When you have control of your voice, you have the ability to:

  • Engage
    The way you speak can draw listener in or leave them feeling alienated or, half-way, just plain bored.� Once drawn in, you can hold them, or let them slip away.
  • Convince
    By conveying confidence – even certainty – you can assuage doubt in your listener. If you get it wrong, you will sound merely arrogant and much of the difference is in the tone of voice.
  • Move
    By using your voice effectively, you can trigger powerful emotions in your listener.
  • Clarify
    How you articulate the words in your sentence can make the meaning more or less evident – especially with complex technical information.
  • Embed
    Say your words poorly and they will flow easily into one ear and out of the other. Yet, get it right and they will resonate inside your listener’s brain and start to stick.

All of this is part of the craft of influence.

How can you become skilled in using your voice to influence?

Knowing the power of your voice to persuade and get results can only make you hungry to learn how. I was fortunate to meet a real expert recently, who showed how he has developed a range of skills and methods from rhetoric, performance and advertising into a powerful structured technique.

Steve HudsonSteve Hudson has done many things in his life from sales to acting, but he found his real forte with voice over, working with leading advertisers and headline performers, even recording

‘Ladies and Gentlemen, would you please welcome Mr Bob Monkhouse’

so that the great performer would never have to rely on a second rate stage manager. Steve recently invited me to his studio to show me some of his techniques and let me record some readings for myself.

The Hudson Voice Technique

There are seven elements to Steve’s technique, which he teaches to professional voice over artists and to business and public service professional who need to speak with power and precision. Rather than repeat those steps in Steve’s straightforward listing – and give away all of his secrets, let me talk about the elements that made most impact on me.

First, however, I should say that there is nothing new in what Steve teaches. What he has done is consolidated what the best professional speakers and actors have learned to do through fortune, study and practice. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this makes his technique weak or shallow. As all good models, Steve has investigated what works, systematised it, documented it clearly and, most important, found a direct method of teaching it. After that, your success – my success – in using it is down to us and the amount of practice we put in.

Red Flag Words

It is ‘obvious’ that we should seek out the words that convey the real meaning of the sentence. Yet many speakers and even advertising voice overs emphasise little words that add nothing to the listener’s understanding, conviction or retention.

‘Velvet is the best chocolate in the world’
may sound good at first hearing. It is certainly a familiar stress pattern.

Yet wouldn’t you really want your voice over to say:

‘Velvet is the best chocolate in the world

After all, what do you want your audience to remember?

  1. The product name
  2. The quality standard
  3. The comparator

Really, ‘the’ conveys nothing: ‘a’ best chocolate would be oxymoronic. And you don’t need to stress ‘chocolate’, because the advert is about chocolate. So ‘Velvet’, ‘best’ and ‘world’ are red flag words in the sense that they convey the key message.

But Steve taught me something that I had never considered. ‘Velvet’ is a red flag word here in another sense. It tells you how to read the sentence: like velvet. Or should I say: ‘like velllvvvetttt’?

Look out for the words that give you cues about how to read the sentence and you will impart far more meaning, emotion and conviction. Your use of your voice can conjure images as powerful as pictures.

There’s more

Steve taught me a lot more, but I will leave that to Part 2, in my next blog. In the meantime:

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