The Power of Speech: Easy Tips for Learning How to Persuade Others

Persuasion can be a powerful thing.  Day to day, we find ourselves either on the giving or receiving end or compelling (or not-so-compelling) arguments that work to varying degrees.  Do you want to convince someone to do something?  It may be as simple as learning how to speak, as opposed to learning what to say.Researchers at the University of Michigan have discovered certain voice qualities that influence the effectiveness of persuasion.  Here’s what they found:

Speed of speech:

People who speak moderately fast (about 3.5 words per second) are more successful at persuading people than people who speak very fast of very slowly.  People who speak fast are seen as trying to pull the wool over others’ eyes and therefore are often mistrusted.  People who speak slowly are seen as not too bright or overly pedantic.

Animation of speech:

Though the researchers believed that people who sounded animated and lively would be more successful at persuasion, there was only a marginal effect of animation in convincing someone to do something.

Pitch of speech:

Pitch, the highness or lowness of a voice, showed gender differences in persuasion.  While men with higher-pitched voices had worse success at persuasion than their deeper-voiced peers, pitch appeared to have no effect when a women was attempting to persuade others.

Pauses in speech:

Do you speak fluently, without pausing?  It may hurt your chances at persuading others.  The last characteristic researchers studied was the use of pauses in speech.  They found that people who engaged in frequent, short pauses (4-5 times a minute) were more successful than people who spoke with perfect fluency.

“When people are speaking, they naturally pause about 4 or 5 times a minute,” said Jose Benki, a research investigator at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR).  “These pauses might be silent, or filled, but that rate seems to sound the most natural in this context. If interviewers made no pauses at all, they had the lowest success rates getting people to agree to do the survey. We think that’s because they sound too scripted.

While people who paused too much during speech were seen as disfluent, these speakers still had greater success than people who did not pause at all.