As business leaders, we are always working to determine the best messages to communicate—to our customers, employees, investors, partners and others. First and foremost, we want to deliver messages that our audiences trust, whether as part of our brand communications efforts or executive visibility programs.
But when we are communicating by the spoken word, we often forget to think about the impact of our voice in the trust equation. Studies show that how you say your words are often as important as the words you say. So how do you ensure that you are speaking in a manner that your audience will believe?
Variables to consider are your voice’s pitch and tone, the confidence and rate of your delivery, and your accent. Let’s take a look at each in more detail.
When Randy Jackson would tell “American Idol” contestants that they were “a little pitchy, dawg,” he meant their singing was flat or sharp. With a speaking voice, pitch refers to a higher or lower frequency. Interestingly, studies show that the most trusted voice is a woman’s voice with a deeper-than-average pitch. A deep-pitched man’s voice can be viewed as overly forceful, while a high-pitched woman’s voice can be dismissed as unserious.
There’s a reason why some female leaders—most notably “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister—have gone through training programs, including special humming exercises, to lower their pitch. Having said that, changing the pitch of your voice is a double-edged sword. A deeper man’s voice, while not considered as trustworthy, is strongly associated with leadership.
A higher-pitched woman’s voice, meanwhile, is considered more attractive. It’s best in most cases to simply speak in your natural voice, to be aware of people’s perceptions and to manage those.
Tone is all about feeling; it’s the music of how you speak. When someone says, “I don’t like the tone of your voice,” they mean they detect anger, resentment, impatience or some other unpleasant emotion. While people like positive emotions more than negative ones, the least trusted voices are those that reveal no emotion at all. A 2017 University of Glasgow study analyzed hundreds of voices and found that those that showed personality and inflection were far more trusted than those that were monotonous and flat.
Specifically, the research showed that “sing songy” voices were considered more trustworthy —such as a “hello” greeting that rises at the beginning, then drops, then rises at the end. Your best bet is to let your audience feel your words when you talk, because it will contribute not only to comprehension but acceptance and belief.
If you speak in a monotone that suggests you don’t really care about what you’re saying, why should they?
Confidence and Speaking Rate
Even if you have a higher or lower voice than is considered technically ideal, or lack the melodious intonation of a paid orator, you can make up for a lot simply by speaking with confidence. If you sound tense or shaky when speaking, people are far more likely to discount your words than if you are calm and self-assured.
Speaking rate is also important. People often talk faster when they are nervous because they want to be done talking as soon as possible. Even if they aren’t anxious, fast talkers tend to be less trusted than those who speak at a more deliberate pace. So don’t rush through your words if you want them to have a lasting impact on your audience.
Most people have a bias toward voices similar to their own, making a regional or foreign accent a challenge when you are seeking to build trust. Given that as many as two billion people worldwide speak English as a second language, this is an increasingly important issue. If your accent makes it difficult for people to understand what you are saying, you will have to work harder to build your audience’s trust.
The good news is, a 2018 McGill University study showed that when speakers with a foreign accent use a highly confident voice, their statements are believed at about the same rate as those of native speakers.
Unsure how trustworthy your voice is? Practice speaking in front of a mirror or call a friend or colleague and ask for honest feedback.
A version of this article originally appeared at Forbes.com.
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