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Words, Voice, Expression, and what?

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Is there anything more to say about the famous Albert Mehrabian and his experiment that showed (or did it?) that, in conversation, our message is conveyed in words, voice and expression?

First, we need a refresher on Albert Mehrabian, because this is a correspondence course, and I don’t want to take your level of knowledge for granted.

Exercise: Research Albert Mehrabian

The Mehrabian Pie Chart

Mehrabian’s work is often represented as showing that our words, voice and expressions carry elements of our meaning in the ratios 7:38:55.  It doesn’t.  It shows, in just one experiment that has never been repeated, that, when our words, vocal style and expressions conflict with one another, then other people put most weight on our expressions and least on what we actually say.  I will make it easy with two excellent references:

  1. I wrote about this for Training Journal in July 2007
  2. An easier way still, to learn what Mehrabian really means is to watch the wonderful three and a half minute video by Creativity Works on YouTube.

The ‘and what?’

Without a doubt, your words, voice and expression all convey elements of your intended meaning.  But there is something very important that Mehrabian did not explore.  It often makes the difference between being understood quickly and accurately on the one hand, and being hard to understand, and even misunderstood, on the other: structure.

How you structure what you say has a profound effect on people’s attention levels, on their comprehension and, indeed, on your credibility as a speaker or writer.

Compare these two scenarios, for example:

Ami describes her insight in a rambling way, starting with what she was thinking and digressing from time to time, repeating herself and qualifying her comments.  When she finally stops, she looks up and says ‘do you follow me?’.  Most people nod, but think ‘no, sorry, I don’t’.

Betin starts by saying ‘here is what I think’, then follows it up, by saying ‘and here are three reasons why I believe this is correct’.  He gives the reasons, one after the other, then finishes by saying ‘so, to conclude, […] is well supported by the facts.’  … and he stops.

Who will be easier to follow and more persuasive?

A formula for structured responses

Persuade, convince and win arguments with clear and structured comments.

  1. This is what I noticed
  2. This is what I think
  3. This is why I think it (one, two or three reasons; maximum)
  4. Reiterate your conclusion

This is far from the only formula, but discipline in structuring what you say will not only make you more credible when you do speak, it will make people want to hear what you think.

Further Reading

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A Strong Authoritative Voice

Having a strong, authoritative voice will win you instant respect.  On the other hand, a weak and feeble piping speech sound will undermine your credibility.  We are programmed to hear deeper, steadier voices as more commanding.

Change your voice

Politicians hire vocal coaches to help slow their speech, lower the pitch of their voice and deal with unwanted regional accents.  Professor Yuki Sato at Hosei University in Japan has a simpler way – use software.  He has found a way to process recorded speech to make it sound different.  It’s not what you would describe as the perfect solution, but try it for yourself.  Here are two voices from his website:

The original sample of Miss Sugimoto

The sample modified to make her sound more ‘manly’

Recordings only

As New Scientist reported in a 2002 article, Sato’s work has so far only been able to modify recordings.  So this is not the solution to boost your performance in your next platform speech at your company’s annual conference.  For that, you will need to work a little harder.

Vocal Skills

An effective voice has three things, says Richard Payne, author of the Vocal Skills Pocketbook:

  1. Vitality
    How to sound really  interesting by using really good words and a varied voice to build rhythms and patterns
  2. Audibility
    Being heard.  Sorry, being heard
  3. Clarity
    Not mmmbblnnng

Hmmm, still much to learn for me then.

VocalSkills

I’ll try again …

  1. Vitality
    A few deep breaths before you start, regular pauses to catch your breath and create emphasis, and a well crafted script can bring your speech to life
  2. Audibility
    Good breathing and posture can help you to project your voice at the right volume.  If the room is too big for you, use a microphone.
  3. Clarity
    Taking your time and rehearsing will help you get your words and your overall message across clearly.  Practicing some of Richards Vocal Exercises will improve the way you pronounce tricky vowel or consonant combinations.

A Pocketful of help

This book really is an excellent help for anyone contemplating public speaking, with 26 speech exercises that will certainly help develop your skills.  But here are three extra tips from my experience sitting in conference rooms at break times:

  1. Beware clip-on radio microphones
    Turn them off when someone comes to the front at the break, to ask you a private question
  2. Beware clip-on radio microphones
    Turn them off before you head out of the room, walking right in front of a speaker
  3. Beware clip-on radio microphones
    Please turn them off before you take a comfort break

So here’s the deal

Public speaking is a challenge, so prepare for it by preparing your most important tool.  Chefs sharpen their knives, carpenters hone their chisels, and engineers calibrate their micrometers.  So too should a speaker rehearse their voice.

Other Management Pocketbooks you may enjoy

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg17523521.600-get-a-voice-to-rouse-the-masses.html
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