It's not what you say_25


I t is not what you say, but how you say it.


Did you know: Research suggests that we will more readily believe a poor argument explained to us in a convincing manner than one based on sound logic but presented by someone who sounds unconvinced or uninterested.

Sounds familiar? I’m sure you have experienced this several times. At least I have. Let’s go a little bit more into the details:

Did you know that a leader with an attractive speaking voice (think of Bill Clinton as an example) is more likely to be perceived as effective leader, than a leader with an unappealing voice? This conclusion was reached by a team in Midwestern state University in Texas after studying the speech patterns of 19 U.S presidents and nine Canadian prime ministers, analyzing such elements as pitch variability, speech rate, and pauses. However, the researchers found no link between voice quality and actual effectiveness as a leader.

So, how is what we say perceived, and why?

It was Professor Albert Mehrabian who established a classic rule on the effectiveness of spoken communication, which helps us understand how and why we do or do not trust people who are speaking to us – and thus the degree to which they can influence us.

According to Professor Albert Mehrabian, if there was an inconsistency between the speaker’s words, tone of voice and body language, we would tend to read their meaning in the following way:

  • 7% of meaning is in the words that are spoken
  • 38% of meaning is para-linguistic (the way that the words are said)
  • 55% of meaning is in facial expression.

His experiment showed that tone of voice and facial expression can have an enormous influence on an audience and the degree to which they trust a speaker. It is arguable that much of what people take away from a presentation may be from the non-verbal, so; the body language, the appearance and the style of what we see.

Whatever you communicate, it is not so much what you actually say, but the manner in which you say it that leaves an impression on others.

This is really a golden take away to be honest, because it is one of those take aways that we seldom think about and actually use to our own advantage, but we judge others by it all the time. I was trying to think about presentations that I’ve been to, debates that I’ve watched on TV, or the countless Youtube videos I’ve watched recently, and my conclusion is this:

It really is all down to the impression as a whole, that these people give, rather than what they are actually saying that influences my opinion of them and their message.

Imagine when we are conscious of this fact, if we really work on it and tweak it and use it to our advantage when we communicate with others, how much more effective we will be in our communication and influence of others?

Here are a 8 of my top tips for what to focus on in order to be a better communicator and influencer:

  1. Dress accordingly
    What you wear actually has a huge impact on how you are being perceived. How you dress should support what you are trying to communicate and be consistent with your personal brand and how you want to come across. You should always also take into account which occasion you are communicating in, and to which audience.
  2. Rehearse your talk
    This has a powerful impact because it allows you to be more relaxed and secure in your communication. When you know what you are going to say, you have much more flexibility to digress a little and to be more loose and open. People can really easily tell if you know what you are talking about or not. And if you seem like you don’t, you will loose credibility in an instant.
  3. Be, feel and look confident
    Confidence is truly “the best accessory” one can have. When you portray confidence, you are easier liked, trusted and looked up to. Some people are naturally very confident, while others need to rehearse it and work on it. Although true confidence comes from within, there are things you can do and practice to become more confident. I will explore this topic in more debt in a new article coming up.
  4. Know your audience – and tailor your communication
    You need to know who you are talking to, in order to reach them with your communication. What are their interests, their desires, their level of knowledge on your topic of discussion and their state of mind when you are talking to them? Of course, you might not always know all of these things, but the more you know and can adapt, the better. Say you are speaking at a conference – the more you know about your audience, the more you can tailor your communication to them and the easier it will be to influence them.
  5. Be aware of your setting – and adapt accordingly
    Taking into account the setting and situation you are speaking in, knowing the state of mind and expectations that your audience has, and tailoring your speech to this is Key. For example, if you are in a party setting, keep it informal, loose, short and positive.
    Like me, you have probably experienced the leader who gets up in the middle of the Christmas Party to talk about hard figures and strategy (which is a really important message, but totally wrong for the setting and the state of mind that people are in, which happens to be relaxed fun party mode).
  6. Know the essence in what you want to communicate – and focus on that
    Too often, we have too much to say. The key is to focus on the essence of what you want to communicate, and to repeat this as many times as possible in different ways to make it as clear as possible. People only have a certain bolk of attention to give and if it gets to be too much, they might loose out on your key take aways.
  7. Be aware of your body language and your tone of voice
    Any dissonance between your body language, your tone of voice and your oral communication is very easily detected. And (as stated above) what people will focus on is your body language, tone of voice and facial expressions. So, this is what you should focus most of your effort on and make sure is on point. A good tip is to study the power of body language and how you can use this to influence others. There are many great books on the subject, and this is one of my favorites: The definite book of body language. by Allan and Barbara Pease. It is REALLY easy to forget how you use your body and tone of voice when communicating, because everything is so incorporated in habits and  automatic. Thus you have to pay constant attention to it in order to control it. Also, a good tip is to film yourself to detect and tweak any bad habits you might have.
  8. Use music, props, colors, images etc. that compliment and underline your communication
    We are visual creatures, and we respond to all stimuli and create associations from it. So, the music, images, colors and all other factors that is somehow related to your communication, will have an impact in your audiences´ overall perception of you, what you are trying to communicate, and how you are able to influence them. If there is a big  mismatch in the various vibes and associations you give out, it will create cognitive dissonance for your audience (either conscious or unconsciously)  and will weaken your influence on them.



Inspiration from Harvard Business Review, Nov 2011 and The Marketing Donut.