Researchers studying the relationship between a speaker's vocal qualities and how listeners perceive that speaker seem to be on the same page, the one that says a speaker's voice "strongly influences how he or she is seen."

How strong is that influence? One study concluded that "speakers' voice quality accounted for 23% of listeners' evaluations; the content of the message accounted for 11%." In other words, the sound of the voice was twice as influential as content.

That sound does wield power. But when not used well, its influence may be deleterious.

GO FOR THE GOOD

"Influence can be positive or negative," says ECG Principal Michael Vivion, PhD. "A weak delivery is likely to lessen the significance of content because listeners won't really attend to the message. They'll be too bored or annoyed to hear it."

To create a more positive influence, he suggests that a speaker refine his or her use of prosodic elements, those nonverbal attributes that provide significance and connection not supplied by grammar and vocabulary alone. "Pace, volume, pitch, stress—each affects speech reception, contours meaning and engagement, creates both cognitive and emotional responses. Speakers who realize and utilize the power and effectiveness of these elements become more influential in the best way."

Speakers must also be aware of their credibility (ethos), the degree of believability, trust, and authority a listener ascribes to them. While ethos may arise in part from reputation or position, it can be crafted, shaped to the image the speaker wants listeners to perceive. "Every speaker projects a persona," Vivion notes, "and it may vary from situation to situation or audience to audience. Each of us can be perceived in a variety of ways. All of those ways can be true. So we have to decide which of our many facets is most important to emphasize in a given situation. Voice is one of the tools we use to do that."

AY, CHARISMA!

The voice may also contribute to one's level of charisma, that magnetism or appeal that draws attention from others, reported The Wall Street Journal on 12.1.14: "By analyzing the harmonics of pitch, frequency and timbre, researchers at University of California, Los Angeles are discovering how charismatic public speakers use their voices to dominate, rouse and influence a large audience. They are finding that successful politicians in various countries, including Italy, France and Brazil, all share key vocal qualities that strongly affect how people respond to them, independent of the meaning of the words they say or the ideas they express."

How might a speaker up the charisma quotient and thereby win a bigger piece of the influence pie?

  • Play with your voice, experiment with its range, get a voice coach
  • Develop a warm-up routine to help achieve a fuller, more resonant voice
  • Animate your delivery, especially through vocal variety
  • Use silence to regulate pace, generate novelty, and provide emphasis
  • Visualize successs by creating a vision in your mind of listeners responding enthusiastically to you

You'll find that your Best Natural Style℠ expands to accommodate any number of speech situations, garnering more influence—the good kind—as your repertoire grows.