Every businessperson knows how important communication is to his or her success. It affects virtually every area of your life. Therefore, anything that comes along that may help you communicate more persuasively is worth your attention. That’s what I thought when I came across a research summary by Katharine Gammon in Wired (“Cheat with Science: Persuade Someone” December 2011, p. 54).
Researchers at the University of Michigan analyzed the speech of 100 interviewers on 1,380 phone calls. The interviewers were trying to persuade people to participate in a survey. Gammon identified some key takeaways. As one would expect, speed matters:
“Optimal persuasive speed is a little faster than normal—about 3.5 words per second.”
Striking a balance is important. Too fast, and you will come across as shady; too slow, and you will sound dull or didactic. With that optimum speed however, breaks remain very important. The pause that refreshes really does refresh:
“It’s best to pause about every 20 seconds.”
This makes sense. The brain has its limits. We have all had the experience of listening to the nonstop talker and we just zone out. How persuasive is that? (You’ve persuaded me to take a nap!)
Concerning enthusiasm, the study reveals you should be enthused, but not to the point of coming across as boisterous. Obviously, no one likes to feel overpowered. It also detracts from the message.
With both genders, a slightly lower pitch usually enhances persuasion. Nevertheless, a gender-linked distinction is important to note:
“Men who varied their pitch a lot were less persuasive than those who didn’t. But women who varied their pitch were more successful than those who didn’t.”
Persuasive communication is something that can help us in major ways with our colleagues, clients, friends, and family members. This is why it is so important to understand it. Equally important, we must constantly assess and improve our communication techniques. Peer review, audience critiques, video playbacks, and communication workshops are just a few ways we can do that.
Let’s face it—communication is something we will always do. The only question is how well will we do it?
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