Talking to Persuade – Scientists Study Speakers to Determine Most Successful Persuasive Styles

You talking to me
Will the lizard live? Depends on how he says it.

How many times a day do you need to sway someone to your point of view, or get them to do something you want them to do? How you say it can make all the difference according to a team of scientists at University of Michigan. Speed, pitch, number of pauses – the team has narrowed down possible optimal levels for each by studying the speech patterns of calls made by 100 male and female interviewers seeking participation in a survey. The team analyzed 1,380 introductory calls and then correlated data with the success rate of each interviewer.


The Findings

Speed – Not too fast, not too slow allows the listener to comprehend what you’re saying without getting bored, and growing suspicious of your intentions because you’re “talking too fast”, a tactic used to confuse the listener. Want to fall in the optimum range? Try 3.5 words per second.

Pitch – The scientists predicted that “animated” speech with lots of variation in pitch would be more successfully persuasive, but it turns out there was no correlation. They suspect that in some cases too much variation might seem fake. Men with higher voices has slightly lower success rates, but there was no measurable difference for women based on how high or low their natural voice was.

Pauses – Interviewers who were “perfectly fluent”, meaning there were no discernable pauses in their speech, had lower success rates than their pausing counterparts. And even though too many pauses in speech is considered “disfluent”, even those disfluent speakers had higher success rates than the “perfectly fluent” interviewers.

Practice “Right” Speech, or Practice “Right Speech”?

Now you have some insights into how to make your talks, your sales calls, and your pitches more persuasive. You can run and grab your digital recorder and practice getting it just right. But the way I see it, what this study really reveals is that effectively persuasive speech is really what we do naturally when we are speaking from the right place — an orientation of being honest, fair, and believing in what we’re saying. So my advice? Believe in what you’re saying.

What do you think? How much time and effort should be spent on practicing the individual elements versus working on confidence that stems from being genuine?

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