It’s How You Say It

Why your voice can make your words more persuasive.

By A M Hammond, published October 10, 2019 - last reviewed on November 5, 2019

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When trying to make a compelling argument, you’ll likely put a lot of thought into your choice of words. You may also employ paralanguage, or modulations of volume, pitch, or speed of speaking. According to recent research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, these nonverbal cues may be as critical to your success as your words themselves.

In four experiments, researchers asked participants to record product reviews both neutrally and “persuasively,” but without giving them any direction as to what that meant. The researchers then analyzed the messages’ paralinguistic qualities and asked new participants to rate their persuasiveness.

“Persuasive” recordings that used paralanguage, such as varying volume, were deemed more convincing than those that did not, and the speakers were rated as more confident. Verbal attempts to persuade can backfire when detected—but paralanguage remained effective even when its persuasive intent was noticed by or disclosed to listeners. The researchers concluded that perceived confidence gives weight to an argument without eroding sincerity.

Lead author Alex Van Zant of Rutgers University emphasizes that being convincing isn’t just about speaking louder. But he encourages worrying less about what you say and “focusing on how you deliver a message.” His tip? “Communicate through media that allow people to hear your voice.”