How do you encourage other people to adopt your point of view?
A new study suggests if you want to convince, pay attention not only to what you say, but how you say it.
Alex Zant and Jonah Berger at the University of Pennsylvania looked at three aspects of paralanguage – the acoustic properties of speech – to discover which factors increase persuasiveness.
When instructed to convince others, participants spoke more loudly and varied the volume more than when asked simply to read the same text aloud. Apparently this made the speakers appear (and feel) more confident, and that, in turn, increased persuasiveness.
When Matthew Rocklage at Northwestern instructed participants to be persuasive, he found their language became more emotional. That definitely happened when Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech. He started almost impersonally, but as his words galvanised the audience, his choices became increasingly emotive.
Language that unites audience and speaker is another powerful persuasive technique. Think of Mark Antony when he addresses “Friends, Romans and countrymen”.
Persuasive words are power words – fight, freedom, defend. Master persuaders know how to use pauses and repetition to hold listeners’ attention. When you watch them speaking, the truly persuasive seem to look both at listeners and somehow beyond and above them.
Consider, too, how your audience regards you. Uma Karmarkar at Stanford noted that if you’re considered an expert on the topic under discussion, you’ll capture attention more readily if you appear less than definite. But if you’re seen as a novice, it’s essential you come across as absolutely certain.
Finally, if you hope not just to persuade but actually to lead, lower your voice pitch. Casey Klofstad at the University of Miami recorded men and women saying, “I urge you to vote for me this November”, then digitally manipulated the voices to create higher- and lower-pitched versions. Listeners preferred “candidates” whose voice was pitched lower.
The takeaways to increase your powers of persuasion
1. Speak reasonably loudly, vary volume, and enunciate
2. Show passion; use strong words
3. Don’t be afraid of pauses
4. Use repetition
5. Address your audience directly; look at them and, occasionally, above them
6. Demonstrate your affinity with your audience
7. The less you know, the more certain you must appear
8. Finally, if you want to get elected, lower your pitch
The Daily Telegraph