When you’re persuading someone to do something, what you say isn’t necessarily as important as how you say it. If you want to sound convincing, it’s all about sounding as natural as possible…or at least learning how to fake it.
That’s the finding of the University of Michigan’s Jose Benki, who studied 1380 total calls made by 100 interviewers for telephone surveys. He wanted to see which interviewers were most successful at getting respondents to agree with the survey by providing a “yes” answer to the questions. He explains what he found:
Interviewers who spoke moderately fast, at a rate of about 3.5 words per second, were much more successful at getting people to agree than either interviewers who talked very fast or very slowly. We assumed that interviewers who sounded animated and lively, with a lot of variation in the pitch of their voices, would be more successful. But in fact we found only a marginal effect of variation in pitch by interviewers on success rates. It could be that variation in pitch could be helpful for some interviewers but for others, too much pitch variation sounds artificial, like people are trying too hard. So it backfires and puts people off.”
A person’s natural pitch was also important, at least for males. Benki determined that high-pitched males had more trouble convincing the participants than those with naturally deep voices. On the other hand, there was no apparent difference between how high-pitched and low-pitched female operators did. Another key to success, according to Benki, was the use of pauses:
When people are speaking, they naturally pause about 4 or 5 times a minute. These pauses might be silent, or filled, but that rate seems to sound the most natural in this context. If interviewers made no pauses at all, they had the lowest success rates getting people to agree to do the survey. We think that’s because they sound too scripted. People who pause too much are seen as disfluent. But it was interesting that even the most disfluent interviewers had higher success rates than those who were perfectly fluent.
Of course, “fluent” here doesn’t refer to the operator’s ability to speak the language – Benki is referring to the actual flow of speech, and the danger of never pausing while speaking. So then, the real key to convincing others to agree with your position – or to do your bidding, depending on how villainous you are – is to speak deliberately, have a relatively deep voice (if you’re male, at least), and put in plenty of pauses. Wait a second, lots of dramatic pauses – I think this study may have accidentally explained the appeal of William Shatner. And they say science isn’t good for anything…
Via the University of Michigan.