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Chapter 8

The Rule of Verbal Packaging -- The Leverage of Language


Real persuasion comes from putting more of you into everything you say. Words have an effect. Words loaded with emotion have a powerful effect.


Over 60 percent of your day is spent in oral communication, in which you could be persuading, explaining, influencing, motivating, counseling, or instructing. You can create movement, excitement, and vision with the words you use. The right words are captivating; the wrong words are devastating. The right words make things come to life, create energy, and are more persuasive than the wrong words. As Mark Twain said, "The difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." The bottom line is that the words you use attract or repel your prospects.

The Rule of Verbal Packaging states that the more skillful a person is in the use of language, the more persuasive they will be. People are persuaded by us based on the words we use. Words affect our perceptions, our attitudes, our beliefs, and our emotions. The words we use in the persuasion process make all the difference in the world. Language used incorrectly will lose the deal you might otherwise have closed. Word skills are also directly related to earning power. Successful people all share a common ability to use language in ways that evoke vivid thoughts, feelings, and actions in their audiences.

Typically, news broadcasters are trained to inflect their voices downward at the ends of sentences because doing so suggests confidence and authority. Upward inflections tend to suggest lack of confidence and doubt. Numerous studies have shown that a common trait of successful men and women is their skillful use of language. This correlation has also been manifested in their incredible ability to persuade.

The Inherent Power of Words

Words communicate abstract or vague things. We can use them to explain events, to share feelings, and to help visualize the future. Words shape our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes towards a subject. They help decide if we stay neutral or take action. Just reading words can affect your thoughts, attitudes, and feelings. For example, read these six words slowly and vocally, taking notice of how they make you feel.

Murder Hate Depressed Cancer Sad Despair

Now read the following six words slowly and vocally, noticing how the words affect you as you do so. Wealth Success Happiness Health Inspiration Joy

How did these words make you feel? Successful persuaders know how to use the right words to create the desired response in their audiences. Speakers with greater verbal skills come across as more credible, more competent, and more convincing. Speakers who hesitate, use the wrong words, or lack fluency have less credibility and come across as weak and ineffective.

The Fundamentals of Language Usage

The use and packaging of language is a powerful instrument that can be finetuned to your advantage. We all know the basics of language, but mastery of both the aspects of language usage and the verbal situation can control human behavior. The proper use of verbal packaging causes you to be adaptable and easy to understand. This type of language is never offensive, and is always concise.

To create an effective verbal package, you need to understand the following critical aspects of language:

Word ChoiceVocal Techniques
Packaging Your NumbersPace
Positive Word ChoiceVocal Fillers
Emotion-packed WordsPitch
Word Choice in MarketingVolume
Use of SilenceArticulation
Vivid LanguagePauses
Simple but Powerful Words  
Simple Statements
Attention-grabbing Words

Word Choice

Understand that proper language varies from setting to setting, and from event to event. One word choice does not work in every circumstance. Word choice can also be critical to defusing situations and in getting people to accept your point of view. Even one word can make the difference in perception and acceptance. In a study by social psychologist Harold Kelley,[1] students were given a list of qualities describing a guest speaker they were about to hear. Each student read from either one of the following two lists:

  1. Cold, industrious, critical, practical, and determined

  2. Warm, industrious, critical, practical, and determined

Of course, the students who read 1 had less than positive feelings about the speaker. The interesting thing, though, is that the lists are exactly the same except for one word! It seemed that the differing word's placement at the head of the list conditioned how the reader felt in reading through the rest of the list. It didn't matter that none of the following words were negative. Just reading the word "cold" tainted how the students read the rest of the list.

The airline industry has mastered the power of words. They know word choice is critical to getting their point across and to reducing panic. In one situation, a flight attendant had run out of steak as an option for dinner entre´e. Instead of telling the customers their only option was chicken, the flight attendant said, "You can have a piece of marinated chicken breast, saute´ed in mushrooms in a light cream sauce, or a piece of beef." Consequently, people chose the chicken because it sounded better. Once, as a plane I was on was about to take off, one of the engines caught on fire. Smoke billowed and the runway was suddenly filled with fire trucks. The pilot came on and called it "slight engine difficulties." I don't know about you, but the situation seemed like a little more than "slight" to me.

When you listen to the flight attendants' instructions before take-off, you also hear careful word choice. They tell you that in the event of a water landing, your seat cushion can be used as a "flotation device." Hello! What they're really saying is, "If we crash into water, grab your seat cushion so you don't drown." Notice they don't say "life preserver," but rather they call it a "flotation device." Also note that there is no "barf bag" on board — it's a motion discomfort bag. Or "we are experiencing a mechanical difficulty" instead of "the plane is broken." They don't clean the plane; they refresh it. Planes aren't late; they're merely delayed. And, my personal favorite, they never lose my luggage; they misplace it. Yes, airlines know the power of word choice in affecting their customers' point of view.

Sales professionals also use words carefully. They know that one wrong word can send their prospect's mind somewhere else and lose them the sale. Some examples of language that salespeople use to help diffuse a potentially tense situation include the following:

Words That RepelSuperior Words
Sign hereOK the paperwork / autograph  
SellGet involved
CancellationRight of rescission
SalespersonBusiness consultant
CommissionFee for my services
Credit cardForm of payment
ObjectionsAreas of concern
ExpensiveTop of the line
CheaperMore economical
Service chargeProcessing fee

Words also have a strong bearing on how we remember certain details. For example, in a 1979 study conducted by Elizabeth Loftus and colleagues, when defendants were asked how fast they were driving when they "smashed" into the other car — as opposed to "hit" the other car — much higher speeds were reported. In another study, subjects were asked if they had headaches "frequently" or "occasionally" and how many per week. Those who were interviewed with the word "frequently" reported 2.2 headaches per week, while those interviewed with the word "occasionally" reported only 0.7 per week.[2]

In another study, one group of individuals was asked if they thought the United States should allow public speeches against democracy, while another group was asked if they thought the United States should forbid public speeches against democracy. Although they bear similar implications, notice the word choice makes them contrary to each other. Still, one might think the answers would be similar, since they drive at the same point. Because of the word forbid, which caused them to want to hear the speeches, there was a much higher response to the second question.

Have you ever noticed those pharmaceutical commercials currently on the air? They portray all these wonderful benefits and use a soothing, sophisticated voice to highlight these benefits. Then, at the end of the commercial, when they have to run through all the negative side effects: vomiting, headache, diarrhea, etc., they read through these negatives quickly using the same pleasant voice! The effect is that negatives are de-emphasized, and we, as viewers, are still left with an overall positive impression.

Double-Speak: Tame the Sting

The term double-speak means replacing an offensive word with a less offensive word to create less sting. Here are some examples of how double-speak has made its way into our society.

FiredLet go
Used carPre-owned vehicle
Sex change surgeryGender reassignment
Kentucky Fried Chicken  KFC (the word "fried" is taken out)  
Garbage manSanitation engineer
HousewifeDomestic engineer
FailNot passing
Fatty (beef)Marbled (beef)
Final examCelebration of knowledge

Package Your Numbers

Often salespeople, or people in any sort of persuasive situation for that matter, need to either play up or play down the greatness or smallness of certain numbers. When playing up a number, persuaders use this type of language:

When playing down a number, they use this type of language:

Positive Word Choice

You can use positive words to help prospects feel more confident, safe, or happy. You can also use negative words to trigger depression, anxiety, or sadness. When you use positive words, you capture and keep the attention of your listeners on the points you want them to concentrate on. The words you choose to use can mentally keep them on track. For instance, if you want to plant seeds of doubt, you would use negative forms of speech. When we are in a positive mindset, we don't ask as many questions. Positivity puts our mind in a comfortable, more persuadable area. When the negative is triggered, it requires more mental effort and our mind begins to search for incongruities or weaknesses in the argument.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich published a guidebook called Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.[3] In it, he advised Republicans to use positive governing words for themselves and negative words for their opponents. This pamphlet encouraged them to use the words "common sense, courage, dream, duty, empowerment, fair, family, and freedom" when talking about Republican ideals. He then advised them to use the following words to talk about their Democratic opponents and their position: "betray, bizarre, cheat, collapse, corruption, crisis, destroy, devour, and disgrace."

Remember how in 1980 Chrysler almost closed its doors and declared bankruptcy? Their only hope was $2.7 billion in loan guarantees from the federal government. This seemed hardly possible. Why would Congress approve such a sum for a private corporation? Chrysler and its lobbyists knew the right language would tip the balance. They positioned their argument so it was about the government providing a "safety net" for its companies, the same way it does for individuals. They further argued that this was an "American problem" belonging to everybody and not a unique situation only to themselves. Their strategy worked! The argument won Congress over, and Chrysler got the financial guarantees it needed.

Persuaders use very assumptive and assertive language. For example, instead of saying, "If you get the report done by Friday, we'll leave early and go out to dinner," they would say, "When you get the report done by Friday, we'll leave early and go out to dinner." Effective persuaders also speak positively when accepting responsibility. Instead of saying, "That's not my problem. You'll have to talk to someone else," they would say, "I'll have the person responsible give you a call."

Emotion-Packed Words

The words we use can hurt others and cause tension and resentment. Words can even cause wars. Humans tend to create and use words that hurt or label. Hitler used labeling and name-calling during his rule in Germany. He called the Jews many negative things, including "vermin", "sludge", "garbage", "lice", "sewage", and "insects." Labels also extend far beyond the names people are given, into the way we describe things in a negative light, such as "broken home," "single-parent family," or "blended family." Whereas we think of theses terms as essentially neutral, the words can carry significant negative weight to those people to whom the terms apply.

As you design your persuasive message, you must consider the emotional impact of each word and phrase. When you want to create emotion, choose words that will trigger feelings. If you want to downplay the event or situation, use an unemotional word. Notice the following words generally have the same definition but carry different emotional weight, for example, calling someone "thrifty" versus "cheap," "traditional" versus "old-fashioned," "extroverted" versus "loud," "careful" versus "cowardly," and "eccentric" versus "strange."

There are many words that are emotionally loaded and represent different values to different people. These words can get people to pay attention and alert them to know what significance the message has for them. It is hard to find a neutral word. Your word choice will paint different pictures for different people because the way we define words is based on our belief systems, our past experiences, and our social roles. The beliefs we hold about a word will dictate our actions and how we respond. For example, some cultures view death as a celebration of life; others view death as a tragedy.

Sometimes, if used improperly, positive words can still lead to a negative response. For this reason, persuaders will often avoid certain words, although generally positive, and instead use words that may still bear positive associations, but are more ambiguous. For example, in the world of politics we hear phrases like "freedom of choice," "fiscal responsibility," or "responsible taxation." When politicians use such generalities, people of differing viewpoints can actually both be appeased. They will fill in the blanks and provide their own definitions.

Words can convey emotional color by how long or short they are. Generally, shorter words are more blunt, direct, harsh, or sharp. Consider words like "kick," "hit," "force," "stop," or "no." Longer words, like "lonely," "depressed," or "painful" are drawn out to evoke colors of melancholy or suffering.

Word Choice in Marketing

Word choice in marketing and advertising is absolutely critical. When advertisers spend millions of dollars each year, you can bet they have tested every word they are going to use. They want their word choices to psychologically lead you to believe their product is the best, that it will change your life. Skilled advertisers can get us to absorb their message unconsciously. They might even package an identical product with different words and phrases to reach a wider segment of the public. Psychologist Daryl Benn conducted a study on how advertisers use word choice and catch phrases to sell different, but identical in effectiveness, brands of aspirin. Consider the following:

Brand A: proclaims 100 percent pure, claims nothing is stronger. Benn notes that governmental tests also showed no brand was weaker or less effective than any of the others.

Brand B: advertises "unsurpassed in speed — no other brand works faster." The same governmental tests showed "B" works no faster than any of the others.

Brand C: declares it used an ingredient "that doctors recommend." Governmental tests revealed that "special ingredient" is nothing more than regular aspirin.[4]

The word choices in these advertisements work because the positive connotations make us assume that each advertised brand is the best. Advertisers know that changing just one word in their ad can dramatically increase the response rate. One advertiser changed the word "repair" to "fix" and saw a 20 percent increase in response.

There are other words advertisers employ, which are known as "weasel words." These words confuse their audience and don't allow you to put an exact number on the advertiser's claim. They let you justify and believe what you want. They are called "weasel words" because weasels are notorious for breaking into the chicken coop and sucking out the inside of the eggs without breaking the shell. The eggs look fine but in reality are hollow and empty, just like these words. Watch out for these words:

Probably the biggest challenge with word choice in marketing comes when billion-dollar corporations want to translate just the right English word into the perfect equivalent in another language. The most famous marketing fiasco based on translation was the Chevy Nova. Translated into Spanish, Nova meant "Doesn't Go."

"Come Alive, You're the Pepsi Generation" translated into Chinese means, "Pepsi, Bring Your Ancestors Back from the Grave." When American Airlines wanted to advertise its new, leather, first-class seats in the Mexican market, it translated its "Fly In Leather" campaign literally, which meant "Fly Naked" (vuela en cuero) in Spanish! Coors put its slogan, "Turn It Loose," into Spanish, where it was read as "Suffer from Diarrhea." The Dairy Association's huge success with the "Got Milk?" campaign prompted them to expand advertising into Mexico. It was soon brought to their attention that the Spanish translation read, "Are you lactating?"

Frank Perdue's chicken slogan, "It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken" was translated into Spanish as "It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate." The Coca-Cola name in China was first read as "Kekoukela," meaning "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax," depending on the dialect. Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer, Electrolux, used the following in an American campaign: "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux."

The Use of Silence

Sometimes the right word is no word. On occasion we need to remain silent and let the other person talk. We have heard in sales that the first one to talk after the close loses. After the persuasion process and the final decision is ready to be made, make your proposal and shut up. The silence is nerve-wracking, but it's a critical time to let the prospect make the decision without you rambling on and on about the product or service.

How often have you noticed a sales rep overselling a product? You were ready to make the purchase by handing over your credit card. The sales rep felt you needed to know everything about the product and he started to fill you in. This caused doubt to creep into your mind and you ended up leaving, telling the salesman you would think about it. When someone has been persuaded and convinced, there is no reason to say any more. Strike when the iron is hot!

More communication is not necessarily better persuasion. In fact, the less you talk, the smarter people think you are. The more you say, the more common and less in control you appear. Many individuals try to impress people with what they know by flaunting all their wisdom, but usually this strategy is just a turn-off.

Using Vivid Language to Paint Pictures

Complete this imagination exercise with me: Pretend you are standing in a beautiful, sunny kitchen. You reach across the counter and grab a bright, juicy orange. You can feel it is heavy with sweet, ripe juice. You can smell the delicious orange scent as you rub the oil of the skin on your hand. Reaching for a knife, you slice the orange and begin to peel back the skin. The aroma only becomes stronger as you tear the sections apart. One of the sections drips bright, sticky orange juice over your finger. You raise this juicy section to your lips and take a bite. As your teeth sink into the orange, you feel the juice burst out and swish around your teeth and tongue. The juice is incredibly sweet! You savor it a moment, cradling a puddle on your tongue before swallowing.

Did your mouth water? Almost everyone's does. The extra-ordinary thing is that if I had simply instructed you to produce saliva, you couldn't have done it. The vivid picturing technique works far better than the command because your mind cannot distinguish between what is imagined and what is real.

A Persuader has the ability to paint a picture with his words. The prospects will be able to see, hear, feel, and experience exactly what he is talking about. The prospects become part of the message and can more fully understand how the product or service will change their life. The Persuader stimulates his prospects' senses by using words that activate their mind. You present your message through positive emotions because the positive thoughts of the audience will color their perception of what you want them to do.

We can all say, "I walked on the beach," but that's not half as effective as saying, "The sun was up and shining brightly on the warm sand. I took off my shoes and felt the soft sand between my toes. The seagulls floated lazily across the ocean sky. The waves soothed my soul as they rhythmically crashed against the shore. I could taste the salt of the breeze on my tongue." I think you can feel the difference between the two. Words activate all that we do. The words we use can make you physically ill, emotionally drained, hungry, and even salivate. They can especially make you buy!

A utilities company, trying to sell customers on the advantages of home insulation, sent auditors to visit homeowners and point out the ways they were wasting energy. The auditors provided the homeowners with suggestions on how they could save money if they were willing to improve the energy inefficiencies. In spite of the clear financial benefits over the long term, only 15 percent of the audited homeowners actually went ahead and paid for the corrections. After seeking advice from two psychologists on how they could better sell the advantages of home insulation, the utilities company decided to change its technique by describing the inefficiencies more vividly. With the next audits, homeowners were told that the seemingly minute cracks here and there were collectively equivalent to a gaping hole the size of a basketball. This time, 61 percent of the homeowners agreed to the improvements![5]

When you find yourself in a situation where you really need people on your side, use words that are going to create strong mental images. Attorney Gerry Spence once said, "Don't say he suffered pain. Tell me what it felt like to have a broken leg with the bone sticking out through the flesh. Tell me how it was! Make me see it! Make me feel it!"[6] Words are more powerful when they have strong emotional connotations. You want your words to be clear and credible, but they will have greater impact if they also strike an emotional chord within your audience. You can avoid being melodramatic or sensational by being sure that your words truly reflect the circumstances and that they can always be backed up.

You can even package simple derogatory comments. Sure, you can call someone dumb or stupid, but when you can verbally package something, this is what you get:

Simple but Powerful Words

We know certain words have more pull than others, but who would have thought that simple words like "because" and "you" would have the power to move mountains? In a study by Langer, Blank, and Chanowitz, researchers found certain word choices could influence people to act against their own self-interests. The researcher would approach a copier where a long line of students stood. She would try three different word choices at different times to see how the other students would respond to each request. She didn't change what she was asking, only the word choice. When she said, "Excuse me, I only have five pages. May I use the copy machine because I am in a rush?" 94 percent complied. When she said, "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the copy machine?" 60 percent complied. But when she said, "Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the copy machine because I have to make some copies?" 93 percent complied.[7]

The magic was in the word "because." Even when she used an obvious reason, for example, just to make copies, she had a higher compliance. The word "because" is very powerful. "Because" prepares the mind for a reason. Even if the reason is not legitimate, it is still a reason.

Perhaps one of the most valuable words to learn how to use is "you." When you use the word "you" instead of a more general word like, for example, "people," there is a stronger sense of identity. Your listener will be more tuned in to what you are saying.

On the other hand, the one word that will impede your ability to persuade is "but." "But" negates everything you said before it. We all know the drill, "I love you, but . . ." or "I want to help, but. . . ." The word "but" puts the brake on persuasion. Practice your vocabulary and use the word "and" in your persuasive communication instead of "but." Another simple change is to use the word "can" instead of "could." For example, say "Can you carry this for me?" instead of "Could you carry this for me?" Similarly, it is better to use "will" than "would" and better to use "try" than "do."

The "Let's" Technique

Often in day-to-day living we find ourselves in circumstances where we need to direct, delegate, or even order. Usually our assignments are just short sentences, such as "Can you please do this or that?" You can create unity and alliance and lessen defensiveness when you use "let's" in place of "you," even when it's the other person, not you, who is carrying out the assignment. For example, "Let's be sure and get this out in the mail today, okay?" It's such a simple thing, yet you will find it works wonders. Make a habit of using the word "let's," and you will find more cooperation.

The Value of the Simple Statement

It is best to assume that with spoken language, simple is better than complex. Since we are unable to recapture or replay our spoken words, we hope that they will be correctly interpreted the first time they are heard. Unfortunately, spoken words can be the most misread and misinterpreted form of communication, and therefore, can be a great hindrance to effective persuasion. When you're in a persuasive situation, use simple, direct, and concise language, rather than fretting about how eloquent you're sounding. If you are preoccupied, you'll miss a lot of important cues. Moreover, complex language may not effectively deliver your point.

Persuaders normally try to speak to the lowest common denominator. The more advanced and complex your ideas and sentence structure are, the harder it is to follow your line of reasoning. You don't want your audience struggling to understand what you mean. Comprehension should be easy because then your audience is more open to persuasion. If your prospects are struggling to find your logical thread, their emotions will never get involved, except in a negative, accusatory way.

Clarity is of prime importance when persuading. Your persuasive attempts are useless if you are not clearly understood. Here follows a list of complex words we use when we are trying to sound educated but which actually only confuse and tire our audiences. Notice the much simpler choice on the right that would help your audience to both comprehend your message and be persuaded by your presentation.

AnnuallyEvery year
Accomplished  Did

Following are some simple guidelines to keep your speech and verbal packaging on the right track.

Sixteen Attention-Grabbing Words

With so many words in the English language to pick from, you must be very particular about which ones to use. Some will grab attention more than others. The following words are commonly used to effectively sell a product:[9]

GuaranteeResultsHealth  Safe
How to Save  Love You / Your  

*Always pulls best

Among all those on the list, the word "free" always gets attention anytime it is used. Suppose you were in charge of designing and wording the fliers your company is planning to send out in three weeks. Which phrase would you use?

  1. Half price!

  2. Buy one — Get one free!

  3. 50 percent off!

Each of the three denotes the exact same offer, but the second phrase is the most effective. In fact, studies have shown that phrases using the word "free" outsell other phrases stating the exact same thing, only in different terms, by 40 percent![10]

"New" is another big word. Think about its use in politics. For Franklin Roosevelt, it was "The New Deal"; for John Kennedy, it was the "New Frontier." Then there were Ronald Reagan's "New Beginning" and Bill Clinton's "New Covenant." Politicians aren't the only ones selling with the word "new." Think of all the times you've seen advertisements proclaiming "introducing," "all new," or "first time ever."

[1]H. H. Kelley, "The Warm-Cold Variable in First Impressions of Persons," Journal of Personality 18: 431–439.

[2]E. Loftus, "Reconstructing Memory: The Incredible Eyewitness," Psychology Today 8, 1: 116.

[3]Aaron Delwiche, "Examples: How Newt Gingrich Uses These Techniques," Institute for Propaganda Analysis, World Wide Web.

[4]A. Pratkanis and E. Aronson, Age of Propaganda (New York: W. H. Freeman), p. 43.

[5]Ibid, p. 128.

[6]Gerry Spence, How to Argue and Win Every Time (New York: St. Martin's Press), pp. 130–131.

[7]E. Langer, A. Blank, and B. Chanowitz, "The Mindlessness of Ostensibly Thoughtful Action: The Role of 'Placebic' Information in Interpersonal Interaction," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1978): 635–642.

[8]R. N. Bostrom, J. R. Baseheart, and C. M. Rossiter, "The Effects of Three Types of Profane Language in Persuasive Messages," Journal of Communication (1993): 461–475.

[9]John Caples, Tested Advertising Methods, 5th edition (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall), p. 31.

[10]Bob Stone, Successful Direct Marketing Methods (Lincolnwood, Ill.: NTC Business Books), p. 4.

Vocal Techniques: Keep People Attentive and Listening

How we say the words we choose is just about as important as the words themselves. Our voice is a powerful instrument that can motivate the troops or lull them to sleep. There is a huge difference between presenting and persuading. Your voice is a complete arsenal of persuasive techniques in and of itself. For example, you can say the same thing but mean five different things, depending on the tone of your voice. You can say "Thank you" laden with sarcasm, love, hate, anger, humor, or surprise — just by changing the tone and inflection of your voice.

Peter Blanck, in his research, found that judges communicated their bias and attitudes by the tone of their voice. The juries in California were twice as likely to convict trial defendants when the judges already knew the defendants had a record and prior convictions. The law simply states that a judge cannot share this private information with the jurors, but, as researchers found, judges can convey their attitude toward defendants when the words and tone of voice in their instructions to the jury lack warmth, patience, and tolerance.[11]

You can change your rate of speech, your vocal fillers (um, uh, ah), the volume, pitch, inflection, emphasis, and even the pauses that you use. You can keep an audience listening with both ears and with full energy, rendering them absolutely spellbound because of the power of your voice.

Your voice is who you are. It is your trademark and your calling card. Your voice must exude energy, confidence, and conviction. We tend to judge others by their voice: Is it confident, nervous, relaxed, energized, tired, weak, or strong? If you sound unsure and timid, your ability to persuade will falter. Persuasive voices have great volume, varied emphases, good articulation, and a pleasing pitch. Effective Persuaders use vocal variety and frequently vary their pace.

The good news is you can change many characteristics of your voice. Tape your voice. What does it project? Your voice must be interesting and easy to listen to in order to help, rather than hinder, your ability to persuade. Does your voice work for you or against you?


Watch what happens when you place emphasis on different words in this sentence.

I didn't know he stole the car.

I didn't know he stole the car.

I didn't know he stole the car.

I didn't know he stole the car.

I didn't know he stole the car.

I didn't know he stole the car.

The exact same words form sentences of completely different meaning every time you change the emphasis to a different word. Emphasis brings your main point to the audience's attention. You are able to highlight and stress the more important issues throughout your presentation with proper use of emphasis.


Pace refers to how quickly you speak. Mehrabian and Williams found that people who spoke faster, louder, and more fluently as well as those who varied their vocal frequency and intensity were perceived as more persuasive than those who did not.[12]

Speeches delivered at fast speeds are more persuasive than those of slow or moderate speeds, because persuaders who speak faster appear more competent and knowledgeable. At these faster rates, receivers are not able to mentally engage in counter-arguing.

Pace and speed are also important to keep and capture attention. We can think three times faster than we can speak. We have all had conversations and were able to listen while thinking of other things. When we speak faster, we can keep attention longer. There is less time for our audience's mind to wander. Studies show that we generally like faster speakers and find them more interesting. Most speakers average 120 to 180 words per minute. But there is no ideal speed. Franklin Roosevelt spoke 110 words per minute while John Kennedy raced along at 180 words per minute. Persuasive speakers will speak fast enough to excite and energize the mood of the audience but will be able to slow their pace down to create a mood of anticipation.

To counteract boredom, use your basic pace most of the time, and vary it in one of two ways from time to time. Slow your pace down when you wish to appear thoughtful; when you want to give people the impression that you are working through a process of induction or deduction, even as you are speaking; when you have something particularly important or serious to say; or when you wish to show great respect. Increase your pace when you want to create excitement and energy.

Vocal Fillers

Fillers can destroy your presentation, hurt your credibility, and annoy your audience. Most people feel they don't have a problem with this, and most of them are wrong. You would be amazed when you tape yourself what words you use to fill in space during a speech. Fillers are not acceptable and need to be eliminated from all speech. Vocal fillers include the common "um," "er," and "uh." Some people have their own idiosyncratic way of filling in the silence between ideas that makes them uncomfortable. Some repeat the first two or three words of a sentence until their brain catches up and they decide what they're going to say. Others might say, "Okay" at the end of every sentence, as if they're checking audience comprehension.


Pitch is the highness or lowness of the speaker's voice. Low is best. In our culture, deeper voices are generally interpreted as reflecting authority and strength, for both men and women. In addition, a deeper voice is stereotypically considered to be more believable, indicative of an individual's sincerity and trustworthiness. Many speakers practice lowering their voices because of the benefits of a lower pitch. Some speakers even drink hot tea before they speak, a technique that creates a lower sounding voice.

Remembering to employ variety in your speaking is a constant challenge, but it is of paramount importance. You can help people remain alert and pay attention while you speak if the pitch of your voice rises and falls. There are two main reasons why this strategy works. First, the varying pitches will prevent your voice from sounding monotonous. Second, the varying inflections can help emphasize a particular word. Remember, if you are not an engaging speaker, you will not be persuasive.


Obviously you're not going to be very persuasive if no one can hear you. You've probably experienced the aggravation of straining and struggling to hear a speaker. Before your presentation, test the room to ensure you can be heard from all parts of the room. Also, test to see whether you're going to need amplification. If yes, be sure this equipment is available and properly set up prior to beginning.

Certainly, the converse is also true: Be sure you are not yelling or shouting at your audience. This understandably is just as aggravating for the audience, or even more so, as struggling to be able to hear.

Raising your voice for impact or dramatic effect is not as effective as lowering your voice. The technique can work, but you must be very careful about how you use it. Additionally, people who keep a calm and steady voice in emotional moments are often considered more credible and competent.


Clearly articulate every sentence, phrase, and word. When your speech is clear and coherent, it conveys competence. When your articulation gets sloppy, it suggests lack of education and laziness. Consider how lawyers, doctors, supervisors, lobbyists, and the like must be articulate if they are to survive professionally. Good articulation conveys competence, experience, and credibility. Another practical reason to have good articulation is simply because it is so much easier to follow. As previously discussed, people will comply with you more if you are easy to understand.


Treat your pauses like gold. Well-timed pauses attract attention to a particular part of your presentation, give others time to tune in and process your message, and help you gain poise and confidence if you're rattled. Use intentional pauses for the points you intend to drive home. Not only does a pause increase comprehension, but it also helps to highlight important points. Use pauses to create attention, emphasis, and mood.

A carefully planned pause usually comes before the point you want to highlight. It is a common mistake to not hold the pause long enough. Be sure you allow enough of a pause that the full effect will be felt. When you do this, the audience anticipates and listens closely to what you will say next. They can tell something important is about to happen. This strategy is made even more effective when you combine it with pitch strategies: Be sure that as you come to the pause, your pitch is high, thereby building suspense and giving momentum to what will follow. Inflecting your pitch downward will defeat the purpose, providing a feeling of resolution instead of suspension.

[11]Steven Beebe and Susan Beebe, Public Speaking (New York: Allyn and Bacon), p. 293.

[12]A. Mehrabian and M. Williams, "Nonverbal Concomitants of Perceived and Intended Persuasiveness," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 13: 37–58.

Dental Verbal Packaging

As a final example of the power of verbal packaging, think about what you hear during your appointments with your dentist — not a particularly pleasant situation in general and sometimes downright frightening. Dentists have mastered the art of verbal packaging to put patients more at ease.

What you won't hearWhat you will hear
Does that hurt?Does that bother you?  
HatchetBig H
Yank, PullRemove
Blood, HemorrhageDebris
SpitEmpty mouth
GrindPrepare teeth
PainA little pressure

Westside Toastmasters on Meetup

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