Listening to thousands of in-person presentations and phone calls since the mid-1990s has taught me that voice inflection is not something that salespeople get trained on, despite its importance. Neither sales managers nor salespeople pay attention to it. Yet it is extremely important in the sales communication process, particularly in building intimacy with people, regardless of phone calls, face-to-face meetings, or Zoom meetings.
Some time ago my computer contained over 400 MP3 and MP4 files of actual, live, sales phone calls. I had received these calls from sales managers in a variety of industries, recorded via Fonality and other platforms, so that I could listen and coach back on the calls.
Yet one recent day I decided to delete ALL OF THEM from my computer. Because they were all monotone and all terrible. All of them. And speaking in monotone isn’t the only bad speaking habit a salesperson can have.
Recently I was on a call with a telemarketing salesperson. This salesperson spoke in monotone and with an unsophisticated accent. It is very difficult to get salespeople, particularly telemarketers, to speak in a business-like, professional tone. They think they just need to make the call. But that’s wrong. Just making the dial won’t get you anywhere. You may start the car, but you also need to know the correct route—and take it. Instead of doing what you think you should be doing, you need to do what matters: sounding professional, even presidential, like an owner. If you sound like all the other telemarketers in the world, you are not going to get anywhere and you are certainly not going to increase your sales conversion rate!
The minute you pick up the phone, your body language and your tone of voice and the words you use tell the entire story. In fact, 55% of the impact of our message is attributed to body language, namely positive facial expressions, 38% of the impact of our message is attributed to our voice inflection, and the words we speak are left in last place, with only 7% being attributed to the impact of our message!
Voice Quality: Pitch, Pace, and Articulation
- A monotone and flat voice says to the client “I’m bored and have absolutely no interest in what you’re talking about.”
- Slow speed and low pitch communicate the message “I’m a little slow and don’t know what I am doing.”
- An abrupt speed and loud tone could be interpreted as “I’m angry and not open to input!”
- An “I’m in Command Voice,” along with speaking at 140-to-160 words per minute comes across as professional: “I know and believe in what I am doing!”
- A voice with a little urgency in it at the beginning of the calls tells the listener that you will not be wasting their time as you come off as busy yourself and not a time waster.
After hearing your voice, the client quickly picks up on your attitude—within one-to-three seconds of initiating the call, they know whether they’re talking to rap or classical.
Developing excellent telephone sales skills in both body language, tone, and words is one of the most valuable business skills you can acquire.
Listenable Rate Of Speech: 160 Words Per Minute
When we communicate with others, there is a preferred speed at which people have the highest amount of connectability—the ability to hear, comprehend, and understand our words. Get out a stop watch and see where your listenable rate of speech is!
Read the following passage out loud and time yourself:
As a representative of your organization, it is important that you speak clearly. That means that you must articulate. It also means that you must speak so that you can be understood. Although there is no set rate of speech, most expert speakers talk at between one-hundred-forty and one-hundred-sixty words per minute. That is a good speed for verbal communication. It is not too fast to be understood. It does not give the listener the impression that you are under pressure nor is it too slow.
The one-hundred-sixty word rate adds an element of dignity to your voice. The one-hundred-sixty word rate also gives a sound image to your audience that establishes both you and your company as efficient and well-organized. To give the audience the kind of impression of yourself and your company that you wish, speak correctly, speak at one-hundred-sixty—that’s one-hundred sixty words per minute.
If you read the passage above in 60 seconds, you are reading at 160 words-per-minute, which is the preferred speed. If you’re at 75 seconds, you could be considered a bore by your audience or the person with whom you are communicating. If you read the above passage faster than 60 seconds, your audience or person with whom you are communicating just might consider you a salesperson—the stereotypical fast-talking, non-listening kind.
Many first-time OUT LOUD readers read much faster than 60 seconds. Many of us speak just a little too fast, period. We’re too busy telling versus having a conversation. By communicating confidently, we build an intimate connection with our clients and audiences.
Chuck’s Professional Pointer:
Speak in a tone and speed to your audience or client as if you were reading a Dr. Seuss book out loud to a small group of children.
Seussem’—Gain That Communication Connection
In an effort to speak like a polished speaker or presenter, try this technique: speak in a tone and speed to your audience or client as if you were reading a Dr. Seuss book out loud to a small group of children.
Imagine for a moment: you have a small gathering of children sitting around you on the floor, looking up at you as you prepare to read your most favorite Dr. Seuss book. “One fish… two fish… red fish… blue fish!” Or… “Did you ever fly a kite… in bed? Did you ever walk… with ten cats on your head?” As I say to my audiences that I train in public speaking, “You Seussem’” (your clients and audiences)!
Now, what Seussem’ means is that you are speaking at 140-160 words-per-minute. You articulate, you use a correct voice pitch, pause, and pace. Pitch means your voice quality, pause means using silence to “cliff hang” or emphasize a point, and pace is the correct listenable-rate-of-speech you should be at.
Make Better Presentations By Becoming a Better Communicator
In 1996, Nido Qubein asked me to go to a bookstore and read to children on Saturday mornings. I did that and learned a lot about voice quality and keeping people’s attention—and not just with the voice. Salespeople must use voice inflection and—during face-to-face presentations—point to a sales tool at the same time to keep the client’s attention.
Voice quality is the wave-like movement of highs and lows in the pitch of your voice. The peaks and valleys in your voice let your clients know how interested or uninterested you are in what they’re saying. Voice quality also reflects how interested you are in what you’re saying to the client. When pitch, pace, and articulation is missing, your voice can sound monotone (read boring and tedious).
I wish for all of you the wonderful ability to communicate confidently. For most, this is a learned skill and, by implementing these steps in this short training, you have taken that one step that I hope will lead to many others, others that will help you communicate confidently with all those people you touch with your words.
One way to positively affect your voice’s quality is to smile, especially when you first answer the telephone. The reason is not psychological but physiological. When you smile, the soft palate at the back of your mouth raises and makes the sound waves more fluid. For those of you who sing in a choir (or in the shower), you know that the wider you open your mouth and the more teeth you show, the better tone you get. The same applies on the telephone. Smiling helps your voice to sound friendly, warm, and receptive. They can sense your smile through the phone!
I am so convinced of the value of smiling when talking on the phone that my students install mirrors above their computer screens to remind them to smile. The mirror will also alert you when your sales manager has walked into the room to make sure you are doing what you are supposed to be doing.
Changing your breathing pattern can also help. You can greatly increase your vocal quality by taking long, slow, deep breaths. Most people become shallow breathers when they’re under pressure. The next time you’re in a stressful situation, try to notice what happens to your breathing. The more upset you become, the shallower and quicker your breathing will be. This breathing pattern tends to tighten your vocal cords, making your voice go up and sound strange. By being aware of your breathing, especially in stressful situations, you can slow it down and relax your vocal cords, bringing down your pitch and creating a calmer tone of voice.
Where to begin? Virtually daily I help my sales students and business owners improve their voice quality. They start by understanding the command that they have in their voice, speaking at 140-to-160 words per minute, creating gaps of silent in front of words to emphasize that particular word, pointing at sales tools when their lips are moving and also by exaggerating their voice quality.
Three Steps to Improved Voice Quality
- Take a short and uncomplicated sentence like, “Bill isn’t here right now,” and say it out loud with your normal level of inflection.
- Think of inflection on a scale of one to ten, with one being monotone and ten being a disk jockey. Now say the same sentence again, but this time, exaggerate your inflection all the way up to a ten. Sometimes we ask our clients to visualize themselves as circus barkers under the big top announcing to a noisy crowd of a thousand people, “Bill isn’t here right now.” Practice this step and stop only when you sound really obnoxious and embarrass yourself and everyone around you.
- Say the same sentence again, and take your inflection down a couple of notches to a level eight. Finally, say the sentence one more time, taking it down to a level five or six. Level five or six is a good level at which to keep your inflection when speaking over the phone. If you find your inflection slipping over time, go back to Step 1 and repeat the process. Practice as much as you need so you will use proper inflection without thinking about it.
At Chuck Bauer Sales Training and Business Consulting, we have a huge amount of resources, including YouTube videos and a free blog. When you improve your speaking & phone skills, you will also increase your sales conversion rates. Remember that you must stop doing what you think you should be doing when you’re speaking in a face-to-face presentation or on a phone call and start doing what matters when you speak—really connecting up with your prospects or clients.