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Columns by Linda  Formichelli:

Self-Promotion with Emotion

Obedience School

Momma Always Said

Sweet Talk



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You think the words coming out of that hole in the middle of your face actually mean something? "Ha," I say.

Dr. Albert Mehrabian, professor emeritus at Stanford, also says "Ha." A study he conducted shows that 55 percent of the impact of what we say comes from our body language and other visual cues, 38 percent from the way we sound, and a piddling 7 percent of the meaning comes from our words. This means that when you talk to prospects in an attempt to inspire confidence in your IP abilities, a full 93 percent of their attention is focused on the slouch in your posture and the desperation in your voice.

Your voice, body language, and speaking style need to stop all this infighting and become allies in the effort to communicate. I talked with two speaking coaches to find out how you can get 100 percent of your marketing message across.

  • Take the pause that refreshes. "People are afraid of conversational pauses, but nothing is more powerful than silence," says Anna Bernstein, owner of the voice-coaching company Voice Success. "It gives you a chance to think of something to say and gives the other person a chance to come out with something important. You get information that you may not have gotten if you had rushed to fill the silence."
  • Don't think that just because the prospect can't see you, you can slouch down and prop your slippered feet on your computer desk. "Whatever you do on the phone can be picked up, so have good posture," says Cheri Kerr, a communications and public speaking coach, owner of ExecuProv, and author of When I Say This, Do You Mean That? "Sit on the edge of the chair to straighten your back."
  • Keep your voice near the bottom of your range. This will help keep that anxious edge off your voice and conceal the extreme anxiety you surely feel when asking a prospect to trust you with an important assignment. To find the bottom of your range, lower your voice in stages until you can't get any lower without channeling the spirit of James Earl Jones, then go back up one step. That's where you'll sound the most confident and relaxed.
  • Make your point, then stop. Say, "When I work with a client, they improve." Don't weaken your statement by saying, "When I work with a client, they improve because…" or "When I work with a client, they improve in spite of the fact that…" Getting rid of wishy-washy modifiers will give your communications clarity and impact.
  • Bring passion into your voice. Bernstein tells of an IP whose voice rang with passion whenever he talked about golf, but who went flat when talking to prospects and clients. Her solution: Have him bring golf to work with him. She instructed him to hang golf-related pictures in his office, wear golf-themed cufflinks, and even carry a golf ball in his pocket. Now, when he's talking with a client or prospect, he looks at these mementos and brings the passion of golfing into his business conversations. So if your style of speaking to prospects is as flat and lifeless as a pancake that was made without baking powder and then squished under the foot of an elephant who was carrying a two-ton anvil on his back, try thinking about something that inspires you and letting that passion show in your voice.
  • End with a question. You're in McDonald's placing your order for a Big Mac, fries, and a Coke, and the cashier asks if you'd like anything else. That question spurs some activity in the frontal lobe of your brain, and you suddenly remember that you meant to Supersize® your meal. The same thing happens when you talk with prospects: The question "Is there anything else?" may spur additional concerns, a forgotten instruction, or even an assignment.
  • Look up, not down. Looking down at the floor as you talk to a prospect tells her that you feel inadequate or unsure of yourself. And why should you feel that? You rock!
  • Rehearse. "Everyone is a performer, but few people are trained to be," says Kerr. So before you go on stage with a prospect, rehearse what you plan to say. Just don't rehearse too much, or you'll sound canned. And then you'll be canned. And you'll have to eat out of cans.
  • Or just pretend to rehearse. If you have to make ten cold calls, tell yourself that the first nine are rehearsal calls and that the last one is the real deal. Pretending that you don't give a fig takes the pressure off you and helps you sound more relaxed and natural.
  • Use your happy voice. "When they say, 'He can sell snow to the Eskimos,' they're talking about somebody who can push the right buttons with his voice," says Bernstein. To push those primal, I-love-you-here's-some-money buttons in your prospects, dig deep into your past and make your voice sound like the voices you heard that made you feel happy. Don't delve too far into your past, though -- a singsong voice and words like "baba" and "binky" won't cut it with most prospects.
  • Always keep both hands visible, which shows that you're trustworthy. If one hand is hidden behind your back or behind a desk, who knows? You could be packing heat.
  • Listen through to the bitter end. "We listen only to the first ten percent of what people say and then formulate our answer," says Kerr. "But by the time they finish, they may have taken a left turn." React and respond only to your prospect's last idea, she suggests. That way the conversation won't go astray and you won't be struggling to hold down two conversations at once. Also, it forces you to listen to every word your prospect says.

Follow these tips and soon your body, voice, and words will be working together to get your propaganda across just like the leader of some small but persuasive fringe cult.

We'd love to hear your feedback about this column, or put you in touch with Linda Formichelli if you like. You may also like to see her biography.

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