How You Say Your Words Is Just As Important As What You Say

Everywhere you look, audio is on the rise.

A recent NPR study found that spoken-word audio listening has risen 40% in the past seven years. And no wonder. We listen to podcasts and audiobooks and communicate using voice memos, and Zoom calls with our cameras turned off.

On social media, users are invited to hang out in live chat rooms on Clubhouse and Twitter spaces and listen to LinkedIn podcasts or record a short clip to their profiles.

Even a recent Wall Street Journal article chronicled the popularity of the voice recording feature on online dating apps.

Our voice says a lot about us to others, for better or worse. And with an increase in audio-based communication, how you say something is just as important as que you’re saying.

According to Vanessa Van Edwards, author of the newly released book Cues: Master the Secret Language of Charismatic Communicationthe best way to ensure your intended message comes through is to master your vocal cues.

“When we listen to someone speak,” writes Van Edwards, “we’re listening for two things: confidence and emotion.”

Confidence conveys power—a low tone and the right inflection signals that others should take you seriously.

Emotion expresses warmth. Vocal variety and a lively vocal tone make you interesting to others, capturing their attention.

Ideally, you want both. But how can you be sure to get the balance right and be your most charismatic? Here’s how Van Edwards breaks down vocal cues:

COMPETENCE CUES

Want to increase vocal presence? Consider these cues:

low tone – When we’re nervous, our voice tends to pitch higher, but a confident tone is the lowest pitch you can comfortably speak in.

volume control – The best communicators speak louder and understand how to vary their volume to highlight what’s important, whether that’s something they’re excited about (louder) or sharing a secret tip (lower).

pausing – Instead of using a filler word like “uh” or “um,” pause briefly and take a breath. The most powerful pause is done right before delivering a punch line or revealing an important idea, building intrigue and excitement with your listening audience.

WARMTH CUES

If you need to dial up your vocal warmth, try these cues:

happy hello – When you’re happy (or sad), your voice reflects that, so be mindful of your mood when speaking to someone. Van Edwards advises never to answer the phone when you’re angry.

warm-ups – Using phrases like “So happy you called!” and “Here’s a digital high five!” signal reassurance and belonging to others, spreading warmth.

vocal variety – A monotone voice kills your warmth. Instead, find ways to use vocal variety to emphasize your points.

Vocal invitations – Using words like “Ooo” and “Mmm-hmm” signal agreement and using encouraging words like “Fascinating” and “Wow” to nudge others to keep talking. And subtly mirror others vocally by repeating “Got it!” or “Okay!” when someone is seeking confirmation.

channeling – Channeling your speaking role model can help you improve your vocal charisma by adopting their vocal cues.

DANGER ZONE CUES

To present your best vocal self, be careful to avoid these negative vocal cues:

Question inflection – If you end your sentences on an up tone (called “up talk”), you’ll sound unsure, and people will question your competence. Instead, tell people what you want them to know, don’t ask them.

vowel fry – When your voice creaks and sounds raspy, you’re using vocal fry and undermining your message. Eliminate it by taking a breath and speaking a bit louder.

By being intentional with your vocal cues, you’ll naturally convey warmth and confidence.

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